Tag Archives: Barbara Pierce

Donor Research

Start by asking “why?”

Part three of three part series on transformational giving

Warren BuffetDo major gifts to nonprofits fall from the sky, or are they more typically the result of deep commitment, relationships, and the ability to use the tools and data available to nonprofits? We asked Barbara Pierce, founder of Transformative Giving, about how donor research supports transformational giving.

“Since a transformational gift is one that can move the nonprofit to a different level of operating, it will be a large gift by necessity,” she began.  “Donor research will identify those donors capable of such a gift so you can focus your cultivation efforts with an aim toward deepening relationships with a small number of top donors.  We are all limited by time so you need to prioritize.  Donor research allows you to make these choices based on data.”

We closed our interview with Pierce asking her to reflect on her experience and share what she has found to be the factors that influence major donor’s largest gifts.

“There is so much talk around evaluation and donors do want to know you have a method of determining progress.  Beyond these basics, donors making their largest gifts based on advancing the causes that mean the most to them personally and that express their most deeply held values.  They are not choosing the organization based solely on their metrics,” Pierce commented.

“The desire to leave a legacy beyond their financial success is what I have found influences donors the most. They have more money than they need according to their own standards and they want to make an impact on something bigger than themselves.  While it can be a planned gift, transformational gifts are often while the person is alive—the transformation goes both ways in that the donor is changed also through the process.”

She shared an experience of visiting with a very prominent venture capitalist who was known to be rather hard-edged.  She was armed with reams of data in anticipation of his questions.    “I was surprised he was taking the time to see us and I asked why he cared about this environmental cause.  He turned to a photo of his children and said, ‘all of this doesn’t matter if my children can’t enjoy the same beauty that I have been so lucky to know.’  If I hadn’t asked ‘why,’ we would’ve missed out on an opportunity to understand what drives him to make transformational gifts.”

This led to Pierce’s closing remarks and the topic of working with people who can give at the highest levels: “You need to start with the most basic question of ‘why?’  Otherwise, you may be making a lot of assumptions about what they care about most and gearing your pitch based on your thinking versus theirs.”

Visit Barbara Pierce at  www.transformativegiving.com.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them @saadshaw.


How to engage major donors

Part two of three part series on transformational giving

Giving Pledge

Photo credit: Fortune Magazine

Why does one nonprofit receive $1,000 from a donor when another receives $1 million? What is the difference between fundraising and the process of securing transformational gifts? To get some answers we talked with Barbara Pierce, founder of Transformative Giving.

Pierce got right to the point: “Transformational gifts come out of a partnership with a donor, built on a common goal that neither the donor nor the organization can accomplish on their own.   Fundraising is about getting gifts to meet a budget; transformative giving is about achieving a vision.  Without fundraising and the financial foundation it provides, you cannot engage in transformative giving.”

She elaborated further, sharing what it means to be “donor focused.” “Usually, nonprofits are driven by their own budget on their own timeline, i.e. fiscal year, solicitation cycle, board meeting schedule,” she began.  “To be donor focused is to focus on the donor’s timeline versus your own.   Most transformative gifts take more than a year to transpire but too many organizations forfeit a larger, more meaningful gift for a smaller, immediate one to fit their own calendar.”

“When you are donor-centric, you don’t think in terms of ‘they should give us X; they are really rich,’ which is something I’ve heard many times.   You also have an attitude of exploring common areas of interest versus believing you have to ‘educate’ donors on all aspects of your organization before they are qualified to play a meaningful role in your discussions.”

“Institutionally, it is an approach that says, ‘we want to understand who our donors are, what drives their decisions and what type of involvement is important to them,’ Pierce continued. “Any successful for-profit company takes a deep interest in understanding who their customers are and how they can be of service to them.  I see this as a critical gap in nonprofits engaging with those donors most able to make a transformative gift.”

Vision, leadership, capacity, stewardship. These are at the core of successful nonprofit fundraising. They are magnified and held to a higher standard when talking with individuals who can give at the highest levels. How donors are perceived and treated can impact if and when they make a meaningful investment.

“I believe one of the biggest factors that impede groups from attracting such gifts is their lack of interest or ability to see donors as partners versus a source of funds, Pierce advised.  “There are a lot of assumptions about ‘rich people’ among many nonprofit staff members, including the idea that a donor will have undue influence on the organization’s mission if they accept a large gift.  People don’t make transformative gifts to organizations that aren’t already embracing a vision they both hold in common.”

Next week: Part Three – Start by asking “why?”

Visit Barbara Pierce at  www.transformativegiving.com.

Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.”  They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them @saadshaw.

Transformative Giving

Philanthropy makes front page news with the announcement of large, transformational gifts. Think Bill Gates. Oprah Winfrey. Warren Buffet. With the news comes the question “What would it take for us to receive such a gift?” This three-part series seeks to provide insights that can help nonprofits begin a conversation that may itself be transformational

Barbara Pierce www.fundraisinggoodtimes.comWe recently asked Barbara Pierce, founder of Transformative Giving, to share her experience working with donors who give transformational gifts. Pierce works with local and national nonprofits who want to grow their major gifts programs. She has experience soliciting gifts ranging from $10,000 up to $10 million. Her comments can stimulate conversation and an examination of how your institution or organization approaches fundraising, and those who can make transformational gifts.

We asked Pierce what guidance she would offer to an organization or institution who wants to secure transformational gifts, and she got right to the point. “You need to be able to answer, without hesitation, what you would do if a donor gave you a million dollar gift. It is harder to answer than you might first think. If you don’t have a vision, don’t expect visionary gifts,” she said.

That’s a strong message. And we totally agree with Pierce. Those who can give at the highest levels want to know your vision, how you would deploy a major investment. Pierce continued, “You also need to have the organizational capacity to take advantage of such a large gift. I use the word transformative because such a gift will transform an organization and if you aren’t ready, it can take you off course, possibly in the wrong direction.”

She also highlighted the need to have your financial house in order before focusing on transformational giving. “You have to be financially sustainable before you can take advantage of a transformational gift. This type of gift allows you to move beyond “we’re surviving” to a point where you are thriving. As an organization, you have to demonstrate your capacity to steward a transformational gift. Nonprofits need to have the business knowledge of how to ramp up in terms of institutional capacity and implement a plan for the vision that the donor is funding.”

Transformational donors look closely at your institution’s leadership. “The first things to be satisfied before someone will consider a major investment in your group is a belief in the management of your organization. They want to know and trust your executive director or president and your board. These donors are people who have made smart decisions in earning and investing money. They want to know such a gift will make a lasting impact, and that means it will be well managed.”

Next week: Part Two. Are you interested in donors or their money?

Visit Barbara Pierce at www.transformativegiving.com.