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Creating Financial Rapport with Your Donors

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Rapport. That wonderful – and productive – state between two or more people when everything just seems to align. The right words, and empowering body language, bring the conversation and its results to unexpectedly high levels. Some gift officers are able to naturally bring rapport to their relationships with their donors and prospects. This in turn lays the foundation for engaging interactions; comfortable asks; and sometimes, extraordinary outcomes. Relationship rapport is a somewhat innate talent. The good news is that like a muscle, it can also be learned, exercised, and mastered with good training, practice, and mentorship.
One dimension usually not top of mind in traditional rapport building is that of the financial concerns and opportunities of the donor. This is especially relevant when it comes to high net worth (HNW) households. And why is that? HNW households typically have more complex considerations than non-high net worth households when it comes to managing their wealth, preparing for retirement, and determining benefits for family and heirs. It is critical for gift officers to understand these considerations and weave them into the conversation at comfortable junctures. This helps to add a new depth of understanding – i.e., greater rapport – to these most important opportunities and relationships.
So what is the best way to do this in a way that really moves the needle? I’m not at all recommending that your drill your donor about the structure of their estate plan or the nature of their investments. The best way to open the door to such a conversation is to make it clear – through questions, storytelling, and examples – that you have an understanding of their concerns, pressures, and strategic considerations. A key consideration is ensuring there is enough money available for retirement to maintain a desired life style; this has added significance to HNW households. Donors with the ability to give very large gifts may change how they allocate and contribute their resources relative to up or down markets. HNW households may have a variety of options for gifting, including regular income, appreciated assets, retirement funds, or other complex tools – each with its own restrictions as well as opportunities. It is important to have a baseline understanding of the factors that go into these concerns, in order to develop the rapport and relationships needed to close more and larger gifts from HNW households.
There are no substitutes for research, rapport, and open ended questions as part of any gift conversation. But, these factors take on even greater importance with HNW asks. Here are two examples why.
  • First, I had the opportunity to have a discussion with a prominent HNW philanthropist about a significant gift to one of his beloved NPOs. I suggested he consider a modification of his estate plan to support a gift to the campaign, thinking that would be a sound strategy for this elderly couple. He said that would be fine, or he could just give cash, as it would make no difference to the family financially. His response surprised me because if did not fit my preconceived model of his situation stressing cash preservation while living. In this case, better rapport and open ended questions would have made his giving strategy clear from the beginning.
  • Second, in another HNW gift ask situation long ago, I suggested that the family create a large lead trust funded by their Berkshire Hathaway stock. Oops! At the time I was not aware that Berkshire Hathaway stock does not pay a dividend, and therefore would have to be sold to fund the lead trust pay out. It is almost unheard of for BH stock holders to ever sell their shares, and clearly this was true here as well. In this case, just a bit of research would have quickly illuminated that this direction was destined for failure, and that it was time to turn to plan B.
Your best donors are other organizations’ best supporters as well. So it is important to always be prepared, and at the top of your game, when you have the opportunity to speak with them face to face. Remember that many gifts are motivated by heart factors; the size of a gift might be influenced by tax considerations or involve legacy considerations for a loved one or the kids. As gift officers, it is incumbent upon us to understand the pressures and strategies that guide, influence, and shape significant gifting decisions at all levels of the financial spectrum.
Your takes:
  1. High net worth households have more complex wealth management considerations than non-high net worth households.
  2. Understanding these complexities will help gift officers build deeper personal and financial rapport with donors.
  3. Understanding these complexities will help gift officers construct more appropriate and viable gift structures for potential donors.
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Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.