What Funders Want

What Funders Want

A while back I spoke at a university event, sharing a few tips from the grantmaking trenches with a small army of courageous and hardworking university development professionals. They asked me for insights on what donors want.

Here are a few:

  • Many individual donors don’t know what they want, past making a difference. The people who are seasoned philanthropists and focused impact creators will tell you exactly what they want. For the rest, don’t attempt to guess. You are wasting time. Just talk to people and listen a lot.
  • Find out FIRST why I (the hypothetical donor) am sitting in the chair in front of you. The REAL reason. You might think that we are talking about me writing a check for a scholarship, but you could be wrong. I might be talking about the scholarship because I don’t know what else would make a difference. Scholarships might be all I know, or, all I think I can afford to fund. Also, I might be slightly uneasy about my lack of knowing… So take the time to dig, and truly understand why it is important to me to support the university.
  • Ask about the past. Ask about the donor’s/potential donor’s college experience. What was really hard for them? What was really transformative for them? What would have made a difference to a dear friend that had a rough time in college? Etc. Once you get those answers, you could easily tailor a very unique funding proposition for this donor – WHILE funding harder-to-fundraise-for programs (or elements of the work).
  • Have a student with you at all funding meetings if you can. It does not have to be the most inspiring story. Sometimes it is hard to relate to somebody that seems super-human. Just pick someone who is sweet and real. That makes a difference in the ear of the donor. Also, by bringing students into the process, you could be creating a hands-on training program for the youth (and you can raise money to have it funded, of course, because what’s more valuable in this world than practicing how to galvanize resources?) And can farm out some of your calls and follow-up to the student. Win-win-win, yes?
  • Do not assume that if you give me a tour or if I meet with you and you tell me about your programs, that is an implied request for money.It is not implied. NOTHING IS IMPLIED. You need 1) a good pitch. 2) You need to ask for what you need. And 3) you need to CLOSE. Pitching is not asking, and it is not closing. You need to do all 3, at the same time. If you don’t have your 30 seconds pitch, your 5 min pitch and your 30 minute pitch, don’t even walk out of the door because you are just exercising if you do.
  • Make sure you speak to the right part of my brain.No amount of meaningful data will go past my amygdala if you trigger my flight response. To be able to hear and process data, you need to go past the first line of defense, past my donor paranoia. Honestly, most people don’t truly care about data in itself; the data just makes them feel safe and provides fodder for the rational part of the brain.
  • Have a punch list with you at all time for things to ask for support (dollars support, connections, or other things).Everything that is in your budget should be on that list, not JUST programs. Maybe I don’t want to give you cash – for a million of reasons – but maybe I own a construction company and you are in need of a new roof. Ask me about that roof. And close the deal: “would you be sending a team to fix the roof in February, or is March better?”
  • And of course the core tips:
    • Start with who you know and already have in your corner. Engage your VIPs to engage others
    • Keep adding people to your pipeline. You should have a HUGE pipeline; so huge that you don’t care when the “no” comes, because you know there will be others. Segment your donors and use your CRM fully. Test your messages, etc.
    • Leverage the “no”. You worked for it and people hate saying “no”. “No” is powerful. Get something else out of the deal if you are not going to get money.
    • Make a lot of calls! Daily.

And try to have fun. It’s a game. Enjoy it.

Cristina Gallegos

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