Last week I reviewed It’s Not Just About the Money by Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels. This is a tremendously powerful book on major gifts and I greatly enjoyed reading Richard and Jeff’s advice.
Today, Richard and Jeff of Passion Giving are joining me for a Q&A session on major gifts and storytelling.
Question: In the book you mention the importance of knowing your organization story as a part of creating a strong culture of philanthropy. Do you have any tips or exercises that groups can do to create and refine their story?
Richard and Jeff: We believe that it first comes from really understanding the mission and vision of the organization. How did the organization come up with that mission and vision? What is it trying to do? This may seem pretty basic, but you would not believe how many non-profits don’t get this right. All of this needs to be written down and orally passed on to employees, donors and other stakeholders of the organization. For example, for anyone that works for the Salvation Army they all know “the story.” They know it started with William Booth in England and his care for the poor. That story was written down, and then talked about over and over. That story drives their mission and ultimately about what they do everyday. As far as exercises or tips: I think the best exercise is to have a “storytelling day” that you invite the board and donors to and actually start talking about how the nonprofit started, how the mission was born, what they are trying to accomplish and what has happened over it’s lifetime. Write it down, and publish it for staff. That story will drive how you talk to donors.
Question: Part of the value of that exercise is getting everyone on the same page and buying into the same vision. What should organizations do if there is disagreement about what the organization’s story is?
Richard and Jeff: You’re exactly right everyone needs to be on the same page. If they are not the organization will lose focus and get into all kinds of trouble. This happens all the time. Somehow the organization loses focus and their purpose and they get tangled into what the latest CEO or Board Chair happens to want. If there is disagreement there needs to be a “coming together” an actual gathering of the stakeholders with a facilitator who is skilled at bringing everyone together to come to a consensus. This either will bring everyone together or it will be apparent who should no longer be part of the organization.
Question: I’ve heard from major gifts officers before that they sometimes struggle with telling a story at a face to face meeting. Do you have any tips for orally telling a story?
Get the major talk points down then practice, practice, practice…in many ways the MGO is an actor. I’m not saying they are being inauthentic, but they may not be feeling inspired that day. Doesn’t matter…their job, just like an actor making an audience believe in them is to inspire their donors. The only way to do that is to have “the story” down, which means actually writing down the main points, so that you can retell it in your sleep. I’ve known MGO’s who go to a local theatre companies to help them hone their story and pitch. There should be NO STRUGGLE telling the story and inspiring the donor about the project or program you are trying to help the donor invest in.
Question: In one of the chapters you discuss how to set up a major gifts program for success, including creating a job description for a major gifts officer. One attribute that I didn’t see listed was intrapersonal communication and storytelling skills. Do you think this is something organizations should look for and assess when recruiting a major gifts officer?
We do say that an MGO has to have strong communication skills. I believe if the MGO has the strength of communication, with practice and coaching they will be successful at storytelling. And, over time,with experience, be able to communicate internally to get people to tell their stories to them so they can inspire their donors.
Question: Piller #6 of the 7 pillars of a major gifts strategy is about reporting back. What do you think must be included in a post-gift report? What can make a report truly memorable?
I think the report has to be very specific to the project or program the donor is supporting in that it has to tell the donor how their gift actually made a difference. That could be done with a video, a 3 page report, whatever the medium it simply has to go back to that element. Being able to say your gift of $100,000 helped 10 kids graduate high school and enter college by doing these specific things is amazing for the donor. And, then to get a thank you card from each of those kids would be pure gold. We have such a great opportunity to be creative at a low cost with the technology we have today. Whatever you do, the essential objective is to make sure the donor KNOWS her gift actually made a difference. The major reason for donor attrition is that they did not know they made a difference.
Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Jeff and Richard!