Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is CEO and cofounder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit in Westfield, New Jersey.
When dealing with key donors, using a discussion guide can feel more collaborative and help invest the donor in the project. Well-used discussion guides can also provide better feedback, inspire connection, and increase giving.
Those words you’ve written for your capital campaign brochure may be beautiful, but if nobody is reading them, they’re nothing more than a long string of letters. What would happen if you ditched the fancy brochure and opted for a simpler, more collegial approach to communication?
Consider using discussion guides and sitting next to your donor for a heart-to-heart about giving and what matters most in your campaign. What likely will happen is a lively discussion that will enhance your campaign strategy, strengthen your relationship with critical donors, and increase giving. Here’s a look at how to create and use a donor discussion guide.
A donor discussion guide is a document offering basic steps you can customize to fit the conversation you’re about to have with a donor. It gives your donors a hands-on look at the campaign, makes the case easier for them to grasp at a glance, and provides a prompt for deeper conversation.
The guide is a tool of few words, with the goal of opening a conversation that allows your donor offer ideas and feel they have a real role in the campaign’s ultimate success. The specially designed infographic covers the front and back on one large sheet of paper. The front page is divided into three sections that tell the story of your campaign:
On the back, at your discretion, you can include some of the more typical campaign facts and data a donor might like. That might include a map, floor plans, statistics about your organization, and a brief list of key staff and board members.
Here’s what a typical donor discussion guide looks like—but each organization should customize to suit its mission.
When using donor discussion guides, make sure you genuinely involve the donor. Use a simple meeting format: Sit together with your prospective donors, ideally next to each other rather than across. This suggests you want to work together. You are on the same side—literally and figuratively.
As you discuss the project, costs, impacts, and directions, welcome the donor’s thoughts and questions. Invite them to underline and make notes on the sheet.
This gives you important, in-person time with a donor and invites the donor to be a true player in thinking about the campaign. The donor will easily understand the campaign, and the process informs their thinking about what they might give.
A gift range chart helps donors know where their gift fits in among the community of donors. Some donors want to be leaders, giving one of the top gifts to the campaign. Others might not want to lead, but would still like to make a significant gift to the campaign.
Providing this information to prospects upfront gives the process added transparency and provides helpful structure when it’s time to discuss potential gift sizes.
In this era where we’re not yet sure if another variant may crop up, the donor discussion guide approach works as well online as it does in person. If you’re on a Zoom call, email a pdf of the guide to your donor before you talk, and invite them to have it handy for the call.
Once on the call, refer to the discussion guide and, when appropriate, share your screen. Highlight sections of special interest and talk through them together. Mark your own hard copy while you talk, snap a photo of it when you’re done, and you and your donor can exchange copies.
Remember that donor discussion guides don’t take the place of a well-constructed written background statement that explains the project to your donors. Rather, it simplifies and clarifies the case for your campaign. I suggest writing a background statement that spells out what you want to do through the campaign and why it matters. Then send that background information to donors along with the infographic. Then let the donor discussion begin.