On a recent 77WABC “Mind Your Business” broadcast, Yitzchok Saftlas (YS) spoke with Rabbi Richard Bieler (RB), a Former Senior Fundraiser for Yeshiva University and Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. 

YS: It’s five times more likely to land a project with an existing client than it is to try to get a new one. You CAN scale your organization much more rapidly by reaching out and cross-selling, upselling to your existing base than by trying to get new donors. Can you expand on that?

RB: It’s much easier to sell to your existing base because you already have a donor in mind and you’ve already done the research and you’ve made the match between who in your organization is the best person to reach out to that person. You’ve had some meetings and even if you haven’t closed the gift yet, you’re already in the late cultivation or proposal stage since you’ve previously closed a gift with them. Then you can really go towards closure, relying on the fact that by December, people are more motivated to make their gifts. So the idea of having those kind of conversations, that should be the first priority in almost any fundraising campaign when it comes to September and October and certainly this year, where the existing relationships can be nurtured and brought forward more rapidly. 

YS: Perhaps you could share with us the steps it takes to land a gift?

 RB: The road to major gifts is the most challenging. It takes the most persistence. You have to be willing to face early rejection. Often, on the first ask, you get a no and then you learn from it. So, while the challenges are greater the real payoff takes place with a major gift, especially an annual major gift. If you focus on developing a portfolio of annual major gifts, then when your fiscal year starts, you’re already much closer to your goal.

So how does one go for a major gift? First is the research, which is easier now than ever. And then there is also the discovery. In other words, is there someone in the office who has a relationship with that person? Is there someone on the board who has a relationship with that person? We were very fortunate at Ohel to have a chairman of our fundraising committee who was one of the most prominent and respected accountants in the city. Then you have to figure out who’s going to be at the meeting in terms of who’s going to set up the meeting, how many people should be there… That becomes very difficult during these times. Because you don’t have the face to face meetings, zoom meetings can be all right, but they’re nothing like seeing someone. But you have to raise money, so you do what you can do.

 Once you know who’s going to make the meeting, then the question is, what are you going to talk about? The prospect knows that you’re there to raise money. You’re not there to talk about anything else ultimately. And how are you going to make that presentation? I have found that the best way is to walk in with tiered projects in your mind, a large gift, a middle gift and maybe even a smaller gift as an opening gift, but each of which you can live with. The idea is that you discover through the conversation what they’re really interested in. Then you can present them with the idea that they will be the most interested in and then you come back with a proposal and hopefully you go toward closure. And, of course, the follow up. This is usually about months and months and sometimes years of work. But the payoff, for not-for-profit having a healthy major gift campaign is so, so great.

 YS: What’s the passionate argument that you would make to organizations that push back and say, “listen, it’s hard earned dollars that need to go to the services that we’re doing day in and day out.” What’s the case that you would make to say, you do need to invest in marketing. I guess I would add to the question, is marketing a luxury or a necessity for an organization?

 RB: I found that within almost any leadership group, there are one or two people who will say no way. And there are one or two people who will say it has to be this way. In other words, there are a few people who say, “don’t do marketing and don’t spend the money”. But if you look a little harder, you’ll find one or two people who say, “you know what, that’s the way to go”. And if you have a relationship with those lay leaders and you have a conversation with them and you present a plan, – not just we need to spend money – but you show them a plan about how you are going to spend it, then you might convince those people to give above their annual gift – a special gift – toward this growth campaign. I wouldn’t only call it a marketing campaign; I would call it a growth campaign. I call it a campaign to capture the next generation, a campaign to capture a broader constituency. Look at the goal of it. Marketing is not just to spend money on an advertisement, marketing is to have results. I would look for the people who appreciate the investment and let them lead the charge.

 YS: We know that today there is unfortunately a pandemic that we’re plowing through. And so much of the fundraising journey and the gifts itself are taking place virtually. Perhaps you could share some perspective on the road to a gift, particularly with what we’re experiencing right now.

 RB: So, the easiest dollars to raise are the first dollar and the last dollar. The first dollar, meaning that some people like to be in on the beginning. Those are the people who usually wait on line around the Apple store for the new iPhone, even though they had last year’s new iPhone, because they want to be the first ones to have that. And then there are people who like, in the not-for-profit world, to be the ones who finish, who are the ones who complete the project. And therefore, in these difficult times, an organization with a plan and working strategically can create legitimate first and last opportunities, and then they can ask someone again, your current friends usually and sometimes someone who’s new, but usually your current friends, wouldn’t you like to be one of the first five people who are going to help us make sure that our teachers are taken care of given this situation? Or wouldn’t you want to be one of the last five people to complete the goal that we’re able to do such and such for our children?

 So while we hope that this pandemic will end as soon as possible and people will get healthy and stay healthy, there are still people out there today who still have the ability to make a major gift and actually might have a greater interest now in making that gift because they know that others cannot. So, don’t give up, keep on looking, try to keep on being positive, and you’ll find those heroes who want to make your campaign a success.



YS: I’ve heard a quote that you like saying, “don’t forget to plan for success”. Perhaps you can expand on that.


RB: That’s where the infrastructure comes in handy. You work for so long, you bring the board together, you find the right honoree, and you have an opportunity to have a market growth in your campaign, but you don’t take care of the infrastructure to plan for success. You find that dream business honoree. But if you don’t have the right materials, the right invitations, the right website, the right ability to attract those gifts, you’re going to miss out on the opportunity. So sometimes organizations forget to plan for success. In other words, they have a discussion and there’s so much feeling of “this might go wrong and that might go wrong” that they don’t take a little bit of time and say, you know what? What if it works? Are we ready to have these individuals come to our events? Are we ready to send an invitation that’s appropriate for someone of that stature? Are we ready to have a website that can accept a $25,000 gift when the largest gift that we got in the past was $5,000? Sometimes it can be as simple as the order of the gifts. I’m always amazed how some organizations still list the gift possibilities in ascending order. And basically you’re saying to the donor, you can give a gift, if you give us $18, we’re happy with that, and $100 would be extraordinary. Instead of saying by the way it would be nice to get $100 and $18 would also be fine. Make sure that you’re reaching out, investing in the right plan, investing in the right website so that you can receive all of the contributions that are going to be generated by all of your hard work.


YS: That’s such great advice and perspective because many fundraisers have found it more challenging or perhaps it’s just in their mind, that they put that barrier up that things are going to be much more difficult now. What would you say is a great tip for a fundraiser to plow through that negative mindset?



RB: The only person who ever said yes, the first time I asked for a major gift, never paid their pledge, it’s a true story. The person, unfortunately, had a psychological condition that they couldn’t say no, and they overextended themselves. So, of all the years when I’ve raised major gifts, I would say that there always was a no, or come back and adjust the proposal, or I’m not interested in this. That’s why the relationship is so important. If you just are the taker, if you’re just making that call when you’re asking for money, then you’re going to have a different relationship. But if you’re going through your list during certain times of the year and you’re calling people or you have notes of when the anniversary, the birthday, whatever it is, and you’re calling them not to ask for money and you develop a relationship, then you can have a conversation. One of the largest donors at Ohel really challenged the organization. And he told me, he said, I’m doing this, I’m going to give the money eventually, he told me, but I want to make sure your colleagues know how hard it was to make this money and how important it is that they understand how they’re going to spend it. So, he challenged them with love. He said, I want them to know that rich people don’t just give money easily, but they do want to give, you just have to be able to make your case properly. So, keep on going as long as you have a good cause, as long as you’re being positive and as long as you realize that today’s no can turn into tomorrow’s yes. if you take the right approach and form the relationship, then I think everyone can have greater success.


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