When crazy ideas work

By Jack Doyle, Amergent President & CEO

Bear with me for this look-back, and look forward. I know you have the time.

I was asked by a client in 1999, “What can you do to get more leads for my major gift officer?” At that time, the organization was generating $10m annually from one million gifts, so they had more of a donor pancake than a pyramid.

I told him we should inspire his most loyal $50+ donors to consider making the largest single-gift of their lifetime for the single most popular reason, their donors enjoy giving. The thought was to let the donors decide if they were ready to make a huge upgrade.

Well, nine out of 10 responders ignored the suggestion and gave their regular gift amount. But one in 10 of the responders upgraded. And since we asked donors to consider a gift 10 times larger than anything they had ever given, the amount of upgraded income was significant.

They even had 20 donors make first-time ever gifts of $5,000. The major gift officer had 20 new friends! She called each one to express thanks and to learn more about WHY they were so good to them. Most indicated what you could guess – they gave because you asked.

She discovered 10 of the donors indicated their gift was a one-time donation. But the other 10 donors were willing to do more and to tell her what they would like to see achieved. Soon nine of those donors had upgraded to annual gifts of six figures. And she married the other donor.

This launched what they considered their mid-level donor upgrade program, and it went great until the 2008 banking collapse. Gone are the days of asking for 10 times the previous highest gift.

Who doesn’t have a mid-level donor program of some kind these days?

You can’t exist without moving high net worth donors up the donor pyramid.

DAF donors represent the next frontier for fundraisers (maybe I’ve been binge watching a certain TV series).

This is where the money is, and where the greatest level of funds is available. You’ve been reading about how many hundreds of millions of dollars have been granted in the first three months of 2020. There’s plenty more to get, and it’s clearly needed to meet pressing needs.

So, what’s going to sustain this surge of gifts from donor-advised funds?

You need to consider all of the things you did to develop the early stages of your mid-level donor pipeline to major donor prospects. We’re at the beginning of the cycle to create a huge income stream. In a few years, you’ll look back and ask why you didn’t act on this sooner!

Generating more DAF income is simple – you need to ask the DAF donors you know for more grants per year and/or for larger grants. What are they waiting for, an emergency? You need the funds now. Everyone needs the funds now.

Advocate for your DAF donors to continue their support to YOU and to help where the need is greatest, all around them. Local charities need help. Medical front-line workers need help. And funds for research to find a cure for the virus are urgently needed.

You also need to discover WHO in your donor file actually has a DAF giving account. We’re discovering thousands of DAF donors are hiding in plain sight and haven’t used their DAF giving accounts to make grants to you. They give primarily to their places of worship and where they went to college.

In a recent All Things DAF, I told the story of the extraordinary donor who went from a $1,000 DAF grant in response to a new donor outreach mailing to making a $500,000 grant.

I think it’s time for organizations to see a new outcome of that 1999 crazy idea.

But remember one thing: this works when you connect your best donors with your best major gift officer. Nothing works better than having that strong personal connection.

You should be able to inspire 20 long-standing donors, already known to you, to upgrade and use their DAF giving account to make their first ever DAF grant of $1,000 and to have 10 of them sustain and upgrade their DAF giving to $50,000 or more. The key is running the DAF donor model that identifies them and getting them to verify they do have a giving account.

You should also be able to acquire 20 new DAF donors who can make their first ever DAF grant of $500 and to have 10 of them sustain and upgrade their DAF giving to $5,000 or more. Some of you will be able to do this every month.

One of the fundamental things we were taught on how to raise more money still applies today.

Ask more donors to make more gifts that are worth more than their last ones. Thank them sincerely and tell them they truly make a difference. This has never failed to work.

Your DAF income stream is certainly going to increase substantially if you work on it ASAP.

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