The Million-Dollar Question
I’m sure you know people with the capacity to make a transformational gift. They’re current donors, community leaders, or major contributors to a similar ministry. But they aren’t making those gifts to your ministry. And you wonder why.
People want to achieve their own vision.
Long ago, I came to the realization that nobody wants to give to my vision. People want to achieve their own vision.
Your most important advisory skill
Many wealth holders surround themselves with advisors. You can’t outperform their experts in law, finance, or taxes. However, helping someone define their personal vision is more important than those specialties. Helping wealth holders find the true purpose of their wealth is the most important advisory skill.
You have the advantage. Most ministers, ministry leaders, and fundraisers were born with, or have developed, exceptional people skills. Your faith helps you focus on the deeper questions of meaning. I remember one MBA describing his plan with “if I die.” When I explained that there’s no “if” in that sentence, things got serious.
We practice delivering the perfect case for supporting our ministry. Yet the most important thing is to listen, and help potential transformational donors explore their deeper questions, their personal mission. If they can accomplish that mission with a gift to your organization, they’ll make the gift. If their heart is focused somewhere else (Matt. 6:21), their treasure won’t go to your organization no matter how well you craft your appeal.
The meaning question
Questions about meaning and motivations are the closer to your donors’ hearts. The advisors who help them address “the meaning question” will deliver the greatest service. If you can be the person who gets donors in touch with their most important questions, does it matter if they look elsewhere for technical expertise?
We’ve all quoted James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” (ESV). James 4:3 points to asking from a wrong motive. Is your main motive to solve the problem, or to have your name associated with the solution? Can you elevate the mission above your personal brand? If you can listen to their passion and help them fulfill their personal missions, they will fund the mission, and thank you for giving them the opportunity.
Once they identify their dream, they will employ their financial resources to reach it.
Here’s the simple, two-step process to help donors understand their philanthropic vision. Once they identify their dream, they will employ their financial resources to reach it.
Start with their personal history.
Ask questions. Allow them to share their histories. Wait for their answers. Use your two ears twice as much as your one mouth.
Ask if you can take notes. This shows you’re paying attention.
I’ve heard a thousand donors tell how they were able to attend a school through a scholarship, but it’s a special story to each person. The donor’s story selection tells you about their philanthropic interests. Other stories are about an important family member with a problem, some past victory, or something that makes them mad.
An attorney I know asks people to take a newspaper and circle the stories that provoke the most joy and anger before he discusses where they want to leave their estates.
Next, focus on their vision of the future.
A fellow fundraiser introduced me to a professor to close a $25,000 gift annuity. I asked what he wanted to accomplish with the gift, and he told us that he and his wife led a group to study in Italy each summer. He lit up when talking about the impact of that trip, and other international programs of the school. Then he said, “we want to help fund all aspects of the school’s international programs.” I had to say, “a $25,000 gift annuity can’t accomplish that.” So he replied, “actually, we’re considering eventually putting $2,000,000 into the fund.”
Never try to close a gift too quickly. Linger on the motivation, the “why” of a potential gift. Even when you’re reviewing the final gift agreement, make sure to focus on the “purpose.” This gift is probably not the last one.
Why would someone give $1 million to your ministry? They wouldn’t. But they will give $1 million, $10 million, or all they have to their ministry, to accomplish their vision. They will make an investment of the entire fortune God has entrusted to them to fulfill the mission God put on their heart. Is your organization willing to help them accomplish that?
Dr. Scott Janney is the Territorial Director of Gift Planning for the USA Eastern Territory of The Salvation Army, where he supervises a team of fundraisers that raises $75 Million in Major and Planned Gifts.