Episode 73: Offering the chance to give (aka asking for a major gift) with Louise Morris

Episode Notes

Major donor income is now very important for many charities that need to make up for the COVID-induced shortfall in other areas.

So to help, I’m excited to share this excerpt from my interview with the always-inspiring Louise Morris, Director at Summit Fundraising. Together we created a new learning bundle on major donor fundraising for members of my learning platform for fundraisers, the Bright Spot Members Club.

It’s all about how to develop strong and rewarding relationships with major donors. In this section, we explore some mindsets, beliefs and tactics that help when you’re inviting / asking major donors to make a large donation to your charity.

This is the element many people worry about most, and so I hope our discussion and tips will prove helpful to your approach, both before and during your meetings with major donors.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help other charities, thank you very much! We are both on Linked In and on twitter, Louise is @summitfundraise and I am @woods_rob.

Further Resources

WANT TO TAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL? If you’d like to improve your knowledge, confidence and RESULTS in major donor or trust fundraising, our Major Gifts Mastery Programme was designed to do just that. The masterclasses; the individual coaching – Louise Morris is one of our fabulous coaches – and the online resources in our Members Club boost your fundraising momentum across six months and beyond. You can find out more by following this link. The next Programme begins in April 2021.

FREE E-BOOK: If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, why not check out the many strategies in my free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power/

FABULOUS CONSULTANCY HELP: You can find out more about how Louise can help you with your fundraising at www.summitfundraising.co.uk


‘We’re not going with a begging bowl, we’re offering someone the opportunity to make a really big difference.’

Louise Morris

‘The most successful major donor fundraisers truly believe that giving is good for people, that giving is a really wonderful thing.’

Louise Morris

Transcript of Episode 73

Rob: Hello, and welcome to Episode 73 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is the show for anyone who works in fundraising and who want some ideas and maybe a little dose of inspiration to help you raise more money and enjoy your job, especially during the pandemic.

And if you work in major donor fundraising, I hope you’re going to find today’s episode really helpful, because it’s once again, with the fabulous Louise Morris of Summit Fundraising. A little while ago, Louise and I created a learning bundle for my training and inspiration site, the Bright Spot Members Club, all about how to develop better, more respectful and deeper relationships with major donors.

And if you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you may remember that in a couple of earlier episodes, I’ve shared excerpts of Louise explaining how to succeed in the first three parts of her model. That is to be curious, to pause and to connect. And we got such lovely feedback from those early episodes that we thought we’d share just one more. In this one, which is a section from towards the end of our full conversation, we explore the last two elements of Louise’s model. And just before we finish, we also squeeze in some quick fire questions to help you understand Louise’s approach.

In terms of keeping it moving through your model, Louise, some people call the next step, ask, and I don’t have a problem if sometimes as a shorthand we talk about asking in charities, because everyone knows where they stand, but I really do like the fact that in your model, when possible, the more you can call it an offer not an ask, the more helpful that will be. Would you say a bit more about that step and then move into some tactics, practically speaking, to help the listener actually do it?

Louise: Yeah, I think asking is just filled with all kinds of negative emotions. There’s a lot of research that suggests this in fundraising, so if people are worried about asking, I’ve been there, it’s really very common. And the reason I want us to start talking about offering, is because it’s linking back to how good giving is for people and how you’re giving somebody the opportunity to make a massive difference. So, if we remember that the charity is just in the middle and what you’re linking is a philanthropist, a major donor, a high net worth individual, with being able to potentially make a huge difference that they can’t do elsewhere in their life. So when you’re asking the onus is on you, I very much feel, as a fundraiser, and there’s just so much that is mythical about asking, that big ask meeting that we build ourselves up for and there’s this long process. And it’s all building up to the ask, which frankly, however many times you’ve asked, if you’re thinking about it like that, it’s kind of terrifying, really.

Whereas, if we think that we’re offering somebody the opportunity to give, it takes it away from asking for money and grabbing. We’re not going with a begging bowl for our organizations, we’re offering someone the opportunity to make a really big difference and you would already have been demonstrating that to them. You’d already have connected to them, so you’ll know which part of your work or why they want to make a difference and you can connect it. And it’s good for them to be giving and I think if there’s one kind of thing that you can do to kind of get more comfortable with this offer and really thinking that offering people the chance to give is good, it’s to read more from philanthropists.

So, Beth Breeze’s work is fascinating, because she’s interviewed so many high net worth individuals about their giving and her book’s called Richer Lives, well, one of her books, and it’s just absolutely fascinating. And I think the interesting thing for me is, you can build up all of these connections and you can really understand somebody. People still need to be asked. The research. Dr. Beth Breeze has done shows that the number one reason people give is because they’re asked or offered the opportunity to give. So, it kind off can be thought of as a necessary evil, where we’ve done all this lovely relationship building but, oh God, now we’ve got to make it ask, or now it can be a case of actually, now we’re giving somebody the opportunity to do what I know they love or I really think from what I’ve heard, they’re hugely interested in.

And it changes the balance of power quite a lot. And a lot of the time, some of the problems that have come out in my coaching and my work with charities is, I’ve heard from trustees that they don’t feel comfortable asking for another gift when someone’s already given, so they’ve already given, it feels really uncomfortable. I’ve heard from CEOs that frankly, they don’t want to do it. It feels really, really hard asking for money. Offering someone the opportunity to give, for me, doesn’t feel as difficult and a few kind of approaches or mindset that I think is really important in this area is one that some people will say no and that is okay. Some people won’t want the chance to give, you can offer it, because if somebody offers a chance to meet to go around for dinner or go to the pub, I’m not necessarily going to say yes. I don’t have to. That’s my choice.

And the more you read about philanthropists, I think it’s respecting that choice and understanding that it is a choice. Just because we, maybe again, terminology, I don’t like have them in our sites or they were a key prospect, it doesn’t mean that they want to give and that is okay. So if we can be realistic that not everybody is going to say yes, that we’re not going to get 100% success rate, it then doesn’t feel like a failure if somebody says no, or, “Actually, I need to go and think about that,” or, “I’m really not sure.” Because the second, I suppose, mindset or approach with offering is that if somebody doesn’t want to take you up on that offer and doesn’t want to give to the charity at that time, it’s not necessarily a negative.

And Paul Davies who was the Bright Spot Mastery Program is a really good example of this, because we had a wonderful session where he was talking about potential asks coming up. So, in the same week that he secured the largest gift for his charity, he also had a no from a couple. And it was fascinating when we were talking about it, because he said that having thought, even in advance, that that was a possibility made that conversation easier. So, he was being realistic that it was not necessarily everyone’s going to say yes. He thought ahead and thought ahead to the different options of somebody might say, “No, not now.” Somebody might say, “I need to go and think about it.” Somebody might say, “I might need a bit more information.” But interestingly, the know that he had, was not negative at all. It was fascinating.

So, if you’re in your black and white, I need money again, get, get, get mindset, you can come out of a meeting where somebody maybe hasn’t immediately said yes, which is very rare and think, “Oh…” You can feel really deflated and you can just feel exhausted by it. And you can feel like you failed, like you haven’t got what your organization needs, which is money. The no that Paul spoke about was fascinating to me, because it was a couple who were actually putting a lot of money into their business that year. And they said, “We’re not going to be able to give a larger gift at the moment, but we’re really hoping our business new venture is going to do really well, so let’s chat next year.” I mean, he could end up with an even larger gift.

Now, this isn’t to take away from the realities of targets. I know they’re there and that’s a whole other kind of kettle of fish in terms of what we measure success on as major gift fundraisers. But I think if we can assume that some people will say no and just get comfortable with that, because the best fundraisers are okay with rejection or they don’t even see it as rejection, it’s choice, and we need to respect that with our donors and we need to bring that language back that actually, “Oh my gosh, I’ve had a terrible meeting and they didn’t give.” Actually, they’ve chosen this year to give to another organization or they’ve chosen this year to invest in their business, but what we’re going to do is keep that relationship up.

Rob: And so, Louise, practically speaking, the mindset really is the most important bit, I think, and the confidence and having the right intention, but have you found that there are any tactics or tools that can help when you’re actually doing it?

Louise: Yeah, it’s an interesting one. I think I’ve been coaching a number of fundraisers and leaders who are asking on considering whether they might want to use a gift pyramid. And some people might be familiar with a gift pyramid for an appeal, so it is a pyramid and it’s normally got one large gift at the top, so if, for example, you’re going to want to raise a million pounds, you might be looking for one gift of £300,000 to £500,000. Then it goes down the pyramid into more and at lower value gifts. Now, the reason this is quite an interesting one is because what I’ve found working with over 100 charities is a lot of the time people don’t know how much to ask for and the how much is a really big sticking point. And it comes back to this, “Oh, we need to do loads and loads of research on this prospect.”

And it takes away from that curiosity, “How rich are they? Could they give a six figure? I need it for my budgeting line.” And this kind of talking about the amount can actually be quite paralyzing. It can either cause people to not want to ask or not want to get to a stage where they ask, or it can really stop us in a meeting having those kind of quality conversations. The thing I like about sometimes using a pyramid is you don’t have to have a specific appeal. It could be your budget for the year. And you can say, “For our charity, we’re hoping to raise £200,000 this year from key supporters like yourselves. We think to raise this money. This is what it might look like.” And you can put it down in front of you and it makes it quite collaborative.

Obviously, if you’re on Zoom or video, you can do an equivalent, but if you’re face to face, you can both be looking at something which is really quite nice and if you’re nervous as a fundraiser, and a lot of us are asking for money. You’re nervous, it kind of takes some of that, “You must look into the whites of their eyes and ask for a really big gift.” It can just take that pressure off a little bit. So, it feels less confrontational. You are offering, you’re saying, “This is how we think we might raise the money. What do you think? Would you like to contribute at any of these levels?” Often, you don’t even have to get to that stage. So a fundraiser I was coaching recently used it and said, “Oh, they just pointed at the amount that they wanted to give.”

And a lady said, “I can’t give it that level, but I’d like to give it this level,” which was higher than her previous gift. So, it takes some of the awkwardness of the amount, there are obviously other ways to do it and I’ve seen some really good fundraising happen with different ask levels in a proposal when someone’s actually asked for a written proposal and they put different levels in. But I’ve used it with a chair of an appeal board when we were actually talking about the appeal and he was hopefully going to give a lead gift and it was the perfect scenario to do it in, because I was bringing the appeal and it together, but you don’t have to have an appeal to use it. And again, he identified himself and said, “Me and my wife, we’re going to give at that level,” and pointed at it. And for me, it can be quite reassuring to have that as a tool or to have it there if you feel you want to use it to help with an amount.

Rob: Fantastic, so we don’t have to use it, but it is an option. And just briefly, do you have any tips for how the staring at those numbers might undo all the good we did earlier of offering them a chance to solve a problem in the world that they care about, in that moment they’re staring at £5,000 or £10,000, any tips for how to… Or maybe you haven’t noticed that the two are inconsistent?

Louise: Yeah, I think you’re completely right and we’ve spent a lot of our conversation talking about how donors give to change the world and to make a difference, so you don’t want to take away from that. I think it’s in the context of a conversation. A lot of what we’ve been discussing is conversations, natural conversations. And so, you may have been having a conversation in a previous meeting and talking to them about the latest project you were doing and how many people it’s helped and a lovely story that’s really stuck with you, even if it’s a brief story. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but at some point, you are going to need to give them the opportunity to give if you know that from all of those lovely conversations you’ve had.

And so, I think sometimes that gets built up into people’s minds and maybe for some fundraisers I’ve worked with, they know they’ve got a tool that helps them tell the stories better in maybe that part of the meeting, but hopefully you will have told… Donors don’t like big surprises. They don’t want to be told that you’re going to get their opinion on something and then an ask sneaks up on them at the end. To set up the meeting to say, “I’d love to meet with you to see how you might want to get more involved or how you might want to support the charity.” They’ll be expecting it. And you can’t take away from the fact that figures and money are involved at some point.

I think what you can do with all those lovely techniques of storytelling and knowing what really motivates them, you can link the two, and you can just link that, because, “Okay, a gift at that level is going to help X many more people and do you remember me telling you about the child that our charity helped last month and what that meant,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, I think you can link the two and it shouldn’t take away from all that connecting about why they’re giving and what they’re doing in the previous stage. And I think if it does, it makes it too transactional, so it’s more of an aid rather than a, “Whoop, there you go, here’s a gift pyramid.”

Rob: Hi, it’s Rob, and I just want to jump in really quickly to let you know about our three flagship mastery programs in major donor fundraising, in corporate partnerships and in individual giving. These six month courses are a combination of master classes and one-to-one coaching with expert coaches, such as Louise, to help fundraising professionals grow their confidence and their income. To give you a sense of the difference that these programs can make, here’s what one fundraiser, Sara Davies, said about how Major Gift Mastery helped her.

Sara Davies: I’ve just finished Rob Wood’s Major Gift Mastery Program and it’s been amazing. The last six months of doing this course, I’ve had the most successful time in my job to date. I’ve had three or four major breakthroughs and my confidence has increased and it’s no coincidence. I know this course has helped massively. Also, my colleague who works with me has been doing this course as well, and she’s had the best six months in her career as well. Again, major breakthroughs and I really encourage you, if you can find the budget within your organization, to apply for this.

Rob: If you’d like to find out more, go to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services. For now though, let’s get back to my conversation with Louise as I ask her to explain the last element in her model.

So, Louise, across this conversation, you took us through curious, or be curious, step two, pause, step three, connect, offer, and what was the fifth step in your model?

Louise: t’s to go deeper with relationships and this comes from a bit of a bugbear I spoke about previously with you, which is that onto the next ask, they’ve given, we’ll send them a thank you card. It’s not respectful. I understand why it happens, particularly, I’ve thought about it in those terms before, because I’ve had this circle of steps that kind of comes back around. And I’m not saying everybody does this, because as a sector, we do beautiful, personal thanking. What I think we can do more of is the amount of it and how personal it is and how we’re really understanding what that person wants to get from their giving. So all of those, this isn’t a linear process at all. All of that curiosity and understanding your donor and what they’re interested in works here.

How can you deepen the connection? So, a younger philanthropists in his forties I was interviewing had already given a large gift and was talking about his family and how they were setting up a new trust fund and he wanted his children to be part of that, which is very common for younger donors, because he thought it was really important to their values, they were very lucky financially, he wanted them to start giving at a really young age. Now, all of a sudden, I’m thinking well, this charity, instead of inviting him to some kind of swanky black tie event in the evening, actually, what about that family day? Or you’re thinking and you get to know people over time, it’s not a stage where you get to know someone, you get to know them over time and that should just be constant and help inform kind of how you involve people.

So, for example, that charity now is approaching him very much as a family. And he even said to me, “I know I get invited to these evening things and I should want to go, because I’m relatively young, but I really just want to put my feet up on the sofa with my wife and just chill out with the kids.” So, you understand people more, it’s not a one-off, you don’t have one meeting to be curious and find out about them. And there’s some fascinating research by Adrian Sargent and Jen Shang, which goes across all donors, which is, if you thank people four or more times in a year, it makes them more likely to give and for longer. And you think, “Four times, well, I sent a thank you card at Christmas, is it a bit OTT?” But this is about understanding someone and how they’re going to be thanked.

So, maybe you’ll send a little video message from the CEO, to say, “Thanks so much for your gift.” Maybe it is a handwritten thank you card at Christmas, but it’s really personal. I’ve heard of a fundraiser writing a poem to thank a donor, because the donor was hugely interested in poetry, which I just thought was wonderful. I’ve heard of baking and being taken around, probably not appropriate in pandemic times, but I think it’s the small touches and not to be afraid to repeatedly thank throughout a year for somebody’s gift. They might’ve given a three year pledge and it’s not a case of, “Okay, we’re going to wait for the next one to come in and invite them to an event.” It’s letting them know the difference that it’s making throughout the year in different ways that you the donor is going to like, because you know them best from all those conversations.

And it might be a formal report, because that might be what they want. And a donor said to me, when I interviewed a philanthropist the other month, “I’m really into the facts and figures. I don’t need a massive pat on the back. That’s not what I like. That’s not why I give.” And it was interesting to hear that, that doesn’t mean you can’t thank and thank in a way that’s authentic and genuine and that he would like. You might want to give them the latest stats and facts on a project and say, “I thought you might want to know that X many more people have been helped this year, thank you so much.” That could be like eight months after a gift’s been made.

And I think if we can see it as a constant, it just deepens those relationships and it means that you keep the relationship up, so you know when it’s the right time to potentially offer for them to be involved again, or to say to them, to have that conversation, it’s just easier to have the conversation about when they might give again.

Rob: Yes, so this is not the same grateful paragraph cut and pasted sent four different times across the year. What I’m hearing is, in various ways, if we can give people a sense of the difference it’s making, and that might be a little one minute film from the project manager or the project, or it might occasionally even be a card drawn by someone, or a letter from someone potentially who benefited from it, or it might be something from the chief executive. So, in a variety of different styles and formats, we’re showing the difference it’s making and inevitably we’re using a thank you in there, but there’s some substance there, rather than saying the same grateful message four times.

Louise: Absolutely, and it links to when we were talking about pausing and ideas as well, and that some fundraisers I’ve spoken to have had some really innovative ideas, whilst they’re doing something else. So again, this isn’t linear. It isn’t just a process it’s more an approach, because we should care about our donors. We don’t have to like them as best friends, but we need a relationship and we should care about them and what they’re interested in.

And if we can show that, they will be donors for life. And we have an opportunity to create that connection. We have an opportunity to introduce them to other donors to create that kind of real sense of community. And yeah, you can only do that if time is spent on this and often we don’t allow ourselves as fundraisers to spend time on this, because we’ve got this big target over our heads, but this actually makes more financial sense to do, and it will raise more money anyway, but it doesn’t always feel like that. And when I work with fundraisers, this is what fundraisers are good at, this is what they love doing. And building those relationships is why a lot of people work in fundraising so yeah, it’s good to have permission to do something that we love doing.

Rob: Absolutely. Louise, just before we go, thank you so much for talking us through your model and giving us lots of advice, lots of examples. If you’ve got five more minutes, I’d just like to try out a few of these quickfire questions I ask to guest interviewees when I can, so if you’re up for that, my first question is, in the last five years, has there been a new belief, habit or behavior that has most helped you in your job?

Louise: I think the more major donors and philanthropists I speak to, and the more I read, it’s just that giving is an amazing thing. I wish I’d known that when I was 24 and started fundraising, but maybe it’s something that grows over time. But yeah, it’s just inspiring. It’s why I love getting out of bed every morning, is that it’s a very unique thing that we do as fundraisers and to give people that opportunity and it’s really inspiring speaking to people and hearing about people giving large gifts to charities. Yeah, it’s awesome.

Rob: Question two, if metaphorically speaking, you could have a giant billboard which all fundraisers or charities would see, what would it say and why?

Louise: Speak to your donors, don’t email them.

Rob: Next question, is there a book that you found especially interesting or helpful or influential to your thinking or to your career?

Louise:Oh, I probably could go with one, because I use her work all the time, Dr. Beth Breeze, Richer Lives: Why Rich People Give, particularly if you’re earlier on in your career and maybe you haven’t met that many major donors, just those kind of quotes and experiences and just perspectives from wealthy people just started me off on an insight into a world that I didn’t know that much about, and there’s no reason why you should, so I would just really recommend reading it.

Rob: Yeah, it can really speed up that learning curve and understanding curve without having to have had all those meetings. Next question, what failure or seeming failure in a way helped set you up for later success?

Louise: I think, I always wanted, as the director of fundraising, when I was at work in hospice, I never spent as much time externally as I wanted to. We talked about kind of making your own role, and I found it incredibly challenging. And I’ve also talked in our conversation about having a coach and reading a book called Time To Think by Nancy Kline and I think that kind of stress and pressure that I had was actually probably a really good learning experience for me.

One, because I feel like I really know what it’s like and I’ve had a lot of the challenges working with trustees and it’s just set me up for a greater understanding. And two, because then I decided to really focus and specialize on what I’m really good at and what I love, which is the relationship side of major donor fundraising and helping fundraisers raise more, so probably that.

Rob: Thank you. What advice would you give to someone who’s really determined and who’s just entered the fundraising profession?

Louise: Fight for investment in your personal development. When I worked at Unilever I was sent on all sorts of training negotiation sales, and I was kind of shocked when I came over to the sector, I’d never done any fundraising before and I wasn’t really set on anything and I thought, “Well, maybe this is the way it is.” No, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s really important. We need to invest in our fundraisers and that’s on the job training, but that’s also mentoring, coaching and there’s lots of free schemes as well if your charity doesn’t have… But I think we need that. And particularly when you’ve come from inside the sector or outside the sector, you need to make a case for it. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good fundraiser. It means you’re a really strong person that wants to do the best that you can do.

Rob: In the last five years, have you got better at saying no to distractions? And if so, do you have any tips for improving this really important skill?

Louise: Yeah, a lot of the tips I got from you, Rob, and Bright Spot. Just basic ones, closing emails and not allowing people to think that they will get an instant response. If you always reply instantly to emails, everybody always expects you to reply instantly to emails. So yeah, knowing that actually replying within 24 hours is fine. Maybe for some major donors, I would like to add, that might not be if you know them well, but certainly internally. And bullet journaling, so I have my priorities for each day in work and outside of work and that helps hugely, and I make them really achievable, so that I can actually complete a day and feel like I’ve achieved something. And that will include stuff with the kids or bike ride and other stuff as well.

Rob:Thank you. And assuming that you sometimes have tough days like the rest of us, Louise, what do you tend to do to handle the stress and bounce back?

Louise:  Cycle. When I can and I will try and plan it in if I know I’ve got a long day or a tough day or I’ll be working late, I’ve actually sometimes done it in between meetings. The one before can’t be a Zoom when I’m in my cycling gear, but yeah, I found that’s been just massive help to me just to have that outside space and be in the countryside in the pandemic. And when we couldn’t do anything else, that was my one savior to get out of the house, so I feel a bit emotionally connected to my cycling now.

Rob:Yeah, excellent, it makes such a difference when we can fit that habit in, especially if we can fit it in proactively. So, Louise, thank you so much for all your time and sharing your wisdom. If the listener is curious about finding out more of your ideas, potentially seeking your help, where could they go to find you?

Louise: They can go to summitfundraising.co.uk. I’m also a rock climber, hence Summit Fundraising and I send out free hints and tips on there every fortnight, so they can go and sign up if they’d like to get those. And I’m on Twitter @summitfundraise and on LinkedIn as well.

Rob: Fantastic. So, Louise, thank you so much for a frank discussion, really simple, clear ideas and advice, examples to bring it to life. I really appreciate you taking time to join us on the podcast. I look forward to catching up with you soon, but for now, Louise Morris, thank you and goodbye.

Louise: Thanks, Rob.

Rob: So, there you have it. I hope you found our discussion was helpful. If so, I’d be incredibly grateful if you could take a moment to share it on with your colleagues or on social media so that we can get this free content out to help as many charities as possible. Thank you very much for your help. As usual, I’ll put a summary and a transcript of the interview on the podcast section of our website, which is brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

As I mentioned earlier, Louise is one of the hugely experienced coaches who helps participants on our Major Gifts Mastery Programme and she also joins us as one of the guest experts on the problem solving sessions that we arrange in our Bright Spot Members Club. If you’d like to find out more about either this club or our mastery programs in major gifts, in individual giving or corporate partnerships, head on over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services. And if you’d like to get in touch or share this episode on social media, we would love to hear from you. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Louise is @summitfundraise and I am @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for listening today and I look forward to sharing more Bright Spot examples and ideas with you very soon.