Bring value to your donor meetings or you may never get another chance

IMG_1677There are many differences between working at for-profit versus a nonprofit, but there are also some very significant similarities. Having spent a couple of decades selling advertising for business to business publishers there is one lesson that I always keep in mind. And I think its application is universal and can help you retain and cultivate deeper relationships with more of your donors. It’s the advice I was given when prepping for a meeting with one client, in particular. He was a Wall Street Guy—he was very important and very busy, as I was told. I was told, “Don’t ever waste his time,” which specifically meant, “don’t ever meet without bringing him useful information or you’ll never get another meeting.” Question: “Was he a jerk with a huge ego?” Actually, that’s a trick question, because the answer is “Who cares?” He provided me with the secret for a successful meeting and the best way to cultivate a long-term relationship. “Busy” and “Important” were the terms classifying this client. And the truth is: we are all busy and important. All our time is valuable. Now this is a lesson that I was taught before most people owned a cell phone (back when your company gave you a phone card so you could make phone calls from hotels or phone booths) and at a time when the Internet was so very new that companies didn’t even have websites yet, let alone a social media strategy. But it has stood the test of time and I think it is a useful way to prepare for any in-person meeting with donors. Whether your donor prefers to get together for a casual lunch, play a round of golf, attend your cocktail party, take a tour of one of your projects, or meet your Executive Director—I would make a huge wager that whatever form the meeting takes, they want to gain something of value from your time together. Knowledge is power and you are that source of power. Bring them information that only you can. Maybe you work at a nonprofit that serves inner city youth with an after-school sports program. Bring pictures or video of the last game. Provide details on current enrollment numbers or the success rate based on increased graduation from participants. Ask them to follow your program’s updates via Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn so they can see what progress is being made. They can also share this with their network raising awareness of your cause (but we’ll get into the social media benefits some other time!). Regardless of the mission, use your time together to demonstrate to your donor:
  • How the program is making a difference
  • How his/her contribution is facilitating the program
You should be able to walk away from this meeting with your donor feeling that they are a stakeholder in the success of the program and that time spent with you is an integral part of that success. So, whether or not Mr. Wall Street Guy was a bit too impressed with himself in telling my company his requirements for a meeting—it has been invaluable to me over my career. Bottom line: You need to bring value to a meeting or you may never get another. Care to hear which traits that other sector leaders cite as most important in their development roles? Check out these interviews with executives from Alzheimer’s Association of Western Carolina, the Salvation Army in Nashville,, Resource Center of Somerset, and others. amydevitaAmy DeVita is the Founder and CEO of Third Sector Today, a free website that offers nonprofit leaders useful tips, insights and resources for advancing cause and career. You can connect with on Linkedin or email her

Top 10 Planned Giving Marketing ‘To Dos’ for 2014

Editor’s Note: We are delighted to have planned giving expert Phyllis Freedman join us as a new regular contributor to the Mal Warwick Donordigital blog.  Her expertise has been invaluable on many client engagements, and we’re glad to share her insights with a wider audience. You can learn more about her and read her blog at Happy new year! I hope you had a successful year-end and that you’re as optimistic as I am about 2014. I’m back from my sabbatical, re-charged and looking forward to continuing our conversation. I thought I would start the year with my top 10 list. When you set your goals for the year, I hope you will consider these activities (if they aren’t already in place). They are not in order of importance because each is important. There are many more good ideas than just these ten. I welcome yours.
  1. Create a written, multi-channel, audience-specific planned giving marketing and stewardship plan. I regularly encounter organizations that have not yet done this most basic step. It should be a given.
  2. Go multi-channel. It’s past time now to fully integrate mail and online planned giving marketing and stewardship. If you haven’t started, get started. If you are underway, take it to the next level.
  3. Create conversion oriented landing pages to use in conjunction with your digital strategy. Instead of sending interested donors to static landing pages, ensure congruence between your e-offer and the landing page and give the donors who go there a next action to take that moves them along the continuum from curious to committed.
  4. Clean up your data. Personalized communication with prospects and with legacy society members will enhance your results. But when it comes to databases, garbage in = garbage out. It defeats the purpose of personalizing if the output is in error. It may not be possible to clean up your entire database but you can and should focus on your top audiences—legacy society members, planned giving inquirers, affinity audiences and so on for as far as you have the resources to go.
  5. Attempt personal contact with every legacy society member. There is nothing more important than making sure you have personal contact with your legacy society. Many organizations do a good job of mailing legacy society donors stewardship pieces. It’s the personal touch that’s often missing. It’s not possible to visit every donor (nor do all legacy society members want a visit) but there is no excuse for not calling each member at least once a year. There are a variety of ways of accomplishing this in-house or through out-sourcing. Even if you don’t reach the donor, leaving a message saying thank you is more than worth doing.
  6. Start or deepen your collaboration with your major gifts team. Ensure that they are asking their donors to make legacy commitments and that they are expanding your reach by stewarding legacy society donors.
  7. Set up a process for tracking and measuring results. Even though most planned giving marketing results are not statistically significant because of low response rates, results data can provide important direction to your program. The answer to “how did that mailing do?” should be quantitative, not qualitative. A corollary to this is to ensure that you have a good system of flags so you can mark the kind of response you are getting, e.g., the donor returned a survey, said she intended to include you, requested a specific kind of gift information.
  8. Create a conversion series—a set of touches with a specific cadence and message—to move inquirers to commitments. Donors who raise a hand by requesting more info or otherwise indicating an interest in planning are your hot prospects. Special treatment of these folks will yield results.
  9. Make time to read industry periodicals and to attend local planned giving council and national conferences. I have learned so much from generous presenters and from new and familiar colleagues. Though it sometimes seems like there is no time, you can’t afford not to go.
  10. Take a risk, go out on a limb, try something new. If you press the envelope and step outside your comfort zone you will realize outsize gains.
Phyllis-profilephotoPhyllis Freedman is an independent fundraising consultant specializing in gift planning marketing and the intersection of gift planning and direct marketing. During her 30-year career in nonprofit fundraising, Phyllis has consulted on gift planning, direct marketing and strategic fundraising for organizations large and small, national and local.  Learn more about Phyllis and read her blog at

BOOK: The Mercifully Brief, Real-World Guide to Raising $1,000 Gifts by Mail

101701027The Mercifully Brief, Real-World Guide to Raising $1,000 Gifts by Mail By Mal Warwick Published by Emerson & Church Publishers (2005) Can you motivate a donor to respond to your next mailing with a thousand dollar gift? Absolutely, says Mal Warwick in his book, Raising $1000 Gifts by Mail. Mal is the dean of high dollar direct mail he practically invented it. Mal points to organizations like yours that have, somewhat astoundingly, turned small givers into big ones … with just the right mailing. Here is one example. Heeding Mal’s advice, a regional activist organization sent just 889 letters to selected donors. This small mailing produced income of $59,450. That is impressive. But even better: gifts averaged $2,123! And the cost of the mailing was 14 cents per dollar raised. A second example: An anti-hunger organization sent just over 10,000 high-dollar pieces. The mailing yielded 679 gifts totaling $117,749. And the overall response was a whopping 6.4 percent! When there is gold underfoot, you can scratch the surface and content yourself with $25 and $50 nuggets. Or, using Mal’s strategies, you can drill down and mine that rich vein of $1000, $2000, even $5000 donors by mail. Available for purchase at and other retailers.