For many people, asking for money is challenging, even when it’s their job. This is especially true during the holiday season when it appears everyone in the world is asking for non-profit fundraising assistance. If you are in the position of asking people for money, how can you make your organization stand out when everyone wants a piece of the donor pie?

The answer lies in building solid, long-lasting relationships, approaching donors as you would your best friend, and tailoring each request to their specific life circumstance. Many nonprofits find themselves in need of an infusion of contributions to meet year-end goals and they make the mistake of rushing the process through with mass appeals to their entire donor lists. This is not the way to fundraise and certainly not the way to develop long-lasting relationships.  To build a relationship on any level, there are several key steps to raise the funds needed and keep donors interested.

It’s important to remember that donors are people first. They are not “targets” to be segmented into giving levels. They are real-life people with the same need to feel as valued and loved as the next guy. Show your donor the love and you will be loved back. This isn’t complicated.

Over the years I have watched development professionals approach the acquisition of donors by casting a wide net across all giving levels hoping to catch a big fish. Today this is done with a click. The results can be devastating as known donors opt out or unsubscribe from the onslaught. This past year I took a first-hand look with interest, from a donor’s perspective, at the many tactics made by a local beloved charity. The results were not good. In many cases, high net worth philanthropists are solicited repeatedly with a myriad of email appeals. They weren’t feeling the love.

Charity leaders are now on the hunt for millennial support to the exclusion of other age groups. Certainly, this is an important group as millennials are charitable, socially conscious and make up a large percentage of the charitable sector.  By 2020, millennials will represent 50% of the workforce and will be on the receiving end of the projected $30 trillion intergenerational wealth transfer that is now underway. However, the average accumulated annual gift of a millennial is $450, whereas the wealthiest American donors (income over $395,000) are responsible for one-third of all charitable dollars contributed in the US. This is where the time should be spent. Careful outreach and cultivation will net good results, but it takes time. More than 97% of wealthy households make an annual gift, with the wealthiest 1.5% responsible for 86% of charitable bequests. Asking for major gifts takes time and patience. However, once a relationship with a potential donor is established, you can move forward, get the appointment, make your case and pitch your appeal. Remember that ‘no’ is just the beginning of a negotiation. No now doesn’t mean no later. Forming a connection is tantamount to your success and their importance cannot be overstated.

So where do you start? Instead of a year-end email appeal, why not simply say thank you. Don’t ask for money. Now that’s a heart stopper! Just let the donor know that you love and appreciate them for the support they give to so many in need. You will find that your “non-appeal” will charm the recipient who might then send you an unsolicited gift. Why would they do that, you ask? Because your message stood out amongst all others and made the donor feel appreciated. It might also pave the way for more engagement.

A good way to develop a relationship with a potential donor, besides the “non-appeal” is by getting someone you know to introduce them to your organization. This can be a board member, an existing donor, a friend, or by attending the cocktail receptions at local charity events. If a personal connection isn’t available, send an invitation to come to your upcoming event as your guest. This can be anything from a fundraising event to a more informal get-together. When appealing to the leader of a major corporation, instead of a solicitation for funding, mention volunteer opportunities or possible partnerships with your organization and their company.

Once you’ve caught a donor’s eye and you have managed to get a face to face meeting, you’ll need to keep his or her attention. My personal rule of thumb is to model the behavior of the prospective donor seated across from you. If they are sitting on the edge of their seat, tapping a pencil and looking at their watch, get to the point. Be clear about why you are there and respect their time. When in front of a more relaxed and welcoming donor, become their friend and draw them in. Be attentive, listen, watch for the clues, observe their body language and always remember, eyes and ears before mouth, it’s about them, not you and your cause. It’s about giving them an opportunity to be part of something important. Give them the music to dance to and remember, major gift donors don’t just fall out of the sky. You can boost your fundraising efforts by taking the time to cultivate, solicit and steward your donor as they deserve. Forming that connection is critical to your success and saying thank you, with love, is… EVERYTHING!

Linda Smith is a fearless and tenacious non-profit fundraiser, author and motivational speaker. She is a survivor of child abuse, a philanthropist who has raised over one billion dollars for charity, and a disability advocate inspired by her son, Christopher, who was born with Down syndrome. Her incredible journey and brave heart will be detailed in her upcoming book, Unwanted.

Contact [email protected] to connect with Linda for information regarding speaking opportunities, disability resources and Las Vegas fundraising efforts.