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Phone Calls and Meetings: The Road to Major Gifts - A Petrus Development Show Episode

The Road to Major Gifts

Here we go again!  We continue our Petrus Development Show Q+A series on important development topics, but we're changing things up this episode.  This week, Rhen interviews Tara Doyon, director of operations and senior consultant at Petrus, and Tara shares about all things major gifts.  Specifically, what are major gifts and how do we get them for the organizations we love?  



Show Notes: 

Together, Tara and Rhen have decades of fundraising experience, and they come together to chat about their advice for fundraisers who are working to increase their major gifts solicitation. 

 They discuss the following: 

  • What is major gifts fundraising?  Does a major gift need to be a specific amount to qualify? 
  • Why do fundraisers go out and ask people for gifts?  How do you decide who to meet?
  • What is the donor cycle?  What is the typical progression for a donor to go from a first time gift to a major gift? 
  • How do we get face-to-face meetings?  Where should we hold meetings?  What happens in these donor meetings?  


There is so much good advice and shared wisdom in this episode.  If you're new to fundraising or new to major gifts, this is the episode for you.  Tara and Rhen go through the nuts and bolts of how to choose who to call, how to get a face-to-face meeting, and what to do with the meeting once you have it.  


As Rhen mentions at the end of the episode, Petrus created a free resource with phone call scripts for scheduling the donor meetings that Tara discusses in this episode.  If you'd like to receive the resource, click here for more information.    



In this episode, Rhen chats with Tara Doyon, senior consultant, director of operations for Petrus.  They discuss major gifts fundraising.

Rhen starts by sharing story about why major gifts fundraising is important.  One time, when development director, he had and open evening when he was traveling, he called donors, and one couple invited for dinner.  They had been $100/year donors forever.  Because of this visit, they became $10k/year donors almost overnight.  They hadn't given more before because they didn't know us or staff; they didn't have trust.  

Tara on major gifts:
I've worked almost 25 years in nonprofit sector, in different venues/orgs.  It always comes down to the need for financial stability to run programs and keep ministry going.  

But, as Tara says, "you don't ask someone to get married on first date"

Q:  What is major gifts fundraising and what is a major gift?
Major gifts fundraising is, per Rhen, going out and asking donors for money in person.

Q:  What do you consider a major gift?:  Tara:  It really depends on the organization.  In general, a major gift is a large gift (generally cash) of extraordinary value that is atypical for your organization.  Look at the organization's average gift amount for more info.  It's not always necessary to define major gifts, but, you do need to appreciate them appropriately. Evaluate frequently as to what might be a major gift.  Look at averages every 6 months in the first few years of getting started.  Can maybe go to annual reconsideration after those first few years.  

Q:  Why go out and ask people for gifts?  
A common question.  People always think that if people like something, they'll purchase it.  They think that applies to fundraising and money.  But, per Tara, the number one people don't make gifts is because they're not asked.  The perception is that the larger church has lots of money, yes, it has money in assets, but we're not a rich organization.  People don't understand the structure of the church.  Organizations are generally financially independent outside of larger structure, and we need to be truthful in sharing org structure.  If not, people make lots of assumptions.

The face-to-face ask can be so scary and hard, but it's vital.

Tara's stats:  Large percent of males respond to direct mail.  Women respond to social media because of stories and photos.  BUT 97 percent respond to in-person asks.  In person, you can share the message differently and glean more info about donors.  It's all part of donor cultivation and learning.  Take a look at donor's living room - see what kind of story you learn just from looking around.  Pieces to find out more, conversation starters.  Chart tidbits on donor profile so you have it for the next time.  

Q:  What does the typical progression look like from when first start giving to a major gift and beyond?
It's different for all orgs and individuals.

The standard philosophy is LIA principle applies to donors.  The best donor is connected at 3 points - linked to org, interested in org, and has the financial ability to make a gift.  3 point connections are great for major gifts donor.

Create a LIA worksheet for major donor prospects. This exercise helps find holes.  For example, if someone has the capacity for gifts, it's your job to steward the relationship and make connections; when you start engaging donors and making connections, it unfolds really lovely.

Tara:  we are consistently paralyzed by perfection in this industry.  We want to come across as polished and perfect, but we're not perfect.  If you wait for perfection, you won't ever do anything.  

Q:  Once LIA, it is easy to decide who to meet.  But, if no LIA, how do you decide on who to ask for major gifts?
- If no data, start with people you know, ask others for people they know - just start somewhere.
- Start with volunteers, start with them, they should be an easy win.
- Ask for a gift, AND ask for advice about who to talk to next.

Per Rhen, don't overthink it when going out and asking for meetings.  It doesn't matter - just go out and meet people, as many as you can, and build relationships.  Some are a waste of time, others are diamonds in the rough.  

Book:  The Millionaire Next Door.  You can't assume wealth, particularly in religious fundraising

Q:  How do we get face to face meetings in the first place?
Tara - you need to have a plan, have top donors, have contact info.  In a mature development office, you should have 20 meetings a month (80 calls, 40 good conversations, 20 meetings).  I tell people to print out a spreadsheet and lay it on their desk, have it stare and remind them of the calls to make.  Time block time every Monday morning to make calls and make a schedule.  

- Be sure to have various scripts for possible answers, scripted out and prepared for messages, hesitations, etc.  
- Practice the script, record yourself practicing, role play with dog, spouse, etc.  
- Start with easy wins, people you know, etc.  

Petrus has a free resource of sample scripts online:

Rhen - always leave a message so that donor won't assume you're a robocall.  Also, keep the ball in your court.  Tell donor you will call back tomorrow afternoon and see if we can connect then.  Don't ever leave it up to them to call back.  Keep calling when you say you will.  

Keep documents about when you're calling, change up the times.  You might have to work on evenings/weekends to be successful.  

Email, linkedin, handwritten letters are all options if you don't have a phone number.  Try anything and everything.  

Create a power hour of phone calls every day.  The first call is hard, it takes effort, but it gets easier as you go.

Q:  where should you meet donors?  
Tara - look at where the donor lives+works.  Doesn't recommend starbucks - crazy busy, not as much indoor space, loud.  But, other coffee shops could be good.  Go first and scout out places that allow better conversations, easy parking.  Offer it up to them to choose place, but if they don't choose, have some recommendations.  

Home and office are best,  but if not an option, other is good.  Rhen avoids places with tvs.  

Q:  Who pays for meal?  Tara goes in prepared to pay.  If you really want to pay, go ahead and make it happen ahead of time.  if they offer, be gracious and accept payment.  Always be sure to bring cash.  Don't order most expensive thing on menu.  Go for a mid priced meal.  If dinner, if guests order dinner, have one drink, and only one.  Generally stay away from alcohol.

Q:  What happens in these meetings?  What are the different types of meetings?
Be up front about the type of meeting.  

 - cultivation meeting:  "thank you for meeting, let you off easy, not ask you for money today, but want to let you know about xyz..."  working toward making the ask, build relationship

 - ask meeting:  "thank you so much for meeting me today, know you've been invested in our ministry, I'd like to tell you about what we've been doing, share how i think you can become involved.  

 - discovery meeting:  first meeting - establish relationship, get to know - not asking

 - stewardship:  thank you, this is how using gift, relationship maintenance

Tip:  Google people, linkedin, etc. before meet

The only way to get good at these meetings is to go do them, learn your style, learn how you share vision, it gets easier as you go.

Tara, at 50 years, relies on the phone, but young dev officers don't have the same phone experience - super intimidated by phone.  She gives young officers a month challenge.  Anything that would be a text conversation, make it a phone call.  Tell people you will be calling instead of texting.  It helps make phone calls less nervous and doing it repetitively creates a habit.

Q:  What other specific numbers are important?  What measures should we use, and what does success look like?
Tara:  We can't control how much money people give.  It's good to have money metrics in place BUT at the end of day, I can't control dollars.  I can only control the number of times I've asked people for gifts.  The more people you ask, the more money you'll bring in.  Metrics about activity are more important.  Block time to phone calls, and meetings.  Make appointments with pastor/ED one day a month.  

Other metrics involve the increase of people into the giving cycle:  ex:  add a number to mailing list, acquire 5 new donors this month, invite 10 new monthly givers this month.

Don't be afraid to not be perfect.  Whatever you do today is better than what never happened.  


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