Jim Eskin Says, “Major Gifts Fundraising & Communications Are Seamless”

Jim Eskin Says, “Major Gifts Fundraising & Communications Are Seamless” is one veteran fundraiser’s take on the charitable marriage between the raising of money and public relations. After spending the first half of my career in communications and public relations and the second half in fundraising, I absolutely view the two disciplines as part of one seamless continuum. They are so connected you cannot pinpoint where one ends and the other begins.

Knowing, Liking and Trusting Non-Profits

A treasured mentor, Lionel Sosa, an iconic force in advertising, branding and public relations as an advisor to three Presidents of the United States and numerous Fortune 500 companies, observed that he felt the founding of a non-profit was the most satisfying experience of his distinguished career.

He came face-to-face with resource development challenges and summed it up this way: The goal in fundraising is to build momentum so that the donor prospect knows, likes and trusts us.

For this reason, though we welcome and salute the expertise of our colleagues in the communications arena of our organizations, much of an effective fundraiser’s time is devoted to the art and science of communications.

Major Gifts Fundraising & Communications Are Seamless

Good Writing is Irreplaceable

Here are my 10 core thoughts on how winning fundraisers tap the power communications and public relations to successfully build relationships — no, make that friendships — with donor prospects.

  1. Begin by finding out the donor prospect’s communication style preferences. There are so many to choose from and you want to make sure you are using the media that the prospect prefers and also know the time of day that they prefer. Some might prefer e-mail, texting, social media, phone calls and personal visits (which is our profession’s highest ranked form of connection). With the exception of communicating with medical offices, faxing has mostly disappeared.
  1. It all begins with good writing. Good writing — clear, concise and factual — will carry the day through a host of different printed, electronic and digital formats. This includes proposals, memorandums, newsletters, summary of meetings, gift acknowledgments, and introductions to the non-profit, to name just a few. I’ve always felt that you can’t go wrong hiring someone with strong writing skills for your development team.
  1. Strong writing will also buttress oral communications in meetings with donor prospect during the discovery, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship phases. It is especially crucial to have not a word-for-word script, but an outline or key talking points for non-profit leaders when making the ask. Typically, it is the responsibility of the Director of Development to draft those talking points and rehearse them with non-profit leaders who will make the ask.

New Technology Levels the Playing Field

  1. In many ways the dynamic advent of new technology has leveled the playing field among non-profits with varying budget capacity. Unlike direct mail (which still plays a very effective role), it costs about the same to send one e-mail as 10,000 e-mails. So, it’s essential to make an unrelenting commitment to gather good e-mail addresses, especially with those donor prospects who have indicated a preference for that type of communication.
  1. Be careful about spacing out your various communications so that they reach donor prospects evenly over the year and avoid overwhelming recipients during short spans of time while ignoring them at other times of the year. This is why it’s prudent develop a content calendar, so they are sent on a strategic basis.
  1. When a donor prospect lets you know about their updated contact information, by all means, note that in their files. That is a huge signal that your communication is important to them, and they should be cultivated accordingly.
  1. Another extremely cost-effective method of conveying your mission, impact and stories is producing short videos. It is amazing to see the polished results you can get just by using your smart devices. Such videos can be easily e-mailed to donor prospects.

Capture What Happens in Donor Meetings

  1. Another indispensable use of strong communication is ensuring contact reports are written and filed on meetings with donor prospects. This is especially critical for your work on major gifts. With the reality of high fundraiser turnover these provide institutional knowledge and perspective so new staff members can step in and continue relationship building.

In Closing …

  1. Thanking donors for their precious gifts of time and money is both the right and smart thing to do. Don’t fall into the trap of recycling form letters.

Make sure each stewardship communication fits the gift made by and personality of the donor. My favorite form of thanking is mailing a handwritten note card immediately after a gift is made. Think about it: How many handwritten note cards do you receive? It will make you stand out.

  1. We highlighted the ever-growing impact of videos, but strong photos, graphs and other images can forcefully reinforce your choice of words. Don’t miss opportunities to feature them. Seeing is believing!

Bottom line: Successful fundraisers need to be effective writers and oral communicators. They also must be champions of their colleagues who have primary responsibilities for newsletters, e-mail blasts, websites, podcasts, videos and all different types of communication channels.

As we started, communications is essential to donor prospects knowing, liking and trusting our non-profits — a preamble to making gifts.

Major Gifts Fundraising & Communications Are Seamless was first posted NANOE

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Jimmy LaRose & NANOEJim Eskin’s consulting practice, Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his more than 150 fundraising workshops and webinars and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure major gifts. He has authored 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers, business journals and blogs across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which can be purchased here

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