Major Gift Lessons From My Grandsons

roundcube.intermediaI’ve had the privilege of speaking all over the world to groups as large as 900. Certainly, my adrenaline would pump. But never once did I feel nervous or worried. That is until my grandson asked me to speak to his second grade class.

“Grammie,” he asked, his face in a serious frown, “do you want me to give you some advice?”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“First, be sure to tell stories.” He gave me an encouraging nod. “You’re good at that.”

Storytelling, as you know, is at the heart of major gift work. Stories that invite questions, engagement and action. As gift officers, we all know how important this is. But are we making it easy for our board members, top donors, champions and influencers to tell our story? One way to make it easier is to have short videos available, under three or four minutes. Your volunteers can have them on their tablets and mobile devices. Make sure they know where to find them on your website. Professional videos like this one works well.

But amateur video is also effective. YouTube has provided us with a high tolerance for amateur video. Use your smart phone to capture your program staff at work or recipients sharing the change in their lives. And don’t forget the importance of making your fiscal story come alive.

The purpose of the story is to invite strategic conversations, not to pitch and sell. Which leads me to his next piece of good advice.

“Be sure to ask us lots of questions. Kids like that.”

We talk a lot about listening and asking questions but are they generative and/or strategic? Have you asked your donors some of these powerful questions? The first three are from Michelle Clarke. They work well at a vision meeting, strategic planning session, high-level donor meeting after your CEO has shared his or her BIG IDEAS.
1. What had real meaning for you from what you’ve heard? What surprised you? What challenged you?

2. What’s missing from this picture so far? What is it we’re not seeing? About what do we need more clarity?

3. What’s been your major learning, insight or discovery so far?

The next few questions, probe for more understanding about your donor’s motivations and values.

1. What do you expect from the charitable organizations in which you are involved?

2. What do you value most about your relationships with the organizations and institutions you support?

3. What values underpin your philanthropic choices?

If you would like a list of strategic and generative donor questions (updated for 2015) and tailored for your type of organization, contact me at karen@theosbornegroup.com

His third piece of advice was, “Don’t embarrass me.” Enough said!

I have a second grandson, aged three. He also knows something about major gift work. We were opening presents this Christmas. Trucks, helicopters, building blocks, and Thomas the Tank Engine trains and tracks. After opening each present, he said thank you and fell to playing with it. We had to move him to the next toy because he was so absorbed.

Every time he visits, we always read stories, which he loves. So also under the tree were three new books wrapped in Christmas paper. As we moved him from his new train and he tore the paper away he said, “Grammie I like books but they are not a good present.”

Reminder. Everyone is different. What we think is wonderful stewardship may not work for someone one else. Books for some are perfect but clearly not for all.

You have to tailor major gift stewardship and engagement. Canned doesn’t work even if it’s lovely.

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