In major gift fundraising circles, we put a lot of emphasis on “the art of the ask”. And rightly so. I’ve seen many organizations boost their fundraising by following these three simple rules about asking: 1) Ask more often, 2) Ask more effectively, and 3) Ask for bigger gifts.

But simply asking for bigger gifts doesn’t necessarily lead to bigger gifts. In order to elevate donors’ giving you must prepare them for a bigger ask by doing these three things well in the “space between” solicitations:

1) Relationship Management. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to hear me say that relationships are critical to major giving. Tell me something I don’t know, right? Well here’s something you may not know: most organizations are doing it wrong. For one thing, too many organizations are limiting their opportunities because they aren’t getting beyond “one-dimensional” relationships with donors – i.e. the donor has a relationship with only one person in the organization (and in many cases this is not even a very meaningful relationship). One easy way to elevate a donor’s giving is to build more meaningful connections with more people in your organization (we call this building “four-dimensional” relationships, and you can read more about what this means by clicking this link). For another, too many are also not deliberate enough in managing donor relationships. We have an exercise we incorporate into major gift training sessions called “The Anatomy of a Gift”… interviewing someone about everything that went into landing a big gift, in order to deconstruct the process into component parts. In a sense it’s like conducting a virtual autopsy on the process that was involved in closing the gift. It’s a fun exercise, and makes for a great learning opportunity for major gift fundraisers. One thing I’ve learned after doing this exercise a few times is that big gifts don’t happen by accident – they may appear seamless to someone on the outside looking in, but a lot of time and deliberate effort went into orchestrating the steps leading up to the ask, and into following up to close the gift once the ask was made.

2) Impact Messaging. We have a saying at DB&A that we often share about how to communicate with major donors: “Never under-estimate their intelligence, but never over-estimate their knowledge or understanding.” One sure-fire way to elevate donors’ giving is to help them see how their giving is making a difference in people’s lives. The best way to do this is to let them see it with their own eyes, but that’s not always possible . This is where “impact messaging” comes in. We define “impact messaging” as the stream of communications you direct to your major donors in order to share information and stories with them so that they can see how their partnership with your ministry is making a significant difference in the lives of people. Taken together, these communications comprise a cohesive narrative that reinforces the donor’s understanding of what you are accomplishing together, and solidifies their commitment to your ongoing work.

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.

Remember the “Anatomy of the Gift”? Do that exercise enough times, and the more big gifts you “dissect”, the more you will begin to realize that almost every one of them have one thing in common: a Transformative Experience. These pivotal experiences are the engine providing lift to donor elevation, and they are a key component to the steps that need to occur in the process of landing a big gift.

You can read more about that in the next installment of this two-part blog series …