Visit Martin Leifeld for more insights at www.martinleifeld.com
Hi. I’m Norm Orlowski and welcome to another Program Book Talk. Recently on LinkedIn, I ran across a posting which intrigued me since it had to do with effective fundraising for nonprofits. When I dove in a bit further, I discovered a treasure trove of suggestions, tips, and an actual series of video presentations which substantially provide a complete training course for fundraisers. I thought to myself, “I have got to do a podcast with this person” since his information could be so valuable to our clients, many of which have little or no formal training in fundraising. I was thrilled to find out that he was happy to do a podcast with me.
Our guest today is Martin Leifeld, vice chancellor for university advancement at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.
Since 2008, his dramatic fundraising efforts have led to an average of 26.3 million per year. Prior to joining UMSL, he was associate vice president for university development at St. Louis University. He also served for 10 years as director of development for the Catholic Diocese of Belville, Illinois, and spent 12 years with the Franciscan University as director of Christian Outreach. He holds a Bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude in Theology and a Master’s in Business Administration. Join me as we gain insight into effective fundraising ideas.
NORM: Well, good afternoon, Martin. I really appreciate you taking the time to do a little Q & A with us, that I think with your background will certainly benefit many of the organizations that we work with and many of the folks that tune in to our podcast through our website. Again, welcome, and we appreciate you taking the time.
MARTIN: Well, thank you, Norm, and I hope I can be helpful. You’re doing great work with your organization, and serving as many performing arts organizations as you do, that helps us all, right? It helps us all, and it helps our local communities to provide various kinds of experiences that edify and sustain neighborhoods and peoples and communities. That’s a great thing.
NORM: That’s great. Thank you so much for the compliment. Martin, I first came across you through LinkedIn, and I think you posted something on LinkedIn, and I was very impressed with that. Then I followed up and watched all of your YouTube sessions, which at the end of this podcast we will give folks the link to your website. But, I was very, very impressed with all of the points and the tips that you provide for folks that are in the fundraising industry as you are. And so based on watching many of your videos, I have a few things that I think, some questions, that could benefit the folks who are tuning to this podcast.
The first thing is planning the campaign, and who should you solicit first? In other words, should you go after the current donors and secure those, or should you approach new ones? What are your thoughts on that?
MARTIN: Norm, first of all, it’s a great question, and it’s a question that all those of us who have to raise funds for our worthy organizations need to be thinking about. You know, rather than talking about current versus new, let me start with a different principle, and that is, what we need to do, or what I recommend and what works, is to look at your prospective pool of donors, whether they be current or whether they be new, and try to gain some insight into two questions.
“What is their financial capacity?” and “What is their affinity to the organization?”
And when you think about, you only have so much time in which to do the business of fundraising, you want to focus on those who are the highest capacity and highest affinity meet. And that is where you want to spend your time, trying to engage those prospective donors and to secure them as donors. So more often than not, you’re working from your current donor pool, but your current donor pool can lead you to new opportunities through the relationships that those donors possess. That is also a way of leveraging that donor’s capacity and strong affinity to your organization to bring somebody along because of the relationship they have. So, new prospective donors, particularly if there is a way of being connected to them, and that is usually through other significant relationships, they can rise to that upper quadrant, you might say, of were capacity and affinity are highest.
The other thing then is when you look at that that’s a smaller group of this entire vast, hopefully vast, pool of prospective donors that an organization has, you then look at well, where is the person, where are the people, where is the organization or the corporation, the foundation that can make that lead gift or lead gifts and those who can have the greatest impact you want to focus on even first within “laddering” if you will. Those folks. And landing that first gift or gifts of significant size then is a signal to everyone else you go to of success, and because you have some leaders helping you lead your campaign forward.
NORM: That’s terrific. That is a good suggestion. You mentioned time because everybody is limited in time and certainly in fundraising, you have some time limitations and periods when you need to do the fundraising for the year or for the season. So, what is the importance of time management in a donor-centric business?
MARTIN: It is perhaps the most important facility, an important aspect that we bring to bear with fundraising. But, first of all, even if you’re a fundraiser, Norm, you would be surprised at how many distractions there are that can keep one from going on and directly doing the work of fundraising. And for those of us who might have struggles sometimes with call reluctance, it will always be the urgent and the demanding things that can preoccupy us that prevent us from doing what is most important.
NORM: That’s right.
MARTIN: And that is going out and engaging others about this great organization that we represent. And if we are very willing fundraisers, there are so many demands on our time. So we have to prioritize time. We have to cut out time in our busy days and set it aside in order to go and do fundraising. When we talk about major gift fundraising, and that’s what we really want to do, is raise the largest gifts possible, that is time intensive. You know you don’t raise significant, your larger and largest gifts, by a phone call or an e-mail. It really is, you have to go, you have to get in front of someone or ‘someones’, and make the case on behalf of your organization. And, as you know, that is getting in the car, that is driving somewhere and coming back. All of that stuff takes time, and we’ve got to have enough time in order to do it right, in order to use what time we have to have the greatest impact.
NORM: And I am sure that rolled into that time management also is follow-up, consistent and effective follow-up?
MARTIN: You know, as I often tell the folks who I work with here at your campus, the University of Missouri, St. Louis, I will say, you know, asking for the gift is the easiest part. The real work begins afterward when you have to bring that gift to resolution. You know, whether it is a pledged document that is signed or a transfer of stock or a check in hand, whatever it might be. Until it is consummated, it’s not done. Because, I’ve had, and maybe, Norm, you have observed this in your work, but certainly those of us who have fundraised, we have had this experience when someone says “absolutely, I’m good for 5, I’m good for 10, I’m good 50, count me in”, and then hey, where did it go.
NORM: That’s right. And it’s a function of majoring in your minor and minoring in your major. You know, you’ve got things that need to be done, but the most important thing is getting in front of that prospect, that potential donor.
Talking about the presentation, we have lots of technology that is available to us, and of course, in my sales background, you couldn’t make a presentation without what we called sales aids. What is your feeling about technology and using an IPad or a PowerPoint presentation when you are approaching a major donor?
MARTIN: I think we, as fundraisers, should use every tool available in order to tell the story as passionately and as persuasively as possible. But we better know how to use those tools, right? We don’t want to be clunky and clumsy or have equipment that breaks down and that is unreliable. If we are going to use technology, we need to — just like we would rehearse a call, which I recommend and maybe we’ll get to later — in advance, we need to rehearse with the equipment so that we can be effective. So, I will use, and our people will use, IPads and similar tools. We will prepare and utilize PowerPoints to help us tell the stories when we believe it is the best way to convey the information.
Now, I am comfortable going in with nothing, by the way, just going in with my conviction and what I have prepared to say orally. Sometimes I will come in just with a black and white two-page document. Sometimes I will come in with a portfolio of materials, and sometimes I will come in with other technological resources like we have just talked about. And that again is a part of what am I trying to accomplish and what aids or tools should I utilize in order to help accomplish what I am setting out to do. No, I am all in favor of them, just so we use them effectively.
MARTIN: And I have also found this, you know, using dynamic tools can really engage people very effectively, but sometimes a sparkling personality with a lot of passion that someone comes and brings to that meeting is just as effective and perhaps even more so. So again, it’s about weighing what is going to help you be most impactful.
NORM: I think underpinning all of that is, as you said, the conviction that you demonstrate in that particular call.
Are there any steps to an effective presentation? You know, point 1, 2, 3, what should you start with, and maybe end up with? I don’t expect you to go through all of them, but just kind of an overview of some of the steps that you feel are important.
MARTIN: Sure. Well, you know, it’s almost like you have to start with research. You know, you need to know the prospective donor you’re going to see. You may have a relationship with them. You need to review the history of that relationship. Maybe they have been supporters of your organization, well, to what extent? And how does that look given what you are hoping to accomplish with them next? If it is someone new, can you find some research? You know, Google is incredible when you’re going through the Internet, what you can find and learn about people including their philanthropic support perhaps to other organizations that are similar to yours, which could give you insight and some confidence about what you might ask them for. So kind of that basic research, who is it that I want to go see and what do I know about them.
Then, I’m very big here, you know, about preparing thoroughly and thoughtfully for what is about to take place. Thinking through what are my objectives; thinking through what is the order of information I hope to convey; thinking about, well, what are the most likely objections or questions that they might ask that I can anticipate and be ready to field and reply to. That includes, I guess you could just say, rehearsing. When I first got in the work of major gift solicitation, believe me, it didn’t come easily. It’s like I wasn’t a natural born fundraiser, I was made. I used to work in southern Illinois and I would criss-cross southern Illinois, sometimes be in my car an hour or two in order to see a prospective donor and then return. On the way I would rehearse, “John and Mary, would you please consider giving a gift of $50,000 payable over five years in order to advance A, B, C, D, E, F, G”, whatever it was that I was asking. I would say that over and over again, Norm, so that once I got in front of the folks, no matter what the dynamics might have been in the room, particularly how I might have been feeling, which would have been nervous or feeling uneasy, all I had to do was start, “John and Mary,” and boom, you know, I could get that sentence, that question, out in front of them, and then we would go from there.
MARTIN: But rehearsing, I found to be very important. One way I rehearse, by the way, is I will almost always call one of my, it could be my personal assistant here at the University, it could be one of the fundraisers, and have a conversation about what I’m going to try and do with this prospective donor and sometimes just work through, well, what is the phraseology, what is it exactly that I want to say and get input from others. That can really be helpful in preparing.
One other thing I would just say is, you know, you alluded to it again, Norm, a moment ago, but we have got to be passionate. Part of our preparation is, what am I going to represent? Kind of stir up that flame of appreciation and gratitude for the organization, the pride that I hold for the organization, to refresh that in my mind and heart you might say, so that I can go in excited, energized, projecting true energy and enthusiasm and speak of the virtues, the value proposition of our organization, as we engage a prospective donor, and hopefully make a request and secure a gift.
NORM: Excellent points. Your positive self-talk, as you are driving the one hour that you talked about seeing yourself and hearing yourself ask for that commitment, it’s kind of almost like muscle memory like an athlete might practice, so that when you start, as you said, when you start the sentence, it just flows positively. So these are, I think, some steps that can help a new person or even an experienced person overcome fear. There is always the fear particularly when you might be approaching a very large potential giver.
Do you have any other tips for overcoming fear?
MARTIN: Sure. I think one of the reasons very few people volunteer about going out and asking for money, is fear of dealing with no’s. You know, someone says “well, no”, and how should I think about that, how should I feel about that? Well, what I have learned is, actually that no’s can be a really good thing, and no’s usually are no’s for now. No’s are usually, perhaps, they are not familiar enough with our organization; who knows what is going on that we don’t know about or we know very little about, even those who are our best donors, we know so little about. We don’t know what’s going on in the background in their lives in terms of their financial ability to say yes to us. But if someone says “no”, and we ask, well, why? You know, take the two-letter word and follow with the three-letter word, why, and then be quiet. That would be very, very powerful and insightful, Norm.
Oftentimes the response to the why gives the significant insight into the prospective donor’s circumstances. What I have found is, sometimes amazingly, people will go on and be very candid about some dimensions of their lives that justify, I guess you might say, for saying no. Because most people don’t want to say no and disappoint somebody. They have got something at risk by saying the no, just like we have something at risk if they tell us no. And then that builds intimacy, right, because they have disclosed something personal, intimate. If we respect them in their no, we retain that information, we have that available to us when we next engage them respectfully. So, no’s can be a way of building a relationship just like a yes can be a way of building a relationship. But what is critical here, Norm is how we respond to the no. You know, we don’t want to look disappointed. We want to remain grateful because they have taken the time to tell us no.
NORM: You know, in your experience, Martin, I know it has happened to me from a sales standpoint, but sometimes when you do ask why and the client, the prospect starts to tell you, all of a sudden you can see them almost wrestling with themselves, and it happens once in a while where they actually say, well, you know, I really don’t have a good reason. Maybe this is a good idea. I’m sure that has happened to you.
MARTIN: Well, I can think of one major, major gift to our university. A couple years ago, a year and a half ago, a colleague and I had lunch with this remarkable couple, and when I began to set up the question, you might say, they immediately told us why they couldn’t do anymore now. So, I said, “hey, you know, would you be willing to just hear me out that if your circumstances were different, and then proceeded, kind proceeded just like they would have if they hadn’t said that.
MARTIN: And then at the end of it, they are nodding their heads, and they are looking at each other, and they are saying, “Boy, can’t we find a way to do this,” to each other. And then it led to this great gift. So, you are right, people can talk themselves right into the yes after saying they’re no, absolutely.
NORM: Wonderful story. How about, and I know from looking at some of your sessions, the environment to you is very important, and how to choose the environment. Can you kind of cover a little bit of that with us?
MARTIN: Sure. Well, I begin with this – When we are going to have a conversation with the donor, I like it to be as private and quiet as possible. So, if I can choose the environment, I will do so. And you know, it is pretty basic. If it is possible to do it in an office or is it possible to do it at a person’s home, or perhaps they come to your office that you control, you are more likely to have a quiet environment where you can hear one another, versus a loud, clangy kind of background in a restaurant for instance.
MARTIN: And you also have the added opportunity to gain insight because it is their environment, right? So if it is their home, you will see pictures on the walls, you’ll see mementos. If it’s at the office, it might be certificates of Appreciation. There are things on the walls and on the desks and so on, and the living room furniture tables and so on, that give you insight and clues as to what is important to them. It gives you a way of gaining insight. You go into a home and it is beautifully furnished and it is in a terrific setting, that gives you some insight just in terms of their capacity, perhaps, to support your organization. So quiet and private is important. If you have time for a quick story, Norm?
MARTIN: Maybe a year ago one of my colleagues and I were going into New York City and we were going to visit with this gentleman and his wife. He runs a significant company in New York City. And we are just getting to know him, but we were going to ask for a very substantial gift, and he said, you know, we’ve got this favorite Italian restaurant, it’s just a small place, it is going to be really quiet. We think you will love the food. Let’s do it there and know we agree. Well, we get there and, you know, it is kind of a quiet, beautiful looking place. It is intimate, it is small. But the problem is there is a table set up for 16 next to ours. And guess what? This 16 began celebrating, and I mean celebrating. I looked at my colleague across the table, raised my eyebrow, and I picked up the glass of wine which we had at the table, and I took another sip. It’s like it is not happening tonight because I could hardly hear, and you know, to have this delicate, you might say, discussion about a gift, it couldn’t happen. So, you know, had I been smarter or wiser about it, we would have said, hey, before we go to the restaurant, can we take a few minutes at your office, which is nearby anyway, so we can have some undistracted opportunity to talk to you about something so very important to us. That would have worked a lot better. Fortunately, about a month later they happened to be in St. Louis, and we selected a different environment.
NORM: And you got their business.
MARTIN: In fact, we were successful, so things work out.
NORM: That’s great.
The other thing, sometimes it’s easy, the topic is establishing rapport, that’s the question I would like to ask you. It is easy in an environment like a home or an office where you can see mementos and things like that, photographs. But how do you do it? I am sure that you have done it in restaurants.
How do you establish rapport? What are some of the basic ground rules for establishing rapport?
MARTIN: Well, why establish rapport? You know, we want to establish rapport to help the prospective donor to feel comfortable with us and to dispose of them, you might say, to be favorable, to look upon our request, our organization favorably. So, when you think about the first one to five minutes, you might say, as you begin this engagement, this conversation, with this person or people. That’s all about rapport, establishing that comfort and that favorable outlook. So I kind of have a handle on this. I call it two G’s and a C. Two G’s, the letter G and the letter C.
NORM: All right.
MARTIN: Which stand for gifts, gratitude, and compliments. Oftentimes I will bring a gift on a prospective call, something of perceived value. Now, it could be — we have Cardinals baseball caps with “UMSL” on the back. You know, the initials of our university, UMSL, University of Missouri St. Louis, UMSL, and sometimes I’ll bring something as simple as that. Sometimes I will bring a report on a fund that they may have established for our university. Or I know they have an interest in a particular sport or a particular topic that we have information from our university because of our teams or because of a faculty member who does research or publishes in an area. I will bring an article or something I think they would perceive as valuable and would evoke appreciation and delight and surprise on their part. So gifts can work.
The second G is Gratitude. What have they done for us that we can recall, and say, you know, thank you for this time, and we are here so grateful, because you have helped us in this instance, you’ve helped us in that instance, through a financial support, through sound advice and counsel, through giving your time as a volunteer. So you express gratitude.
And then looking for compliments, offering compliments for what they are doing in the community at large that you are aware of, what they might have right in front of you. You know, if you’re in the office or in the home and there is what looks to be a wedding picture of a young couple, you know, you ask, well, is that your son or is that your daughter who got married? What a beautiful handsome couple you have there, and then they are smiling and they are on to telling you that wonderful story about the wedding or the funny story or whatever anecdote they have. But you are complimenting them because, you know, the children and so on, their family. So using gifts, gratitude, and compliments in combination are important ways to establish rapport.
But one additional piece is what I would call questions. If you have a historic relationship with them, you want to use questions as well. This is why as we are building a relationship, it is important that we take notes about what was conveyed to us during the previous visit. So you say, so how is your son, John, doing? I know he was struggling with this or that. How’s Mary and Pat doing? They were 7 months pregnant, did they have a boy or a girl? Is the baby healthy? And you ask these questions which help re-establish that you have this relationship of intimacy. And again it’s a way of, they’re going, oh, yes, that’s right, this is the Martin Liefeld, whom I think highly of, who I have shared many dimensions of my life because I trust him and I regard him as somebody who is trustworthy.
So, you know, using those questions also is a way of, again, creating this comfort, this favorable attitude from these prospective donors we are engaging. Two G’s and a C, it works.
NORM: Two G’s and a C, I love it. We all want to deal with friends and to become a friend is very important. Wonderful.
I had a question here to ask about “no”unless there is anything else because I learned from what you said just to come back with “why”, and many times that can overcome and at least get the prospect to start talking.
How about any other closing tips? Any other suggestions for closing and moving on?
MARTIN: Sure. What is paramount here is not the solicitation, and what is paramount here is not getting a “yes”. What is really paramount is building the relationship. This is always about beginning and ending with strengthening the relationship, furthering the relationship whether or not it leads to a gift or a gift commitment at a particular visit, because, you know, oftentimes in our work, and you know this, Norm, from your sales experience and so on, the relationship may have pre-dated our ever being involved. The relationship is likely to outlast our involvement and representation of our organization. So, making the relationship and strengthening the relationship on behalf of our organization is what is foremost, because whether we get a “yes” or not on this particular engagement, I am continuing to strengthen the relationship and furthering the relationship. That increases the possibility of additional gifts and perhaps extraordinary gifts to come, whether during our tenure or after our tenure. So that is paramount.
And kind of coinciding with that, alongside it, is what I call having a long view. Our view of the person, our view of the relationship has to be long term. This encounter that we are about to undertake is but one step in this set of steps that takes place with a donor or prospector donor you hope to continue to engage with as an organization for the entirety of their lives. So, I think having that longer time frame helps us as fundraisers in a way to relax a little bit. You know, it is not all on us, it is not all on us as we are about to step into their living room or their office. Let’s have some perspective on it.
Another dimension I would say is, you know, it’s a roller coaster ride. There are a lot of ups and downs for those of us who are in this work, whether we are volunteers or we do this professionally. It is so important that we celebrate our victories. You know, to celebrate our wins along the way. Just the other day I had one of our younger fundraisers come in. He wanted to talk with me. His supervisor came in behind him, and I’m wondering, gee, I wonder what’s going on. I hope he has not taken a job somewhere else. It was funny because he wasn’t all excited. He was kind of deadpan, and he said, “Well, Martin, I just want you to know I met with so and so, and they disclosed they are going to do a million dollar gift to the university”. And he says it kind of straight-faced. Well, I jumped out of my chair from behind my desk. I come over and this is not necessarily what I recommend, but I couldn’t help myself. I gave him a big hug. I said, “this is the most fantastic news you could have come in and shared with me”. And, you know, he just lit up at that point. And his supervisor all smiles and I gave them both a high-five. In that moment we celebrated something that was really, really important for the entire organization. But how about how important it was for this younger, less experienced fundraiser to have been able to come and share something as significant as that. That could be a life changer for somebody who is newer in the profession to go out and do something that is really extraordinary.
And so, every year at least once a year I will take our fundraising team and take them out for drinks or for dinner to say thank you, whatever our outcome is by the way. Even if we were to fall a little short. Usually, we will exceed our goals, but whether or not, to be grateful and express gratitude for their hard work and the wins. So I think that is important, and a lot of us in our profession like sales or fundraising, we are hard-charging types. It’s like we can’t rest until we get past the finish line. I think that is short sided on our part, because celebrating wins actually refuels us to press on and keep at it when things are not going exactly our way.
NORM: a Wonderful suggestion. Ok, so let me kind of close things up here with a little scenario here, paint a picture for you. Go back about 20 or 30 years and you were new to the profession or whatever, and you had these techniques of when somebody said no, you asked them why and you had a morning where you had two calls where both of them said no, and despite your efforts to ask why, you could not come to any conclusion, and another appointment never showed up. You weren’t even able to connect with them. It’s now lunchtime.
What do you do to stop from drinking another cup of coffee and spending the rest of the afternoon not going out and seeing the rest of the clients? What do you do with the ups and downs that a professional fundraiser has to deal with? How do you get back out there?
MARTIN: Well, you know, one of the things I do, Norm, is, like I said in terms of preparing my calls, I will talk to somebody on my staff. I talk to my people. Or I’ll call my wife, Ellen if she is available. And I’ll say, “man, I am bummed” or “I feel beaten down.” In other words, it’s about being in touch with my feelings. You know, I’m struggling here. “I have had a really bad morning, can I tell you about it?” And that in and of itself, just being able to talk it through, for me, goes a long way for kind of getting my sea legs back.
MARTIN: Another thing I’ll do is, you know, I’m one of those guys who exercises and if I have had a tough day, I will make sure I get my exercise, because I find that that’s a very good thing to get kind of re-energized you might say. I also will, as I have time, I follow certain people online. I’m a big fan of Robin Sharma, who is a leadership development guy out of Toronto, Canada. I think he has an amazing way of viewing the world. And I’ll turn to outside sources of inspiration to kind of help me re-focus and re-gather my energies, put on my game face and get back at it.
NORM: Well, that’s a good point. And probably, I think you would agree with me, if you’ve had a morning like that, maybe it would be better off to engage in some exercise or some positive thinking and listening in the afternoon rather than go out and try to do it again. Tomorrow’s another day.
MARTIN: Yes, and I think, you know, I don’t want our fundraisers to be out on more than a couple of solicitation calls a day. Now, they might be engaged in some other engagements. But solicitation calls, every call, requires significant preparation. It’s like your favorite sports team, the hours of preparation they put in before their next game. We need to put in the time and the preparation so that we can really be as prepared as possible. And then the other thing which really gets to your point, you have got to have your psychic energy there. You can’t go in tired. You can’t go in looking beat up. You don’t want the person to say, “boy, you’re looking rough today, Martin”. “Gee, Norm, you look really tired. Can I do something for you?”
NORM: Yes, yes you can. Well, Martin, listen, it has really been a great pleasure talking with you, and I think that you have given and shared a lot of helpful information that I am sure our folks would love to listen to, and I am going to tell them how to get in touch with you through your website so that they can view some of these terrific videos that you have done on YouTube, I believe. I appreciate you taking the time. Thank you so much.
MARTIN: Okay, Norm. It has been my pleasure. Thanks for asking me to do this.
NORM: So there you have it. You’ll find much more information at Martinleifeld.com, that’s martinleifeld.com. Here you’ll find over 50 videos on fundraising entitled “Five Minutes with Martin”. Martin is completing a book entitled Five Minutes for Fund Raising: A Collection of Expert Advice from Gifted Fund Raisers, available in December of this year.
I’m Norm Orlowski. Good selling.