Take the Major Gifts Challenge with Special Guest Amy Einstein

Amy Eisenstein On Major Gifts
How much time are you dedicating to major gifts a week? Well, fundraising consultant and industry legend Amy Eisenstein suggests  that committing 5 hours each week to your major gift strategy can make a huge difference.  Working in the industry for over 20 years, Amy has helped nonprofits raise millions by simplifying the development process. 

Today she joins us on the show to share how you can increase major gift-giving within your organization. Our interview covers how to
  • Define what a major gift means in your organization
  • Use metrics to make better decisions and solicitations 
  • Utilize your donor database for success
  • How to bounce back when your ask gets rejected 

Official Transcript  

She's one of the biggest names in fundraising right now, Amy Eisenstein joins us on the show today to discuss how you can increase your major gift donations in just five hours a week. 

Hello, and welcome to Donor Engine's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and if you're not familiar with us, Donor Engine is an all in one nonprofit software solution that makes managing your donors, volunteers and team a whole lot simpler. Our goal really is to help you save hours in data, volunteer and staff management so that you can spend more time focusing on your cause. For more information or to schedule a demo , please give us a visit at Donor Engine.com. 

Securing major gifts is a huge win for your organization. It means a lot when donors believe in your cause as much as you do and are willing to show their support through a large gift. Things have been difficult since COVID-19 hit, and I know there's a lot of questions up in the air. But how has the pandemic influenced how organizations secure these major gifts? And what does a major gift mean to you?

Today, Amy Eisenstein is here to break down major gift-giving and share her tips on finding and securing those donations. She's worked as a development professional and fundraising consultant for more than 20 years and is recognized as a leading expert in her field. She's helped small and large nonprofits alike raise millions of dollars through major gifts, capital campaigns, development, annual fund campaigns, direct mail and plan gift solicitations. Amy's list of experiences really speaks for itself.

She's a true professional in the space, and I'm very excited to have her on the show today. So thank you so much, Amy, for being here.

Thanks for having me. 

So for every organization, a major gift is different. They could have different perceptions of it and maybe have a different number in mind. How can organizations decide what a major gift means to them?

You're right, a major gift is different and defined differently at every organization. A major gift is different at organizations, depending on what the experience level of the staff is, who's in the donor database and who the board members are. But there are a few important reasons that you want to know what a major gift is at your organization. One is donor recognition. How will different donors be recognized? You have to know what your major gift level or levels are.

Who gets their name on a building? Who gets a plaque? Who gets called by the executive director, who gets a thank you note from a board member. So that type of thing. The second reason it's important to know what your major gift level is is for keeping metrics. So how do you know if you raise more major gifts this year? How do you know if you didn't raise as many? How do you know your major gift donor retention rate or if your average gift size is going up?

So metrics are the second reason and the third reason is time. What is a good use of your time? Does it make sense for you to go take time to sit down with a donor, whether it's virtually or in person, and ask them for a major gift of, let's say, one hundred dollars? Hopefully, you're thinking, no, that's not a good use of my time. So of course, one hundred dollars is not a major gift at your organization.

But what if I asked about a thousand dollars? You might be thinking, yeah, that might be a good use of your time, then maybe a thousand dollars is a major gift at your organization. Other people might say, oh no, we get plenty of those through the mail and online so we don't start really cultivating people and having individualized conversations tell we're going to ask for ten thousand dollars and more. So those are the reasons really to pay attention to what a major gift is.

But the easiest, simplest way I have for people to figure out what one of the major gift levels is, that your organization is really just to take the average of your top largest gifts from the last 12 months and, of course, exclude any outliers. So if you got a big request or a special one-time gift, that's really extraordinary, don't include that in your average, that's going to skew your numbers. But if you want a quick and dirty way of finding out what should a major gift be at our organization, just take the average of your top 10 gifts from last year.

I guess, obviously, you want to be managing your time wisely. So I didn't even think about that as a way to guide your decision on what a major gift means. I love that you mentioned metrics. How important are metrics in a non-profit organization, especially when it comes to major gift appeals? And what data should organizations be collecting in order to figure out these metrics?

Yeah, metrics are a really important aspect of everything that we do. If you want to make progress or improve, you have to know where you're at and measure where you're going. So there's a whole bunch of metrics I like to look at. But one of them is the number of gifts you asked for and the number of gifts you received. So most people just simply measure total dollars raised. But if you're just looking at total dollars raised, then you might be missing a big part of the picture.

One sort of exaggerating silly example that I like to give is let's say you're a development director and one year you raise 10 gifts of ten thousand dollars each, but with your board the only metric they care about is total dollars raised. So you go report to the board that you raised one hundred thousand dollars, that's 10 gifts of ten thousand dollars each. And the board thinks you did a great job. Well, the very next year, nine of your donors don't give major gifts again, but one of them gives you one hundred thousand dollars.

So if you're only looking at dollars raised, you can go back to the board and report that you raised one hundred thousand dollars and made major gifts. Again, what the board doesn't know is that nine of your donors didn't return as major donors. And so even though your major gift program is in the toilet, nobody's looking at the right metrics, so nobody knows it. So one other quick example is to say the number of gifts solicited and the number of gifts received.

So how many gifts are you asking for over the course of the year? Many small and mid-sized organizations that are just getting started with raising major gifts might only be asking in person or virtually over Zoom these days for five or 10 gifts per year. Well, if that's the case, you know why you're not raising very much money. So the first metric is to pay attention to how many times a year you're actually sitting down with a donor. As I said, it's fine over Zoom or over face time or even on the phone these days and ask for a specific gift for a specific amount.

And so, you know, how many of those gifts you've solicited, then you look at that against how many gifts you actually receive. And it's surprising to some people. But I actually don't want you to get every gift.

Let's say you go out and you ask for 10 major gifts this year, whatever a major gift is at your organization and you get all of them, then I would say that you're playing it too safe. You're being very conservative and you're only asking when you're one hundred percent sure that you know you're going to get a gift. And so you're probably leaving gifts on the table. If, on the other hand, you ask for 10 major gifts this year and you only get one or two of them, then I would say you're not being nearly careful enough.

You're not doing your research. You're not cultivating you're not building those relationships. So I want to see between 70 and 80 percent success rate in that ballpark. You shouldn't be getting all of the gifts that you ask for, but you should be getting most of them.

So those are just a few of the metrics that I look at.

So it really is about seeing what works best for you, taking those chances, evaluating results and then changing as you go.

Absolutely. And I do have a major gifts metrics dashboard that I'm happy to share. 

So for those listening, I'll make sure to link any resources we reference in our conversation in the description box so you can access it right away. One of the other amazing resources you have on your website is the major gift challenge. When I started in the space when I thought of the major gift, I was very overwhelmed. I'm like, how do you even go about asking somebody for such a large donation? But you managed to break it down in such an easy way.

By spending just five hours a week, people can slowly work towards building that relationship and securing major gifts. Can you explain to our viewers a little more about what the major gifts challenge is and how it can benefit the organization?

Yes, well, about seven or eight years ago, I was frustrated because my small and mid-sized nonprofit clients were not being successful raising at raising major gifts and really at that point, maybe going back almost 10 years, major gifts, the concept of major gift was really exclusively for hospitals and university that universities that to successfully raise major gifts.

And so, I issued this challenge on my website. Honestly, not too many people were reading my blog at that point.

So maybe I issued it to a dozen people. But I said, I'm going to challenge you to do one thing a week all year. And I'll tell you exactly what it is. Very specific concrete thing. And if you spend just a few hours every week, all year long at the end of the year, you're going to have raised major gifts. And so that challenge I did, I don't know, seven, eight, nine years ago now, it turned into one of my books on major gift fundraising.

And then I read it and updated the challenge about a year ago. And so it's fresh. It's new. Basically, it's a step by step plan for raising major gifts. And you just have to do one thing every week and spend a few hours committed to raising major gifts. And that can be found on my website at AmyEisenstein.com/challenge. And anybody can take the challenge. I wish you would.

Yeah, definitely. For those listening, you definitely need to check it out. What do those five hours look like? Are they different for every organization? Is there one thing that you highly recommend they get started with?

Yeah, no, there's a range. There are really four steps to the fundraising cycle or process. The first is a donor ID. So at some points during the year you're going to be identifying donors. The second step is cultivating or building relationships with those people. It's about making a cultivation plan and executing that cultivation plan. Sometimes it's as simple as picking up the phone to check in on your donors. Sometimes it's meeting with them. Sometimes it's just handwriting a note.

So whatever is going on in your cultivation plan. And then, of course, the third step is asking, that's the solicitation. That clearly takes some time scheduling those tasks and executing on those tasks. And then finally, the fourth step is stewardship, the thank you and the follow-up process.

Depending on where you are with any given donor at any given time, some weeks you might pay attention to thanking, some weeks you might be paying attention to identifying donors. Some weeks you might be cultivating donors. It just depends where you are in the process. 

For sure, going back to what you said about the success of asking, aiming for that 70 percent, 80 percent, what do fundraisers do when they get that? No. How do they rebound from that?

Is there anything they should be doing afterwards or does a no mean no, you should leave that person to be?

Yeah. So one of my fundraising mentors always used to say that a no doesn't mean never. It simply means not today. And the best fundraisers can turn a no into a yes. So I think it is really about at that point and hopefully, you've been doing this all along.

But, you know, if you do get a no- when you do get a no, it's really about turning on your listening skills and saying, OK, you know, I misunderstood. I thought you wanted to do something in the form of this kind of gift for the organization. Why don't you tell me a little bit more about what you had in mind or what you'd like to do?

And so at that point, you throw it back to the donor and put it back in their court and say, all right, you know, we've met a couple of times or we've been meeting and you've expressed an interest. So obviously I got it wrong. So tell me what you had in mind, what you would like to do, how you'd like to help, because I truly believe that nobody is going to meet with you, especially multiple times if they don't have any intention of doing something for your organization.

The question is, what do they want to do? And so maybe you missed it. There are lots of things that we can miss on in terms of the ask. We can mess up the timing, the amount of the gift, the program that they want to support. You know, there are all sorts of things that can potentially be slightly off. And so once we have that conversation with the donor, you say, listen, I understand that you're not ready to make a gift right now or this ask wasn't the right thing.

Would it be OK if we continued the conversation in next month or in a few months, depending on what the situation is? So keep the door open.

Definitely. I guess it is really all about collaborating with this person, whether it is to ask again for donations. Do you think it also is valuable to see if there's any chance that they might want to volunteer or give a monetary sense? 


You should be doing that all along. You should be trying to increase their level of engagement. And that absolutely can be through a variety of volunteer opportunities. 

So before we go today, I really want to get your thoughts on how organizations can as 2020 end of year holiday appeals, because this year has been a little crazy. We started off with a pandemic and then there's been a lot going on with the Black Lives Matter movement, especially in the United States.

So there's a lot of topics going around that people have been acknowledging and supporting. How do you feel that these issues and political activism will affect appeals at the end of year or anything that organization’s should be doing differently? 

So, I mean, of course, they should be acknowledging what's going on in the world around them and their appeals. I think not to acknowledge them as being I don't know what the word I'm looking for is, but it's not being sensitive to what's going on in the world.

So I think that it is important to acknowledge that there's a pandemic, that there's an economic crisis, that there are all sorts of things going on in the world around us that impact people's ability to give and their decision making. But if you're making a strong case for support and there's still a need for your organization or maybe even an increased need for services, you need to tell them that, too. And so one of the things that I would do that hopefully people are doing every year, but since we know they're not is be as personal as you can with your solicitations.

So if you can segment your donors into first-time donors, repeat donors, large donors, and tailor your letter to those specific categories of donors if you can add a personal note and I don't really just mean scribble a note, but really talk to the person you know, thank them for their prior giving. Say something that you know about them that they care about. You know, the more you can personalize the letters, the better off you'll be.

I mean, I would call every donor and potentially ask for a monthly gift, try and convert as many of your donors into monthly givers as you can. And of course, personal outreach to all your major donors is a must.

Well, thank you so much for joining us and for those listening, you can receive free ebooks and all major gift related resources by signing up for Amy's mailing list. Amy Eisenstein, Dotcom plus join. If you're looking for some encouragement to get you through COVID. Amy hosts Talk. It talks about a free weekly town hall-style call. It happens on Mondays that will provide you with advice, resources and encouragement through COVID-19 fundraising. DOT, along with her Metrics worksheet, are all linked in the description box.

I highly recommend you check out the tool kit box. You need to reserve the spot to make sure you give that a visit and fill out the form to do so. As always, thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.

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Podcast Oct 28, 2020, 12:00 AM

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