clip_image002Three degrees is such a small, but powerful measurement. In the winter, it’s the difference between your car hitting a patch of black ice instead of driving on a wet road. The results are dramatically different.

When it comes to training staff in major donor engagement for your ministry, it’s inspiring to know you are only 3º away from any qualified prospect. Tom Suddes, one of my lifetime mentors summarizes research by LinkedIn indicating you are only 2.78 ‘moves’/connections between you and your best prospects.

True Meaningful Connections

In his 40+ years of development leadership and training Suddes has attracted $2 Billion dollars to grow “for-impact” organizations. He praises the use of natural partners (think of “true meaningful connections”) for this success.

These “true meaningful connections” include Champions, Board Members, Key Volunteer Leaders and Current Investors to enable you to make a meaningful connection.

You can infuse confidence in those you train for major donor engagement. How? By telling them, “you are just 3 degrees from a conversation of mutual interest about your cause and your new friend’s passion”.

Challenge vs. Opportunity

I recently introduced this concept to a colleague I admire who has a relatively short time of experience in the development arena. During our initial conversation, they focused on challenge at hand much more than the opportunities to engage new major donor prospects. Questions & issues included:

  • · How do I start building an engagement plan?
  • · What are reasonable goals and metrics with one-to-one meeting engagement as the catalyst for growth?
  • · Thinking out loud about the pressure they felt from senior leadership and the Board to be intentional in major donor fundraising with immediate ROI.
  • · Where can I find a mentor to help with my fundraising questions?

Well, I was delighted to serve as their mentor as we focused on reflective prayer for each donor/prospect. Then, we sought ways to simplify what successful major donor engagement looks like. The gateway for successful training was we had mutual respect for each other as Christian philanthropist Fred Smith underscores and Scripture affirms, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10 NLT).

Biggest Obstacles

This colleague is not alone in feeling challenged in taking confident steps into the lives of major donors. Author Kent Stroman recently surveyed almost 600 executive leaders with responsibility to engage major donors and asked an intriguing question, “What is your biggest obstacle to successful one-on-one gift solicitation?”

Three major themes stood out to me as conveyed by these stewardship leaders:

1. Difficulty “Getting In”

In training, we focus on setting 10 appointments weekly so the trainee can feel the pulse of major donors, the “why” of their involvement with our cause.

So often we hear, “I love taking part in something that multiplies my efforts every day in the office. To know my time and talents I am using during the business day will produce profits to fund Kingdom expansion thrills me. I feel we are involved in life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19).”

But the challenge is to secure the appointment in the first place. My colleague, Jeff Crabtree, excels at teaching others how to share with donors about the value of their in-person meeting. Check out his succinct, popular short video on the topic along with his free download offer: Overcome 8 Major Donor Objections to Meeting.

2. Identifying the Prospect

Pursuing an appointment with a major donor is preceded by an effective prospect identification system. In a previous post I referenced three ways to identify prospects.

Development is both an art and a science. Traditionally, ministries I’ve counseled zero in on the giving statistics of recency, frequency and dollar amount when compiling their list of major donor prospects.

However, people are not ATM machines. Everyone has motivated passions which don’t show up on most ministry radar systems. So, besides your review of hard data (wealth screening and giving records), train your staff to hold weekly meetings with:

· Other Development Staff Members

· Your Leadership Team

· Your Natural Partners of Major Donors/Prospects

I call these “Passion Meetings”. Because you are looking for evidence of the prospect’s passion towards your cause and the cumulative insights of others. And this provides a complete view you would miss otherwise.

3. Absence of a Plan

Finally, pursuing successful appointments happens when our prospect identification system is methodical and sensitive to your prospect’s true heart for your cause. But, major donor relationship training begins with a solid plan for engagement.

Steve Jobs practiced the art of focus and simplicity when it came to planning, believing this approach could move mountains. Advocace Co-Founder and President, Paul Martin, followed this advice in devising major donor engagement plans for clients in less than an hour.

Try this method as you train your staff for 12 weeks. Choose an accountability partner outside of your training group. Plan for celebrations along the way.

You and your development staff truly are only 3º away from any qualified prospect. Write down a simple plan, use both art and science in major donor prospect identification and eliminate roadblocks in setting appointments. This will help you lead your development staff to success in major donor engagement.

When you have a healthy number of real, qualified major donors you can focus on serving a passionate tribe ready to help you achieve your vision.