In part one of this series, Derric explained that: “To reach new heights in raising more and bigger major gifts, Donor Relationship Management and Impact Messaging are two wings of the same airplane. You need both to get off the ground. But if you want to really gain altitude, wings are not enough – you also need thrust.”

So what fuels this kind of thrust?

Close your eyes for a moment and think about an experience you’ve had in your life that changed you. Maybe it changed the way you think, teaching you something that you never would have been able to grasp without having this experience. It’s the stuff that vision is made of, those “aha” moments that drive recognition and imagination. Or maybe it was a personal experience that left an indelible mark on your life, one that would otherwise be inaccessible without having “been there” or “gone through it.”

We all have them. Transformative moments are sometimes summed up as “milestones,” but these kinds of experiences are fundamentally personal and irreversibly transformative in a person’s life.

Consider these examples:

  • A man comes to true, changing faith in Christ. He is transformed from that moment, and that faith will change the way he experiences life, forever.
  • A woman gives birth. Is it possible for anyone to truly understand that experience – and all of the emotional, physical and mental changes involved in it – except another woman who has given birth? As changing experiences go, there are few rivals.
  • I recently saw a video of a 4-month old baby with severely impaired vision who, fitted with his new infant spectacles, sees his mother for the first time. His immediate delight and joy are precious, but just think of how seeing all of the care, love and subtle expressions in her eyes will change his understanding of the world as he grows up.

Even difficult experiences can be transformative! I’ll never forget what it felt like to look poverty in the face the very first time I was in a third world country. I was horrified and convicted and the experience changed how I think about money, service to the poor, my own station in life and my calling as a Christian. Out of this very difficult experience came clarity, resolve and joy in my own giving.

Last week, Derric pointed out that in major gifts, the biggest gifts are very often inspired by transformative experiences – those experiences provide the thrust that lifts giving to new heights. I really resonate with that on a deeply personal level: my experience with poverty was the thrust I needed to “gain altitude” in my own giving.

If we put ourselves in donors’ shoes, we really have to recognize that making a major investment in an organization’s mission is a big decision. And rarely is a big decision made solely on the basis of pragmatic, data-driven ROI or even relationship with a representative. More often, those decisions involve experiences that give the donor something far more subjective. What inspires generosity is the core – the heart – of a personal experience.

A few outstanding examples:

  • A man visits a village in South America for whom he underwrote one, seemingly isolated bible translation. He wonders if such a big investment is strategic for one, small village. But it is in this very village where he first begins to understand the deep care Christ has for each and every person – no matter how remote. He walks away more sure about the love of Jesus in his own life.
  • A philanthropist hears about hundreds of thousands of Russian street orphans but it is only upon a visit to Russia, where he sees for himself their desperate situations, where he is fundamentally quickened to God’s command to care for them – not because they are a strategy, but because he is called to love them like Jesus does.
  • An executive agrees to paint the trim on a home for troubled youth in his city as part of his team’s workplace volunteerism. While he is painting, someone explains to him that the trim is important because most of the youth in this home have been neglected and abandoned and do not feel that they are worth the work that goes into keeping their home looking nice. He realizes that his couple of hours teaches youth in his city self-worth and dignity. His heart is engaged and he leaves with a vision for how he can make a difference for the youth in his city – and that changes HIM.

Transformative experiences can, and should, be built into your donor cultivation strategy. But we need to think and pray ahead for them because ultimately, they are inspired and led by the Holy Spirit. It means knowing our donors well enough to know how God is working in their lives, and not just asking them to play in a golf tournament or serve in a food kitchen for a couple of hours. It’s about truly engaging them for a personal experience with your mission so that they are changed for having done it and can’t imagine where they would be without that precious moment you created together.

How are you building transformative experiences into your solicitations, events, trips and other donor cultivation strategies?