You are viewing the "December 2016" monthly Archives

Advanced Cultivation Strategies: The Whisper in the Ear

Section: Blog

By Guest Blogger Peter Heller of Heller Fundraising Group


The biggest and best gifts come from direct personal conversations built on strong relationships. But how do those relationships start? The people you hope to have as your donors are not always easily accessible. As major gift fundraisers, we need to be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with our prospects. Here’s one of my favorite strategies. I call it “The Whisper in the Ear.” It is both simple and elegant because it provides vital forward momentum in the cultivation process that otherwise might not happen.

Who is The Whisper in the Ear good for? This strategy is for prospects who are already in your organization’s orbit to some degree, but you have not yet gotten close enough to have an easy dialogue, phone or email relationship. They are not total strangers nor pie-in-the-sky prospects (like Bill Gates); they are also not usually your closest friends, though there are occasional exceptions to this when you can’t get your friend’s attention.

When would you use the strategy? Use it primarily at events of any size or meetings that your prospect is attending. The event or meeting has a purpose that does NOT allow time for lengthy, focused attention between you and the prospect, and even if it did, discussing your organization’s fundraising agenda and their giving would just not be appropriate in this context.

How does it work? I said it was simple, and it is. At your event or meeting, you commit to at least a few moments of polite, engaging conversation with your prospect. During the conversation, you say The Whisper: “I am hoping I could call your office next week to schedule a time to meet so that I can…”

You might complete The Whisper with:

  • “…get to know you and your nonprofit interests.”
  • “…learn what excites you about our work.”
  • “…follow up on Sue’s letter regarding our campaign. Your views will help us shape our next steps.”

When you have The Whisper — you might:

  • Be introducing yourself for the first time;
  • Already know the prospect somewhat or even pretty darn well, but you just haven’t been able to get that vital first meeting;
  • Not even be doing the whispering yourself but coaching your Executive Director or Board member to do the deed.

The Whisper in the Ear strategy rarely gets a negative reply and has started many long-lasting nonprofit relationships that couldn’t otherwise get off the ground. Give it a try!


Peter runs the Heller Fundraising Group located in NYC with clients everywhere. They focus on helping nonprofits build Capital Campaigns and Major Gift Programs, and they would love to hear from you: [email protected]


Planning your First Gala?

Section: Blog

Whether it’s your organization’s first gala, or simply your first time planning a gala, proper planning goes a along way. Sharnell Bryan of The Chronicle of Philanthropy shares advice from people who have run special events to help make your first gala a success:

Form a committee: Form a committee early (9 months to a year prior to event) and be sure to include people who have large networks of friends and professional associates, as well as experience in planning events. Mix trustees with staff members and rank-and-file volunteers who have a true passion for your mission.

Choose event wisely: Plan an event that is related to your organization’s mission. A charity’s locale and its ties to community groups play a big role in what sorts of fundraising events will be successful, in terms of attendance, sponsorships and fundraising potential.

Estimate potential return on investment: Research is important when choosing a fundraising event to determine an event’s costs, feasibility and likely success. Events that honor a prominent local leader generally make money, as long as expenses stay lean.

Budget carefully: Experts suggest establishing a budget for the event before doing anything else. Start with the biggest expenses, such as food, beverages, catering, location and marketing.

Reserve a location well in advance: Space should be secured up to a year in advance — as soon as the organization has established a firm date.

Delegate intelligently: Some tasks are ideal for volunteers, such as stuffing envelopes, checking arriving guests into an event, selling raffle tickets, and preparing gift bags. Staff members are best suited for responsibilities requiring greater accountability, like managing the charity’s donor information.

Seek sponsorships: Corporate sponsors can help defray the cost of the event. Nonprofit groups have to make it clear what benefits the sponsor will receive, as they will expect meaningful of recognition in return for their donation.

Spread the word: What good is an event, if people don’t know about it? Charities can get free publicity by persuading local newspapers and websites to post announcements. Post information about the event on an event page or website. Send out email blasts and post about the event on social media, and encourage others to post socially, as well.

Expect the unexpected: Even after all the planning is done, don’t get complacent on the day of the event. Even the best-laid plans can still go awry. Be flexible and expect some glitches.

Remember the mission: Taking time to remind attendees about the charity’s mission will make the occasion more meaningful. Attendees should know why they’re there and the positive effect their support will have.

Give thanks: Let donors, staff members, and volunteers know that their support is appreciated. The follow-up after the event is the most important part. It’s the most fertile period for cultivating those who attended and thanking the people who helped put the event on.

To read this article in its entirety, click here.