By Gail Perry

So many folks are unsure how to approach major donors. It’s scary. It was scary for me, too, when I first started out.

We all have challenges when it comes to major gift fundraising — and figuring out how to approach major donors face to face. It’s not something that comes naturally to many people.

My survey What’s Your Biggest Challenge in Raising Major Gifts? reveals some fascinating issues. Turns out that “unsure, afraid how to approach major donors” was one of the top challenges people are facing.

So here are 10 steps to help you become brave, prepared and organized to approach major donors.

1. Get Your Mindset Right.
This is NOT about money. You are not trying to find someone to ask. This whole process is NOT about asking. You are not trying to be pushy. Instead you are trying to find someone who cares about your cause. Someone who is interested in learning more or getting involved.

2. Get to Know a Major Donor Somewhere.
You’ll find out that they are real people. They don’t bite. They can be really terrific, interesting, fun people. That is, IF you approach them with a light touch. You never want to be pushy or heavy-handed. Instead remember your manners and get them to do the talking. Then they will like you more.

3. Always Focus on Your Top 10 Major Gift Prospects.
Take a good look at your donor base, pull out the top one with wealth indicators. Remember that these individuals are really interested in your cause. Why? They are your DONORS right now. They’ve expressed their interest by supporting you. They’re already on your bandwagon. You don’t have to be afraid of them.

4. Do Your Research.
What are they interested in? What are they involved in around your community? LinkedIn and Google are fabulous prospect research tools. Learn as much as possible before you approach them. Over and over people say they are more comfortable getting ready to approach major donors when they are thoroughly prepared.

5. Remember the “Soft Skills” of Fundraising.
Don’t forget your social awareness. How are you presenting yourself? Perfect your handshake. Practice good grooming. Dress conservatively. Know your manners (when to stand up when a VIP enters the room, when open the door for a lady etc.) Think about your energy — make it full of happiness instead of nervousness if you can.

6. Approach Major Donors Via a Thank You Visit.
Make a thank you visit just to show your gratitude. Make it clear that you will not be asking for anything. If they don’t want to visit, ask if you can please drop by a token of your appreciation. If you are lucky, you might be able to see five out of the 10. Remember not every donor wants engagement or to get to know you.

7. Approach Major Donors Via an Interview Visit.
Donors usually have a burning story to tell. It’s up to you to find it out. Call or email your donor and ask them to tell you their story. Then you’ll find out why they care. And you’ll open a path to a relationship with your donor.

8. Get Someone Else to Open the Door.
I really don’t like blind calling or emailing a donor I don’t know. My favourite strategy is to have someone else to open the door. You don’t have to meet them for the first time at an awkward, formal meeting. Instead, try to meet them at a community or social event.

9. Network Your Way to Your Donor.
I always recommend to fundraisers that they become active in their communities. Be out and about. Volunteer. Go to civic events. Attend other organizations’ functions. You’ll meet tons of people. You’ll have fun. And you’ll build a terrific network of connections, knowledge. Find a way to meet the donor thru a community event they are attending.

10. Sign Up for Major Gift Coaching and Mentoring.
Join my next Major Gift Coaching cohort, and I’ll walk you carefully and kindly through the maze (shameless plug). You’ll organize yourself with a thoughtful, rated, qualified Major Donor Prospect List and you’ll set up moves management for cultivating your major prospects. You’ll be prepared, coached and comfortable when it comes time for your first visit. Then everything will be possible — for you, your nonprofit and your donor.

Gail Perry is president of FiredUp Fundraising and an international fundraising consultant, keynote speaker, trainer and philanthropy leader, with deep expertise in major gift and capital campaign fundraising. With 30 years as a nonprofit philanthropy expert, she has helped organizations raise hundreds of millions in gifts. Gail was recently named #10 on the list of American’s Top Fundraising Experts.

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