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Season 2, Episode 11

Do you get anxious when you have to ask for large gifts? On this Toolkit Talk, Amy and Andrea share their tips about how to get over asking-anxiety. They tell you how to prepare for your solicitation and some of the most effective language to use in your ask meetings. They also cover a lot of ground on feasibility studies (including DIY studies).

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, October 25, 2021. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
I’m going to kick us off today talking about overcoming anxiety. So unlike other types of fundraising or your annual fundraising where you might focus most of your attention on events or direct mail, grant writing, other types of fundraising, with capital campaigns, there needs to be an extra special focus — especially at the beginning of the campaign on individual solicitations, extra large gifts, these leadership level gifts that are at the tippy-top of your campaign gift range chart, donor pyramid, whatever you want to call it.

So, there’s no avoiding asking individuals for gifts. You may get away with it in your annual fund if you do other types of fundraising, but when you commit to doing a capital campaign, you commit to asking in one-on-one situations. And in the past, I would’ve said face to face, but often we’re doing it virtually now over Zoom, sometimes even over the phone. If you can still get together in-person, great. If not, we have this wonderful new tool in our fundraising toolbox to be able to ask. But the important point is that you’re having a personalized individual one-on-one conversation with your donors.

3 Tips to Overcome Asking Anxiety

So, I want to share a few things that I’ve been thinking about in terms of overcoming your anxiety for when you need to go out and ask for these out sized, especially large gifts. Specifically when it comes to your organization, these are probably some of the largest gifts you’ve ever asked for.

1. Listen more, talk less

So one thing I would say is listen more, talk less. Everybody thinks that when you’re going to ask for a big amount of money you need to do this big pitch and you bring slides and you talk at the donor. No, you listen more, you talk less and ask good questions. And that will take the pressure off you. It’s not a presentation, it’s a conversation. And so if you go into it with that in mind, I think there’s a lot less pressure on you, because you’re not responsible for this big presentation, you are responsible for asking thoughtful questions, answering the donor’s questions and really leading a conversation.

2. Admit that you’re afraid

So, tip number two is admit that you’re afraid. I don’t think it’s a problem to go into a donor and say, “Listen, you know what? This is the biggest campaign we’ve ever run, we’re out here talking to our top 10 potential donors, you’re one of them, we hope, about the biggest gifts to the campaign. And it’s not something I have a lot of experience with, and I hope that you’ll forgive me as I bumble my way along through this conversation.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. You are asking for the biggest gifts that you’ve ever asked for. And it actually will diffuse some of the anxiety in the room that the donor may be feeling too. They may be uncomfortable. So you can put it out on the table. You know what? If you’re feeling nervous or uncomfortable, feel free to let me know. We can both acknowledge that we’re going to bumble through this and we want the best for the organization. That’s our mutual goal, is that we want the best for this organization, and we’re going to try and have a conversation about what role you might play in that.

3. Push through and ask anyway

And I think my third tip before I turn it over to Andrea for her thoughts are, ask anyway. Feel your anxiety and do it anyway. I want you to think about all of the big high stakes anxiety asking we do in our lifetimes. Maybe you asked somebody to marry you, high anxiety. You did it anyways. Maybe you asked for a raise, pretty high anxiety. But you don’t get the outcome you want either a spouse or a raise. You face your fear and you do it anyways. Avoiding it doesn’t work in this case, you have to go out and ask for some of those big gifts. So, let me stop there. Andrea, what would you like to add?

Prepare Before You Ask

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah, I think that’s a great set of tips, Amy. I really do. I would add something that really relates to what you’ve said. And that is that when you’re asking for these really large gifts, I think it’s a good idea to make sure before you ever go in to ask someone for a gift, that you have a pretty good idea of why they might want to give. And there is something about that, that will make you less anxious. And that if you’re going in and asking for something, because you want the money and you have no idea why they might want to give, you have no idea what’s in it for them, then it really is anxiety producing. And it may be that you’re just not ready to ask yet, that you need to have a preliminary conversation that says, “I was thinking about this ask and I was looking at your role in this organization and thinking about coming and talking to you about it. And I’d really like to explore with you whether this campaign is something you would like to give to, whether it’s something you’d like to make a contribution to.”

But if you really remember that a big contribution comes out of a donor’s desire to do something rather than your desire for their money, it radically shifts the ground on which you’re having the conversation and will make you way less anxious. Even if it means that you’re not actually asking for the gift or even starting out asking for the gift, because you don’t yet know why a donor would want to make that gift. That stops you square. If I’m going to come and talk to Amy about a gift to whatever organization in her community, and I don’t know why she might be interested in giving to it, I’ve got some homework to do. And maybe the homework is through a conversation with Amy to say, “I’m talking about this park in the middle of your community and raising money for it, tell me how you feel about public space in your community.” I’m just making this up. But I really want to ask you for a gift, but I don’t want to ask you for a gift until I know that it’s something you might be interested in giving to.

So the minute you get yourself on the donor’s side rather than the give me your money side, your anxiety is likely to go down. So that’s point number one. A related point is this, that rather than preparing your pitch or your script, prepare questions you would like to ask the donor. And that will get you started in the right direction. If I know that I want to ask Amy about her relationship to the community and what she feels about public space in her community, whatever the topic or issue is, then she is going to start talking to me. And as she starts talking to me, she’s going to give me an understanding of how we might frame that conversation. That is much better than anything I could have prepared going in.

Amy Eisenstein:
I think those both go to listen more, talk less.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That’s right. Exactly, they do. They’re how do you listen? Don’t listen more and talk less unless you have something to listen for. You don’t go in and sit there and say, “Amy, talk to me.”

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. Good questions. I think that’s the key, prepare those questions. That’s what you prepare.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. That’s right. You prepare the questions. And a way to think about asking about questions is that they should start with how or what. The words, how or what, are really good questions, because they lead to discussion. Don’t start with the word, do, that leads to yes or no. Start with the word, how.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. So if you ask, do you like our organization? The answer is yes or no. And that’s the end of the conversation. But how or why do you like our organization? In what ways do you like our organization? Or what resonates? Those are the questions.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
What do you think the three most important things we do in our organization are? Or what are the three reasons that you’ve been such a long steady donor to our organization? Those are going to lead you to real conversations that you can then follow. And you follow the donor’s thread not your own thread. So those will help. Now, they don’t help when you get up in the morning and you’re really anxious. It’s like oh. And what happens in a capital campaign is that you know you have about 10 gifts to ask for. And if you’re not successful, your campaign is not going to be successful. So the stakes are tremendously high. And that causes agita as my old friend, Brian used to say, “There’s no way around that, because stakes are so high.” They really are. It’s like you’re asking someone for a gift of a million dollars, the top gift to your campaign. How can you not be anxious?

Anxiety About Asking is Normal

Amy Eisenstein:
If you’re not anxious, you’re doing it wrong.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
If you’re not anxious, you’re dead.

Amy Eisenstein:
So you are going to be anxious. It’s a question of what do you do to prepare and overcome just enough to go do the meeting, to have that conversation, because you’ve got to have the conversation. But I will add to that, that if you’ve done your campaign planning well and hopefully you really are set up for success, you will have more than one donor prospect for most gifts you need. And so it is okay to get some nos or not everybody’s going to give exactly what you ask for and that’s okay too. And so go in being prepared to be grateful, truly grateful for whatever they decide to do. And somehow put aside some of that disappointment. Many donors will come through in big wonderful generous ways. Some will not. And that is part of fundraising.

I always tell development directors, if you’re not getting any no’s, you’re not out there nearly enough, you’re not asking for enough, you’re not asking for enough people. You’re just going ask when you’re 100% confident. And that means you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. So you’re going to get some nos or some gifts that are smaller than you ask for. And that’s part of the process. It really is okay. If you only have the exact number of donors for the exact number of gifts you need, you probably are not ready for a campaign. Okay. Andrea, we’ve got some wonderful questions coming in.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes, let us go to them.

DIY Feasibility Studies

Amy Eisenstein:
All right. Oh, you know what? So the first one, Renata, I think… How would you pronounce that? We’ve had Renata here before. I’d like to learn more about capital campaign, do it yourself feasibility studies. I have to say, I’m going to let you talk about this in a minute, Andrea, but we talk about overcoming anxiety for going to get a gift. One of the ways to start being more comfortable talking to donors is to go and talk to them during the feasibility study phase. And so the first time you’re talking to them is not when you’re asking for this big gift, you have probably or you should have spoken to them at least once, twice, probably many times before you ask for that big gift. So you’re more comfortable with the donor. It’s not a stranger, this is not a new person, it’s not the first time you’ve talked about the campaign with them. So Andrea, why don’t you talk about both feasibility studies, do it yourself guided?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. Great. I’m happy to do that. Amy, I was just starting to write actually. We send out a monthly Consultants Confidential newsletter to all the consultants on our list, and I was just starting to write it. And writing about a conversation I had last week with a consultant and he said to me, and it really knocked me out, he said to me, “I’ve always had a problem with doing feasibility studies and I’ve done a lot of them, I’ve interviewed a lot of donors over the years.” He said, “I’ve always had a problem, because I have this uneasy feeling that I’m the one who’s building the relationship with the donors and that, that’s somehow not right.” He said, “It makes me uncomfortable.” And that made me think back to my years as a standard campaign consultant, which I was for many years. I did a lot of that stuff.

And I worked in one region of the country, a fairly tight region of the country. And I would do one campaign after another, or sometimes have several campaigns at the same time going on. And of course, I would go back to the same donors, the same largest donors in that region again and again on behalf of different organizations. And I got to know them well over years. So it got so that the donor and I would be sitting having a conversation about the organization. That was not appropriate in some way. That was my job to be representing the organization, but these things get a little mushy. And I also knew, honestly, that these key important people needed to think highly of me, because they would recommend me for the next campaign.

So it’s self-serving, this notion of hiring consultants. To go out and talk to your largest donors can be a self-serving effort on behalf of the consultants. It’s not that they set out to make it that way, but it can morph into that. And from that discomfort, we have developed new ways of doing these feasibility studies. Just I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. So what we are encouraging people to do now and what we do at the Capital Campaign Toolkit is that we work with organizations, guiding them, structuring the study, but we help them get ready for and conduct their own feasibility study interviews so that when they are ready, they go and talk to the donor in much the same way a consultant would, only they’re having real conversations, testing the plan, seeing what the donor thinks, not asking for money, but doing the same things that a consultant would’ve done in earlier times. What that does is that it paves the way for the eventual solicitation, which is what Amy was talking about earlier. Makes it much easier.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. And when you’re saying they, we’re talking about the leaders of the nonprofits.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
The leaders. Yes.

Amy Eisenstein:
So the CEO, the executive director, the main board chair, perhaps.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That’s right. Yes, exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
Sometimes, the development director. So instead of an outside consultant going to talk to your biggest donors, you, the leaders of your nonprofit coached by us, would go talk to the donors and do the feasibility study. When we do it with you in concert, we hold your hand every step of the way, we provide you with the guidance and the tools and the steps. But you are building the relationships with your donors. Now, Renata is asking about a do it yourself feasibility study, which would be even a little bit different than our Guided Feasibility Study model. So why don’t you talk about what we call do it yourself donor conversations. We don’t call them feasibility studies necessarily, because they’re missing some key components, perhaps. But if you’re not going to do a formal feasibility study, we encourage you to have leadership level conversations with donors.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. And you really should be doing that a lot. Anyway, honestly, you should be making that a part of your standard fundraising process that periodically you should be going and talking to your largest donors when you are not asking them for money, talking about the organization and what’s going on and getting their advice. And the do it yourself model is similar to what we do in the guided feasibility study, only it doesn’t end up in an official report that is presented to the board with the help of the seal of approval of a consultant, which is what we do in our guided study. But nonetheless, you can put together a list of what it is you’ve heard, you can make sense of it, you can come up with recommendations that you make from those interviews that you’ve had. And that’s a do it yourself study. We recommend it actually. We more recommend a guided feasibility study, but we recommend both of them really, depending on the circumstance or situation.

Participating in #GivingTuesday

Amy Eisenstein:
All right. So there’s a couple of questions now about GivingTuesday. I think just really briefly, I may turn it over to the chat box to find out. Janet’s asking how can small nonprofits participate in GivingTuesday? So if you have any ideas for Janet, why don’t you put it in the chat box? There’s another GivingTuesday… Oh, Janet’s asking again, more specific questions about participation in GivingTuesday. I will say, I think I’m going to cut it off and say that just a week or two ago, I wrote on the amyeisenstein.com blog about GivingTuesday. If you Google GivingTuesday, you’re going to get more and better information probably than we’re going to share here.

I think the thing that I would say is that it’s not a magic bullet. It’s not as easy to raise money on GivingTuesday as you might think. It takes a strategic and concerted effort. And you do really have to think through your strategy, just like any other fundraising. But there’s a lot of publicity and press around it. So if you do have the wherewithal to plan a campaign, it’s not a terrible idea. So let me leave it at that and let other people chime in, in the chat box. And you can feel free to go to my Amy Eisenstein blog. And I wrote about GivingTuesday a few weeks ago.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Kate has chatted in the nonprofit hunger games. You can’t win, even when you do. That’s really funny, Kate.

Amy Eisenstein:
That is funny, Kate.

Determining Small, Mid-Level, and Major Gifts for Your Nonprofit

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So all those asked a question and all that, I love simple questions. When you ask a question this, it is a simple question and most people have it. So thank you so much for stating it. I think it is a really good question actually. She wants to know how do you decide between small, mid level and a major gift. How do you set those levels for your organization? And it’s a wonderful question. The tool that we use with campaigns, and you can use it in your annual fundraising as well is, of course, the gift range chart. And you start the gift range chart at the top with one lead gift. In the capital campaign, the lead gift is likely to be 20 or 25 or even 30% of your campaign. So let’s just to use simple numbers. If you have a million dollar campaign and you’re going to start and say, well, our lead gift is going to have to be at least probably —

Amy Eisenstein:
200,000.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
…200,000, $250,000, and then you’re going to work down from there. Once you have done that, you look and see, all right, the up 10 gifts are roughly going to give you where the lead gifts end and where the middle gifts, these mid-level gifts happens. Sometimes a few more, you have to use your own instincts. In some organizations, there’s a bigger or a smaller tolerance. But I’d look at the top 10 gifts or the top 15 gifts as setting out the top level. Then I would look at the breadth of your organization’s donor list. If your organization has a really big donor file, you’re going to want to make a different calibration at the bottom, to show where the bottom of the mid-level gifts are. If your organization is a very small donor base, you’re going to want to set it differently.

So you have to look at the size, the number of people in your universe of donors and set those numbers accordingly. The narrower your donor base, the fewer gifts you’re going to raise from the bottom of your pyramid. You just don’t have that reach. So the mid-level is going to be bigger and more robust and important. Now, why is it important to make these calibrations? You should pay attention to this. The top level, those lead donors, you’re going to treat them with silk gloves. Is that velvet gloves? What kind of gloves?

Amy Eisenstein:
Velvet gloves. Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Velvet gloves. You’re going to treat those people really well. You’re going to solicit them individually. You’re going to cultivate them carefully. You’re going to follow up with them and steward them at the highest possible level. That’s what it is for someone to be in that top level. In the middle, you’re still going to want to solicit them as personally as you possibly can. If you can continue to do individual solicitations or send personalized solicitations, and then follow up with phone calls, you want more personalization in that middle group. Then at the bottom, you can no longer have that individual care. So when you think about the top, middle and bottom, think about what you can do right for that. I’m sorry.

Amy Eisenstein:
Okay. Yes. All right. I’m going to look at the next question here. All right. I was about to ask Andrea a question, but I’m going to wait until she gets back for the next one. So let’s see. Carrie. Okay. Carrie has a good question. How detailed should the information you share before a conversation, not an ask, a full business plan emailed ahead of time? So, Carrie, I don’t know. You don’t need to send a full campaign plan. You wrote business plan. I’m going to translate it to nonprofit speak and say a campaign plan. You don’t need to. So how much information should you share before a conversation that’s not an ask? I would say minimal. You’re going to have a conversation. You can always follow up with more details. You can provide more information based on the interests of the particular donor, but there’s no reason to send a full fleshed out plan. It’s probably more detail than the vast majority of donors are interested in, quite honestly.

How Many Interviews to do for a Feasibility Study

All right. Let’s see here. Amy is asking, is there a rule of thumb about how many interviews should be done for a feasibility study? Good question, Amy. I’m curious to know in the chat, if you’ve done a feasibility study, how many interviews did you do? Generally, the number of interviews corresponds to some degree to the amount of money that you’re raising, but the vast majority of campaigns probably under, I don’t know, 50 million. You can do 30, 35 interviews and probably be… Okay, Andrea, you answer this question. I see you. I don’t know. The bigger the campaign you’re going to have more interviews, the smaller the campaign, 30, 35 interviews probably is sufficient. What would you say?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
The question is how many interviews?

Amy Eisenstein:
How many interviews should be done for a feasibility study? You need to interview the top potential donors for your campaign, you need to interview the key leaders in the community and a few more people who are going to be influential. Not a lot more than that.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I generally start with saying, make a list of 50 people. Just see what that list looks like. And if after you made a list of 50 people who fit the categories, Amy just said, and you realize that you’ve got another 50 off the top of your head of people who are all really important, then you know you need to interview more. But chances are really good that, that’s not going to be the case. I find that, that most organizations are stretched to list 50 people. And of those 50 people, you probably are only going to get to 30 or 35 of them. And that, that’s true with the remarkable range of organizations.

Sometimes, honestly, you can do a really good guided visibility study with 20 interviews. The sad part of this process is when you talk to someone who has had a feasibility study done, and they say, “We never quite understood the results, because our consultants didn’t talk to the largest donors in town.” And that makes you just want to hold your head to say. So you have to include the people who could make the largest gifts. They have to be there. Then if you can include the people who are influential, the people who are going to be offended if they’re not included, a couple of key leaders, that’s really what you’re after. Right?

Amy Eisenstein:
All right. So I just want to make sure everybody understood. When Andrea said, make a list of 50 people, you’re not going to get to interview all of them. Because of scheduling, they’re not going to all be responsive, it’s not going to work out for a variety of reasons. But out of that 50 people, you should get 30, 35 interviews, something along those lines. All right. There’s so many good questions. All right.

Role Play Example of a Donor Conversation

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Okay. Let’s get to a question from Marovich. Let’s see. I just meant a very wealthy man who has been very welcoming, but Cheryl, we may swing back to you, who has been very welcoming and kind to me as a new executive director. That’s fantastic. I found out he has never given to our organization. What’s a good question to ask so he does not get put upon, by the way? He just did an introduction for me with another wealthy individual. Oh, that’s a great thing. That’s a great thing for us to play with. So Amy, you are the very wealthy man, right?

Amy Eisenstein:
Okay.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And I’m Marovich.

Amy Eisenstein:
So we’re going to answer both Cheryl’s question and Marovich’s question —

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
…in the same role play.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Okay. And then we just looked back and forth.

Amy Eisenstein:
All right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So Amy, thank you so much. I can’t tell you what it means to me to have you be so kind and welcoming to me in my new role. You might imagine that I’m a little anxious and trying to put my best foot forward. So when someone like you, a leader in this community, steps up and welcomes me, it’s amazing.

Amy Eisenstein:
Well, we are delighted to have really important key leaders, smart people working to enhance the community and make sure that the needs of our most vulnerable citizens are met. So we’re happy to have you.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So, Amy, I did prepare for this visit by looking back through our donor files, and I see that you’re actually not even a donor to our organization. Is there a reason for that or what kinds of things do you give to?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. So as you would expect, I’m involved in a lot of charities. I’ve sat on the board of the hospital and the theater and my college. And I have to admit, although I’ve been aware of your work in the past, nobody’s ever approached me before.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So do you have particular things that are near and dear to your heart? And do any of them sort of touch on our mission? Marovich, I don’t know what your organization is.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah, we’re making it up.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I’m making it up.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I would say that my top priorities are healthcare and the environment, and I think you guys are doing good work. Would I put it in my top three? No, but I’m interested enough to make sure to help you see your vision through. It’s not in my top three, but I’m open to learning more.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. So, Amy, again, I’m just so grateful. I wonder if I could schedule two or three meetings with you over the next month when I could come and sit and talk to you every week or every other week, and I might bring a list of people to talk. You know this community really well, and I would love to be able to get your take on who the people are who are on my list and how you would suggest that I might approach them and find out who else you think I should be approaching. I’d love to use you as my interim mentor, just as I get my feet on the ground here. Would you be willing to help me that way?

Amy Eisenstein:
I would be delighted to help you that way. Yes. Let’s do one meeting in my office and then we’ll do the rest on Zoom. It’ll be easier for both of us.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Fantastic. Yeah. That was good. Didn’t you think Amy?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. All right. So Cheryl, you want to have a variety of things that you’re asking. It’s going to depend on is the person a donor, is the person not a donor? How are they connected to you? What do you know about this person? You’re going to have different questions that you’re asking board members you’re going to sit down with. Even a long term board member, if you’re new to the organization or if you haven’t had one-on-one conversations, you may see them all the time at meetings, but you don’t actually know what their connection to your organization is. If you don’t know why they care, you’re not ready to ask for a gift, just to go back to our earlier conversation.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And the neat thing is that actually, if you ask people what’s important to them, they really will tell you. There are two things I want to take on this. That’s the first one. If you ask people about themselves and why he has been in touch with you, that’s really generous of him. Find out why. He’ll tell you if you ask. And that’s going to lead you somewhere. So that’s number one. And of course, now I’ve forgotten number two. It’ll come back.

About Capital Campaigns Podcast

Amy Eisenstein:
All right. Well, Judith is asking in the chat. So Judith, the way to re-listen to this conversation. So you can share this little back and forth, Andrea and I just did, is on a podcast. So we have a podcast called All About Capital Campaigns. You can go to any podcasting app, wherever you listen to podcasts and type in All About Capital Campaigns, and it should be up in the next two or three days. And you can re-listen to this.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I found the other thing I wanted to say about our conversation, which is that I shifted that to ask him to be helpful, because we know that when someone is engaged and involved, they’re likely to become more generous, they are likely to want to be donors, they are likely to want to help more. He is not going to help you in that way and then not become a donor. I promise you. So it feels a little like you have to go around the corner, but if you really are open to his help and support, and if you can say to him, “Listen, you’re a leader in the community, and I need to know, I need you to help provide insights to me,” you are doing multiple things all at the same time. And engaging people is so important. And people will want to be engaged. That’s what’s so cool, right?

Amy Eisenstein:
People like to be valued, they like be asked for their thoughts and opinions. And if you really do reach out and ask people for their feedback in a genuine and authentic way, you will rope them in is what I was going to say. I don’t know that, that’s the best analogy, but you will engage them. And that’s what this is all about. All right. I go to Celeste’s question here. Is there any rule of thumb about the amount we can raise in our capital campaign as compared with the amount that we raise an annual giving? So if they’re raising $200,000 annually, can they do a $5 million campaign? And how would they know that? Do you want to start?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah, sure. There are a bunch of formulas that people will give you. And while it’s worth thinking about them, most of them don’t really hold water. But I can tell you that I certainly wouldn’t shoot for less than five times what you raise annually. I wouldn’t. Now, the problem with five times is that you may be able to go 10 times or more. How much money you can raise has everything to do with the capacity and closeness of your largest donors. So having a formula is one thing. Actually looking at your donor file and understanding your situation and the people who care about you and your organization and your project is quite something other than that. So don’t sell yourself short in a formula if you have a circumstance where you have some very wealthy people who are eager to get on board and support a big project of yours. But that said, go for five times if you want to start with a number to keep you from the heebie jeebies.

Amy Eisenstein:
Or the 10 times. Yeah.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Or 10 times. Start with 10 times. Exactly, go with 10 times.

Amy Eisenstein:
Okay. Let’s start with 10 times. There’s always opportunity to scale the project and the goal back if you need to. But here’s the thing, Celeste, a couple of things that I would say. One is, what you’re raising annually is maybe an indicator, but if you don’t really have a robust major gift program, I would say that you don’t have any idea yet what your potential donors can do, because you haven’t really asked them in a meaningful and personal way. And so you may be way under raising for who you have in your donor database. You may not, I don’t know that yet, just from our initial conversation. But it’s something to keep in mind. If you haven’t sat down and talked with your top potential donors and asked them for annual gifts, maybe they could give a lot more than you think.

Amy Eisenstein:
I would also keep in mind that people do dig deep for very special projects. So it depends what your campaign is for. If you say, “We want to raise $5 million for an endowment, because we don’t want to have to fundraise,” that’s not that motivating for most donors. So if you have a very strong case for support, we’re going to help all these people, we’re going to be able to expand programs and services, we’re going to be able to help in new and innovative ways, we’re going to try new things, great, people will dig deep. But if you’re saying, “Oh, we just want to have a $5 million endowment so we don’t want to fundraise anymore,” then I’d say, no, people aren’t going to give to that. So there are a lot of factors at play.

Conducting a Capital Campaign with a Small Donor Base

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So I want to answer Karen’s question and I want to answer it in a funny way, because Karen says, “My organization is brand new to fund development. There is no donor list, no long term donors. How do we start if we are starting off with a capital campaign?” Right now, you might imagine that the answer I would give is you’re barking up the wrong tree. If you’re going to have a capital campaign, you need a donor list and you need donors who are involved. But I’m not going to answer it that way actually.

So why? Capital campaign fundraising is based on some really effective principles of human behavior. And you actually can do a capital campaign if you’ve never raised money before. You really can. It might be small, it might be a relatively little campaign. You can’t raise the same money that you will have raised if you have a big donor base. But I actually did work once with an artist on helping her raise the money for a project she was doing. And she wanted to raise, I don’t know, $20,000, something like that, which was just, from our perspective, is a little amount of money. From her perspective, it was a huge amount of money. And we did a capital campaign to raise $20,000. And she raised $20,000. And we went through the same steps we would go through, which is to say, all right, let’s make a little gift range chart for $20,000. The top gift is going to be —

Amy Eisenstein:
$2,000.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
…$2000, $4,000. The next gift is going to be $2,000 and a few $1,000 gifts. Now, we’re going to make a list, who are the people who would support you? Oh, your parents might support you or your sister or your friends or your this or your that. Let’s make a little list, and then let’s make a case for support, and then let’s go start talking to them. And by God, she did raise that money. And some years later, she got back in touch with me. She said, “I’ve used that model again and again to raise money for all of my projects.

Now, that tells me, and I’m going to go to you, Karen, I have no idea how big your organization is or what you’re trying to is money for, if you sit down with that simple principles of capital campaign fundraising, which is that gifts do not come in, in equal amounts, that the top gift needs to be 20 or 25% of your campaign goal, that you need to be able to point to the people who you could solicit for the rest of the gifts once you’ve put together your gift chart, you need a strong case for support. Go for it. If it’s $100,000 and you can point to the people who could give you those gifts, you can do a capital campaign and it’ll start off in the right direction.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. You need to sit down with your board members, your volunteers, your key leaders and people that you know that are in your circle and talk to them about if they think this is possible. And that’s where your initial donors are going to come from, whether it’s a capital campaign or any starter fundraising effort.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Exactly. It’s a good approach to fundraising. It works. Whether you’re long in the business or just starting out, it works. It really does.

The Letter Alerting Donors to a Feasibility Study

Amy Eisenstein:
All right. We’re going to anonymous author is asking, they’re just starting their feasibility study. And I think she’s concerned about managing those letters going out asking for interviews, going out at the same time as the year end appeal and what to do in terms of, do you alert the people you’re asking for money for your annual appeal that they’re participating in a feasibility study? Yes, you can acknowledge in the feasibility study letter that they are being asked to participate in the feasibility study because they’re a generous annual donor. I don’t think I would change my annual appeal letter. You might want to write a personal note to them, because they’re some of your biggest potential donors and you’re including them in the feasibility study. So pull their letters out of the annual fund, hand-write personal notes on anyways. And then send them an email, maybe a different medium. If you don’t have to send them a letter, you can send an email inviting them to participate in a feasibility study. And you can acknowledge, our annual appeal letters just went out, but I don’t know. Andrea, anything else?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. I hesitate that you’ve hired a consultant to do this. So I don’t know how many interviews your consultant is suggesting. If your consultant wants to do 60 interviews and you have a relatively narrow donor base, so that’s a pretty good number of people in your annual file. You might want to break that up. You might want to suggest that they break that up into a couple of different segments so that you solicit the largest, they go and talk to the largest donors first, and get those out of the way before the annual appeal goes out. I don’t know. I would need to know more.

Typically, if you were doing 20 to 30 interviews and you have a pretty robust development job, I wouldn’t think it was a problem. Probably I wouldn’t even mention one or the other. I’d probably just include them in the feasibility study and send out the annual appeal, which is the annual appeal. Everybody knows it comes out about this time of year. So I wouldn’t make a deal of it. But again, I don’t know how your consultant is setting this up. So I’d ask your consultant is what I’d do.

Amy Eisenstein:
And if you don’t have a consultant, then you have lots of flexibility.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes, exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
Anyways. Listen, just before we answer the next few questions, we’ve got a few minutes left to answer the last handful of questions. I do want to remind everybody that we are available and happy to have individual conversations with you about your specific questions in your specific campaign. If you go to the Capital Campaign Toolkit website, which is just capitalcampaigntoolkit.com, you can sign up for a strategy session. There’s no obligation or commitment. It just means that either me or Andrea or one of our campaign experts will talk to you about your campaign and answer your specific campaign questions that we may or may not get to on these calls.

In addition to that, we started the day talking about anxiety asking for these leadership level gifts. And we’ve got a whole team of experienced campaign advisors who coach nonprofit leaders through capital campaigns and through asking for leadership level gifts. So if you’re looking for a coach or an advisor to help you with your capital campaign, that’s exactly what our team does here at the Capital Campaign Toolkit. So we do hope that you’ll call on us if you’re looking for support or help or guidance in terms of any parts of your capital campaign. But really specifically today, we’re talking about asking for those leadership level gifts. We would love to help. All right, Andrea, what question —

Can a Development Director Fill the ED Role?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Shannon’s asked if she… Shannon, I suppose you are the ED, the development director, can the development director fill the ED role when asking for a gift if the relationship is already established with a major donor? And I think if the situation is right, I don’t think there’s any reason not to do that. Sometimes you’re the best person to make that ask. Just be sure that you discuss it with the ED and that your ED agrees with that also. You have to be a little careful of the politics of that, I suspect.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. You may even want to talk to the donors, say, “Listen, we want to talk to you about your campaign gift. Obviously, we have a strong relationship. I’m wondering if we should have that conversation or if you would like to talk to the executive director in this situation, because they’re leading the organization.” So most donors, especially at the biggest gifts, do want to have the reassurance and the confidence in the executive director that they’re going to carry out the campaign and use the campaign funds the way they say they do. So big donors often want to talk to the top dog, but the development director for sure, will be doing some of the asking during a campaign.

On Focus Groups of Donors

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. So Terry has asked, is it common to ask large donors to participate in a focus group and one-on-one meeting? Terry, I would imagine that those have different purposes. A focus group is a structured discussion to talk about something specific about the organization, the future of the organization, the plans, whatever it is you’re going to focus on. That’s why it’s called a focus group. And a one-on-one meeting is likely to be either about the donor or about asking them for a gift. I don’t see any conflicts between those two. And the more you engage people, the better. That doesn’t mean they’ll say yes to everything, but I don’t see a reason not to do that.

Amy Eisenstein:
I think one important thing I would add is that it’s important not to replace a focus group for a one-on-one meeting. I was speaking to somebody the other day and they want to do focus groups so that they don’t have to go talk to their individual donors. And that it’s not a replacement for one-on-one meetings. Don’t assume that you can talk to groups in the same way, and that you’ll get the same information that you will in a one-on-one meeting. So really make sure that you understand the different purposes and why you’re having the focus groups and why you would be doing a more feasibility study type of conversations, individual one-on-one conversations.

All right. Somebody is asking in the chat box, “Are your fees on your website?” Yes, they are. And we do offer additional services. So if you are interested in the services that aren’t specifically listed by price on the website, do feel free to sign up for a strategy session so we can talk about what your needs are. But our base service prices are all listed on the website.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Right. Amy wants to know how much resistance there is to getting together in-person and how anxious people are about COVID. I suspect that as to do in part with where you are in the country. And Zoom meetings really do work very well. So we encourage you to use Zoom when that’s what the donor would like, and to invite the donor to tell you their preference. There’s no reason not to use Zoom meetings. They’re not quite the same individual face to face meetings, but there are great advantage. There are some advantages to them as well.

Amy Eisenstein:
Okay. So there’s an anonymous question that’s been up for a while. The question is, is it best practice to include previous gift amount on an appeal response card? So I have to say, that’s not my area of expertise. I believe it is still best practice, but I don’t have the current researcher data. So if anybody else wants to chime in about that, but I think probably if you want to send me an email, I can probably refer you to somebody who knows the answer to that question.

Final Tip for the Day: Slow Down

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Amy, as we wrap this up, I have a little story to tell. It was just a fun, sweet story. So I live in the middle of New York City and in a building that has a bunch of artists in it. And my upstairs neighbor on the fifth floor is a singer. And he got in touch with me recently. He’s an opera singer. He’s also a composer. And he said, “I’ve been invited to do a five week residency at Minton’s,” which is a jazz club in Harlem. And he said, “I want to raise some money to support other artists that I want to bring into that residency. And can I come down and get your advice about fundraising?” Because he knows I’m in this business. I said, “Willie, but all means, come on down.”

So he came down and I gave him a quick little tutorial about fundraising. I said, “What’s your budget? And what’s your gift range chart? And what’s your depth chart? And what’s your case for support?” I did what I do. In about 20 minutes, I ran him through the plan. And then I said, “And Willie, when you’re ready,” I said, “You should come back.” And if you come back and ask me for a gift, I said, “I will support your project.” I said, “But you have to be willing to come back and ask for a gift. You will need to get over your anxiety and ask for a gift.”

Amy Eisenstein:
Did he come back?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I have often said this to people and with some frequency they don’t show up, right? But Willie, bless his heart, the next week emailed me. He said, “Andrea, I’ve done everything you asked me for. I know what the budget is, here’s my little chart, here’s my depth chart, here’s the list of people, here’s the reason this is important. And I want to schedule a meeting to come and talk to you about your gift.”

Amy Eisenstein:
Good for him.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
He came down. He did a terrific job. The only way I knew that he was anxious is that he talks so fast. So I could always not follow what he was saying.

Amy Eisenstein:
All right. So that’s our final tip for the day. Slow down —

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Slow down.

Amy Eisenstein:
…take a breath, take a big breath and present your… Well, I was going to say present your case, but have a conversation. Of course, you’re going to share about the project. But hopefully, I guess Willie had already asked you lots of questions. So you had, had some of that conversation.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That’s right.

Amy Eisenstein:
Anyways. All right. Listen, guys, it is always a pleasure. We loved the questions today. They were wide and far ranging and it’s just so fun to chat with all of you. We will see you next week. Thank you so much for joining us. Andrea, it’s always a pleasure doing this with you.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I agree, Amy. It’s always fun. And thanks to all of you who are with us today. We look forward to seeing you next week.

Amy Eisenstein:
All right. See you next week, guys. Bye-bye.

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