Why High-Wealth Donors Don't Give to Your Organization
Updated: Aug 27, 2021
By Paul Rice
I sat down with Jack Clark III to talk about the best ways churches and nonprofits can engage high-wealth donors.
Jack spent several years with Raymond James, an investment firm, assisting high-wealth donors in structuring and navigating the tax implications of large donations. He also has a high aptitude for direct sales and money making in general.
During our conversation, Jack noted two red flags that are guaranteed to keep high-wealth donors at arm’s length.
Red Flag #1: Your Character Isn’t Worth Investing In
Have you ever had a really bad experience at a restaurant?
I don’t just mean the waiter was a little late with your drink refill on a busy night. I mean a downright horrible experience that earned them a zero-star review on Yelp, a social media post or two, and a guarantee that you would never be back.
When my friend was a kid, he and his family visited such a restaurant (which shall remain nameless). He has a very severe allergy to all fish products and consuming enough fish can be fatal for him unless treated quickly.
After being assured by the waitstaff and the kitchen that a particular dish contained no fish product, my friend ordered and started eating his meal. About halfway through, he went into anaphylactic shock. This attracted all kinds of attention from the waitstaff and the restaurant manager. Instead of apologizing, they insisted they didn't know about my friend’s fish allergy.
An event like that should cause a restaurant to rethink how they treat their patrons, but the manager kept on pushing. As my friend was being wheeled to the ambulance, the manager chased my friend’s dad out the door and shouted,
“You forgot to pay your bill!”
Thankfully, my friend survived the ordeal.
Obviously, my friend’s family has never returned to that restaurant. Any restaurant that neglects quality service will never be able to retain customers. Great food makes people interested in the restaurant, but great service is what brings people back.
The same is true for any organization. A great cause creates interest in the organization, but great character makes an organization worth the investment.
As a leader, you are representing the character of your organization. Your personal character will be the determining factor with a potential donor, investor, partner, employer, or anyone looking to establish a relationship with the organization, especially if you don’t already have a relationship with them. If you are not cultivating your character, high-wealth donors, and most donors for that matter, will not make the commitment to your organization.
At the end of the day, people are not looking to invest in just another great cause, they are looking to invest into YOU!
Red Flag #2: You’re Still Writing Letters
You can have great character. But, if you are not 100% committed to your cause, high-wealth donors will smell it a mile away. They don’t want to invest in leadership that views their cause simply as a stepping stone to something better.
Fundraising only by writing letters is a great way to keep high-wealth individuals from donating to your organization. There’s nothing wrong with writing a letter, but if that’s the only way you are raising funds, you are probably missing out on a relationship with many potential donors.
In the interview, Jack told me that he and his wife receive many letters from missionaries and non-profit organizations each year. However, in the last 5 years, only a few people met with them face to face to pitch their organization’s vision. Guess what? Those are the people that Jack and his family invested in.
A letter communicates, “I don’t think my mission is important enough to engage you personally.”
A face-to-face conversation communicates, “This mission is so important, I will do what it takes to help you believe in the mission too.”
Jack said it this way:
“I just think a lot of people appreciate the fact that it's not just another letter. Guys like me, we get a lot of letters. We get a lot of requests. We get a lot of opportunities.”
“Pitch [the vision], however you want to pitch it. But I just have a little bit more respect for the person that believes enough about what they're doing to meet with me and tell me about what they're looking to do.”
“And in that meeting... We're all a good judge of character. We have a discerning spirit. If I don't think they're knuckleheads, if I don't think they're liars, [and] if I think they're going to follow through on what they say, then there's a good chance I'm going to support them.”
Are you really engaging existing and potential donors like your mission deserves? When was the last time you met directly with current donors in your organization to ask them to fund a capital campaign, ministry project, or missions work?
If you really believe in your mission, pick up the phone, meet a donor for lunch, or do what it takes for an opportunity to pitch your vision and ask for the donation directly.
Stop writing letters. Just ask. It’s that simple.