How Neil reinvigorated relationships with supporters

From twenty years studying what generates results in fundraising, I’ve found that a key thing that successful high value fundraisers focus on, is having conversations with the right existing and potential supporters. And so this is one key result area we help participants on our Major Gifts Mastery and Corporate Mastery Programmes to make serious progress in.

Though important, this challenge is often not easy for many fundraisers to solve. For many supporters, they may well care, but they’re also very busy and your charity is simply not at the top of their list. Another thing that makes it difficult is that you’ve got colleagues who want you to focus on getting big gifts and partnerships and to sharpen this focus further you need to regularly fill in spreadsheets talking about these financial end results.

But if each day you focus the bulk of your attention on these glittering prizes, we’ve found you’re unlikely to do (and enjoy doing) enough of the small steps that lead to the great relationships that lead to those valuable results.

What’s the answer? Like the best car salespeople, I suggest you put disproportionate energy into setting up and enjoying more ‘test-drives’ i.e. conversations or inspiring virtual meetings with people or companies that care about your cause. If you increase the number of conversations you’re having, not only does your job become much more interesting, the number of gifts / partnerships you achieve tends to go up as well.

How Neil solved this…

When you know your primary objective is to have more conversations, I have always found it’s easier to be more creative in finding a way to achieve this goal. We have found there are dozens of ways you can improve your results in this area. In Episode 29 of my podcast, I share Seven Ways to Get More Supporter Conversations

One recent approach I really like is that taken by Neil Bailey, who is Director of Philanthropy at the charity Earthwatch.

Neil wanted to invite an individual conversation with 650 people who had taken part in environmental expeditions through Earthwatch in the past. They had received little communication since 2014, but with the charities’ 50th year anniversary coming up, Neil wanted to re-start a conversation with them, to find and celebrate their stories as part of the event. He talked it through with Bright Spot major gifts coaches Louise Morris and Charly White.

Here’s what he did

In late March, during the lock-down Neil sent a letter to each of them, inviting them to

a virtual meeting so that he could interview them to hear the story of their Earthwatch expedition and the impact it had had on their life. At the start of the letter, he acknowledged the lock-down and pandemic, and offered this as an opportunity they would enjoy taking in spite of the circumstances.

The letter was short – just three paragraphs – but deliberately drew a link between what they had done and the current problem for the planet. Here is one excerpt:

‘…Our work, as a science-based charity, has never been more critical and your story could truly inspire others. Many people care about the planet. Many worry about it. Earthwatchers are some of the few who take action…’

Neil received more than 100 replies – so far he has had an individual conversation with 80 of them, and the supporters have really enjoyed sharing their stories, as well as the chance to hear about Earthwatch’s current plans.

Neil’s next steps are to make the most of these stories, for instance creating a book or sharing a different story on their website each week, to help celebrate the charity’s 50th anniversary next year. And he plans to follow up with the supporters, potentially inviting them to a webinar to hear about Earthwatch’s current projects, and the opportunity to support the charity’s mission.

What Neil had to say:

“With Covid, I couldn’t meet anyone in person but it gave me the confidence to write letters to people we’d lost touch with and actually use the story concept to engage with them.

“And overall Major Gifts Programme gave me the confidence to implement this and other strategies, and the tools to begin my career and evolve it in major donor fundraising. For instance, it helped me obtain a gift of £25,000 in my first meeting, which before I wouldn’t have been able to do.”

“Having a group of other major donor fundraisers you’re learning with was very valuable and I was really struck by the willingness to share. Anyone who had success stories or new techniques was really open to sharing. I’m blown away with how helpful it’s all been – we have a WhatsApp group and I’m looking forward to seeing how that develops and how people continue to share their successes and advice on how to deal with certain problems.’’

What is the Major Gifts Mastery Programme?

A six-month programme designed to build the expertise, confidence and fundraising momentum of anyone who raises money through major gifts or trusts.

Interested? Get in touch to find out more here.