Want to Know the Secret to Raising More Money in 2013?

Everyone wants to find the latest, greatest way to raise money. Everyone wants to raise more money. Fortunately, the secret way to raising more funds in 2013 is not complicated. It’s not expensive. It’s not revolutionary. It’s not even really a secret. But, it will work:

Get out from behind your desk more often.

I know you’re thinking, “That’s just common sense.” You’re right. However, at many nonprofit organizations, it’s not common practice. Consider this true story from my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

During a seminar at an Association of Fundraising Professionals chapter conference, the director of development for a regional theater company asked a question: ‘Could I have some of our repertory actors cultivate our major donors?’

“The presenter initially thought this was a terrific idea. Theater donors often like to think of themselves as true patrons of the arts. The opportunity to interact with the actual performers would be meaningful to many of the theater’s major donors. The presenter mentioned this and asked, ‘How many major donor prospects do you have?’

“The answer was 50. The presenter then suggested that the director of development schedule appointments with the major donors and plan on bringing one of the actors with her. At this suggestion, the director of development exclaimed, ‘I don’t have time for that! I was hoping that the actors could go out on their own.’

“The presenter patiently responded, ‘If you visit with only two major donors per week, you will have seen them all within six months. And, not only will they have been cultivated by having the chance to interact with one of the actors, you will have developed a relationship and, in the process, learned more about the donor’s interests and philanthropic abilities. You will be well positioned to renew and upgrade their current support while being able to begin a conversation about planned giving. What could possibly be a better use of time?’

“While the development director was not pleased with the response, the reality is that the most effective fundraising happens at a coffee table not at a desk. Being proactive and actually talking with donors and prospects, understanding their needs, cultivating them, and asking for the gift is always the most effective development strategy.”

I understand that it’s not always easy to schedule another conversation with a donor or prospect. There are meetings to attend, reports to write, vendors to meet with, staff members to supervise, budgets to review, etc.

However, if you really want to raise more money, you will find a way to meet with more donors and prospective donors.

At one major university, senior staff thought that the major gift and planned giving professionals were spending too much time in their offices and not enough time meeting with donors and prospects. So, in a draconian move, the Vice President replaced the individual offices with a bullpen of unassigned desks and phones. He believed that if the major and planned gift staff did not have offices to “hidEmpty Office by Victor1558 via Flickre” in, they’d be more likely not to stay on campus; instead, they’d be more likely to go out and visit donors and prospects.

Most of the team got the hint and spent more time off campus. Other team members quit and were replaced with new staff who understood and accepted their role. The result: the school raised more money than ever.

I’m not suggesting that you need to get rid of your desk. I’m just saying you need to get away from it a bit more often.

Only 22 percent of Americans over the age of 30 say they have been asked for a planned gift, according to a report from The Stelter Company. How many of your organization’s supporters have you asked for a planned gift? What would happen to your fundraising results if you got out and asked twice as many folks, “What do you want your legacy to be?”

But, maybe you’re not a major gift or planned giving person. Maybe you feel comfortable behind your desk because you’re responsible for direct mail campaigns. Guess what? You can still benefit by getting out and talking with your donors and prospects. They can give you great stories you can share in your appeals. They’ll tell you what they like and don’t like about your fundraising letters. They’ll tell you why they support your organization. They’ll give you terrific, useful insights that will allow you to enhance your appeals.

If you’re a development professional, regardless of your position, you can benefit from spending more time with donors and prospects. In 2013, spend more time away from your desk and raise more money.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

14 Responses to “Want to Know the Secret to Raising More Money in 2013?”

  1. Spot on, Michael. This is something I know I need to do that I’ve been trying to do for a while but failing – this will be the year to do it!

    • Sophie, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I recognize that my suggestion is easier said than done. Maybe this will help a bit:

      I think it’s important to set goals. For example, if you visited 100 prospects last year, plan on seeing 120 (or some other specific, realistic, stretch number) in 2013. Once you have your goal for the year, breakdown the annual goal into monthly and weekly targets. This will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by the big number. It will also allow you to easily track your progress. And, it will make it easier for you to earn the support of your boss.

      Good luck!

  2. Michael, this is so true. Getting face to face with your donors is the best way to cultivate the donor relationship. Ask your donors open ended questions and listen to their answers. Find out why they support your organization and its mission, then use that information to tailor a plan specifically to their needs and desires. Ask them for advice, and if they know others who share their interests, as birds do tend to flock together. Sending letters and simply talking on the phone are not personal contacts, and asking them to see you at your office may be inconvenient for them, and a bit off putting, as it seems they are being brought in for an audience with you. It is much better to seek an audience with them on their turf, and ask that they include their spouses/partners/family members, as giving a major gift or planned gift should be a family decision.

    • Richard, thank you for sharing your insights. You’re quite correct. I would just like to underscore two of your points:

      Epictetus, the ancient Greek philosopher, said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It remains great advice today. When meeting with donors and prospects, we need to listen more and talk less. Your suggestion regarding open-ended questions is on-target.

      I also like your comment about visiting with people on their turf. That will put donors and prospects at ease. Also, it will give you a chance to “listen” with your eyes. When visiting a prospects or donor in his or her home, you’ll see things that will give you insights and things to talk about. For example, if you see photos of children on the mantel, you’ll easily learn about the person’s children. If the person visited you in your office, it would be a bit more awkward to try to learn about their children. That’s just one example of what you might learn by listening with your eyes.


  3. Great reminder Michael. Visit with your donors and prospects and listen. They’ll tell you everything you need to know about them, other people and provide helpful advice for your organization.

    • Richard, thank you for commenting. Listening with both our ears and eyes is so important. (See my response to Richard Freedlund.) We always need to remember that what they say is usually much more important than what we say.

  4. Great post, with some great examples, Michael.

    And not only will it help you raise more dollars; it will help you live longer! There’s an emerging field of inactivity studies that shows getting out from behind your desk can have serious health benefits. So, if you need additional motivation, check out this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/magazine/mag-17sitting-t.html?_r=4&src=me&ref=homepage&

  5. I agree with Michael Rosen on his blog…face to face with supporters and potential donors is so important. Yet, it seems difficult to “get out there” for many development professionals. If only the reports could run themselves! In 2013, so as to free up more time, I’d like to also recommend…utilize your CRM MORE! Commit to leading the charge around data integration. Once your data is centralized, you’ll have a more complete picture of your donors and different segments…You can build in “Moves”, automate reminders and work processes so that you have more free time to visit with supporters.So, truly I agree with Michael Rosen…I”m not saying run reports, but learn how to use your CRM strategically and control it versus it controlling you…you deserve this support from your systems.

    • Amy, thank you for your insights. I agree with you. We need to be masters of our technology and not let our technology master us. Used wisely, technology can help us do our jobs more efficiently. We just need to be careful not to let ourselves get lost in a technology-driven information landslide. Setting clear goals for how we will leverage technology can help.


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