News and analysis
September 07, 2017

5 Smart Fundraising Tips From Wealthy Donors

Fundraising season never really ends, but with the busiest months of the year for major-gift officers right around the corner, now is a good time to brush up on the best ways to attract wealthy donors.

High-net-worth philanthropists are often bombarded with gift requests from nonprofits they don’t know well. The Chronicle mined its recent coverage of big donors for the best suggestions on how fundraisers can elevate their organization’s pitch above the din of the crowd. Also, read about a recent Carnegie Corporation survey of wealthy philanthropists who said they want fundraisers to make an effort to find out what causes donors care about and what motivates them before asking for a gift.

Get to Know the Donor

Fundraisers are sometimes so focused on asking for a donation they forget about the importance of cultivation and stewardship, two things that take time and patience. Colorado Philanthropist Carrie Morgridge says charity leaders and philanthropists should get to know each other before anyone starts talking about a gift.

Ms. Morgridge and her husband, John, have given about $75 million through their family foundation.

Another must for Ms. Morgridge: dedication. "I work 24/7, so the people I invest in the most are responding on Saturdays and Sundays when I’m thinking about things, and they’re responding within an hour, not five days later."

Arrange Visits to See the Mission

Bay Area lottery winners and donors Carmen and Alcario Castellano, who so far have put more than $5 million of their winnings into their foundation, say one of the best ways fundraisers can give wealthy donors a chance to get to know them and their nonprofit is by providing philanthropists with opportunities to visit their offices and the places they carry out their mission and services. Being on site and talking to beneficiaries gives potential donors a better sense of whether they want to support that nonprofit, says Ms. Castellano.

Find Out What Donors Care About

The financier Bruce Kovner says fundraisers need to spend a significant amount of time not only getting to know the donor but also understanding what the donor cares about and why. The philanthropist, who has given away about $400 million to a number of causes, also says fundraisers should make sure they have given a prospective donor as much information as the donor needs to understand the cause and develop a strong interest in it.

Take ‘No’ Graciously

Suzie Kovner, Mr. Kovner’s wife and a former fundraiser, adds another bit of important advice: The path to building a good relationship with a wealthy philanthropist includes learning how to handle a gift-solicitation rejection with grace. The better a fundraiser reacts to hearing "no," she says, the more luck he or she will have approaching the same person again in the future.

Get Board Members Involved

Media mogul Gerry Lenfest, who has contributed more than $1 billion to charity and led nonprofit boards for nearly two decades, agrees that long-term relationship-building with big donors is a must, but he says fundraisers should also remember to make use of their trustees and encourage board members to cultivate and solicit wealthy people. If they express discomfort with that role, says Mr. Lenfest, remind them that the goal is to benefit the nonprofit’s mission.

Send an e-mail to Maria Di Mento.