Roy C. Jones

Direct Mail and Major Gifts: What is the biggest mistake in fundraising?

Asking multi-millionaires for $25 bucks…

Roy C. Jones

Fundraising is always difficult, but when you are considering gifts with five, six, and even, seven figure checks the task can sometimes seem gargantuan.

Some development folks are prone to only use the mail to make an ask.  Call them chicken if you want, but the fact is they simply let RFM reports (recency, frequency, monetary amount) be the only guide for dictating their contact approach.   However, what happens if you try to increase the gift amount in any direct mail appeal?  You suppress the response rate, don’t you?

Of course, the majority in our industry are guilty of the other extreme, writing to multimillionaires and asking for just $25 bucks.  What happens when you write a multi-millionaire a letter and ask him for a $25 gift in the mail?  Your response rate goes up, but you only get $25.

Most direct marketers are happy with higher response rates and simply refuse to acknowledge the elephant in the room… namely, that multi-millionaire with both donative intent to your organization and with the capacity to make a five or six figure gift are only being asked for $25 bucks.

The hardest job in development is deciding when to pull a donor name out of your normal cultivation appeals so that you can solicited them face to face and go for the proper ask amount based upon donor capacity, not RFM ask-handles.  The danger, of course, is if you pull a donor out of the mail program and either do not have the resources to call, visit and ask them personally, you will lose huge amounts of money.

It is critical when you pull a name out of your direct mail file that you begin to visit with them “face-to-face”…  Yes, you will use the phone, e-mail and regular mail, but only to set up the opportunity to meet with them.  Remember, REAL RELATIONSHIPS are not built through social networking or phone contacts.  Real relationships are built only one way, face-to-face.  It takes time and the goal of every meeting is to glean enough information and identify the next reason to get together. 

“The Ask” will present itself naturally once you have a REAL RELATIONSHIP with the individual.  Nine times out of 10 the person who has become your friend will tell you when they are ready to discuss making a substantive gift to your charity, cause or not-for-profit.

“The Ask” is something we study, prep for, script, dream about, and love and sometimes avoid.

Board members particularly have trouble asking. Untrained and inexperienced, they often back away from the moment of truth.  I don’t blame them because they are unprepared.  Because if they are properly prepped and in the right mindset, they can ask successfully all the time. Then you can have a whole team of people out there raising the funds you need for your urgent work in the community.

Here are the five steps that my friend Gail Perry outlines that will lead you to a “yes” every time you ask:


 1.  Identify the Right Prospect to Approach.

Is this person really a good, “qualified prospect” as we say in fundraising or are you just hoping that they are? Don’t spend your time unless you are certain this person can make a gift at this level and that they might want to make this gift.

There needs to be a firm reason that this person can and would make the gift. Spend some time analyzing:

  • their giving potential,
  • their level of interest,
  • Likelihood that they would give at this level.

 Be willing to do a realistic, honest appraisal of where they rate in these categories. Then you’ll be able to target those individuals who are MOST LIKELY and approach only them.


2. Get to Know Your Prospective Donor.

Do your research well before you want to ask for the gift. The more you know about your donor’s interests, passions, vision and track record, the better your chance of securing her support.

Spend time in person chatting with her about your cause and her interests.  Listen to her.  Understand what she cares about and what causes she likes to fund. Find out what she thinks about your organization, its leadership, and its vision.

You should know these things:

  • What are her attitudes about your cause?
  • What is she really passionate about?
  • How interested is she really in your organization and its vision?
  • Is she prepared for a solicitation? Have you mentioned a possible number earlier?


 3.  Make it a Conversation.

We have an old saying in fundraising: “Listen Your Way to the Gift.”

If you are doing all the talking, then you’ll never “make the sale.” It’s so very important to draw your donor out and get him to react to your ideas. If you don’t know what’s going on in his head, how on earth can you promote your idea in a way that will appeal to him?

  • See if you can pull out any objections.
  • Listen carefully to his questions, because they give you an indication of what’s on his mind.


 4.  Make Your Ask into an Exciting Opportunity

Take it to the highest level.  Show the donor what will happen if he makes an investment in your cause.  Talk about the impact and your results.

This is an opportunity to do what? To accomplish what?

Donors want to be part of something exciting. They want to help create a better future. They want to help change or save lives.  Say something like this:   We’d like to talk to you about being the lead in this vision.  Can you help us?


 5. After You Ask, Sit Quietly and SHUT UP.

The donor is mulling over your idea and your request. She is probably thinking:

  • Can I do this?
  • Do I want to do this?
  • How can I do this?
  • Do I need to talk to my spouse?
  • Do I need to talk to my investment adviser or my CPA?

 Give your donor plenty of time to consider your request and DON’T SAY A WORD.  There is an old line in sales that goes like this:  “He who speaks next, loses.”


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