Gail Perry is a fundraising consultant and trainer and the author of Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Your Board’s Passion into Action. She is a highly sought speaker and writes a popular blog. Her most recent venture is an online coaching group. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the .
MKC: What are the issues that are keeping your clients awake at night?
GAIL: I think the economy is just a huge issue. People are worried about whether they can raise the money they need or not. But I’m also seeing a really interesting problem. My consulting clients are struggling to learn how to take donors who are identified as potential major prospects and bring them into the major prospect arena by closing a gift. It’s a very delicate, step-by-step, intuitive process to bring a major donor along. That’s a lot of what I’m teaching my clients, all these little subtleties of developing that type of relationship.
MKC: I’m surprised. I thought major donor fundraising is like dating, so I assumed that everyone knew this instinctively.
GAIL: Well, you would be surprised how people feel nervous about it, men and women. I have a friend at AFP International Conference in Chicago. She works in the Lineberger Cancer Center at Chapel Hill. She talked about how she takes a prospect who’s identified as having potential, and what she says and does to find out if they really have potential., Eli Jordfald, who gave a presentation called ‘Mastering the Art of the Discovery Call” to a standing-room-only session at an
MKC: Have the top burner issues changed since you started consulting?
GAIL: I think there’s a little bit more desperation among the clients. A little bit more worry. I spend time comforting people a lot, and assuring them that if we go through these processes, we can be successful. So they look to me like the savior, which is scary, but I have a lot of confidence that we can be successful if we do it correctly. A lot of issues with major donors haven’t changed. Also, I’m still teaching people how to get board members to return their phone calls and read their emails.
I am very interested in keeping up with the front edges of my profession, so I’ve been studying Internet marketing at great length. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook; I have my own blog with over 7,400 followers; I study subject lines for my blogs and their opening percentage rates; and how to write copy, and that’s a whole new skill set for a lot of people. They‘ve got to learn how to write for the web, and they’ve got to understand web marketing.
MKC: Do you think that social media have impacted fundraising practices?
GAIL: Sure. I’m not so sure people are bringing money in through social media, although I have seen some campaigns that have been very successful. But social media is going to be more and more important. I don’t think it’s impacting the big money right now because most people who give money are older, and they’re the people who are not on social media. However, I read a recent study that a third of boomers are on a social media site every day. I don’t think we can be ostriches and just stick our heads in the sand and hope this stuff goes away. I don’t want to be a dinosaur myself. I want to be relevant.
MKC: What do you advise clients when they’re looking into all these things and what they should do?
GAIL: I tell them the first thing they’ve got to do is have a great website. Second thing, they have to do some decent email communications. And third, they should worry about social media. I see some abysmal websites that are practically driving donors away. So let’s start with the basics. I’m redoing my website all the time.
MKC: When did you start blogging?
GAIL: I started with great focus and regularity about a year and a half ago, and I committed to sending something out every Friday morning. Whether I’m alive or dead, I send out one really good article. I try to make it interesting and snappy and throw my personality into it. I’m watching my open rates, and they’re gradually going up.
MKC: What was your goal when you started?
GAIL: My goal was to get people to subscribe to my content, to sign up for my list. It was to write really compelling, interesting copy that people thought was valuable, and give it away, and become someone who was trusted. As web guru Seth Godin says, you earn permission to email people. They give you permission to come into their lives, into their computers. So that was my goal. Blogging has been a great marketing tool for my consulting and my speaking. And now I have income coming in from blogging through my online coaching program.
MKC: Do you feel like the goal has been met?
GAIL: I would like to have more reach. See, I’m this funny person. I have a personal mission. My mission is to reach as many nonprofit leaders as possible, inspire them with energy, and give them tools and skills so they can make the world a better place. So the blogging helps. It’s how I execute my mission along with speaking and training and writing books. It’s part of my service to the world, and I think it comes back around.
MKC: A lot of your work seems to be around boards. Is that a particular weak spot for a lot of organizations?
GAIL: Lord have mercy. It’s amazing what a pain point it is. It was such a pain point of mine, that I was driven to write Fired-Up Fundraising. I was so frustrated and depressed and demoralized and mad with some of these boards I was working with as a consultant that I hired an organizational development consultant to tutor me on how to motivate people, how to build teams, and how to get people together. He tutored me for a couple of years. And that training has informed a whole new perspective of working with board members that is much kinder, gentler and more fun. People love it. I do board retreats all over the world. The board members love the stuff I do with them, because they’re bored too. I surveyed my mailing list and I asked what is the biggest challenge in fundraising today, and I would say almost half the people, when asked an open-ended question, said something about their boards. So, I have definitely hit the pain point of all pain points.
Board members are in pain too, because they feel like they’re not making the difference they want to make. You can’t shake your finger and order them around. You have to motivate them, make them feel good and successful, and gently bring them into fundraising. You can’t just say, you’re supposed to go out and raise money, because they don’t know how! Then they’ll flee. They need to be understood. And here’s why this is important: According to some research, guess what’s the number one indicator of how much a board member actually gives to the organization? It’s how they rate the quality of their experience on the board.
MKC: Are any of your clients integrating direct mail and social media successfully?
GAIL: Probably not. But I don’t know how important it is. I think it’s more important to integrate email and direct mail in what we call multiple-channel fundraising – you send a postcard, you do a phone call, you do emails, you do a letter, you have your website, and that message is all the same, it all reinforces each other, and it’s sent out in a sequence. That’s smart fundraising.
It can always be done better. I’m still trying to convince some clients to send out more than one appeal.’s statistics say that one appeal might bring about a 14% return, but a follow-up appeal or telephone call can raise that return up to about 42%. Yet people are afraid to over-solicit. We’ve got a ways to go on this.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.