How to Quickly Learn What Used to Take Experienced Fundraisers Decades to Understand and Apply

Major gifts fundraising is a job that requires an advanced set of skills. In other words, you must know some basics to simply do this work. But you must master a higher level of skill to thrive in it.

According to Dr. Russell James, who has conducted decades of research and experiments in major gifts fundraising and won numerous awards for his work, there is one goal that gift officers must pursue with donors, above all others:

Help the donor advance their hero story.

He equates major gifts to telling an epic story about your life. Giving is dramatic. It is sacrificial. It is transformative. Giving goes against the grain and the norm, which fixates on acquiring and building wealth, and using it for our own enjoyment. But there are big problems in the world, and the heroes are the ones who decide to use their wealth to try to solve them.

Do you see the drama there?

At their core, each major donor gives in part because they want their ‘character’ to play a key role, a heroic role, in doing something about a problem they care about. The donor is the protagonist in this story.

As a gift officer, this is your ultimate goal – to help each donor fulfill this primal desire to do something brave, heroic, and transformational. That’s what the donor wants it to feel like when they give a big gift.

And this is why major giving is relational, not transactional.

You can’t experience most of these feelings by just filling out an online form or writing a check.

And the gift officers who develop and master the skills to help each of their donors experience giving on this level – these gift officers will consistently win the biggest gifts.

How to Develop This Advanced Skill Set

You won’t learn this in college. That’s for sure. And it could take decades to learn it by experience.

You might get lucky to work with a great mentor who has mastered this, and in that case you can do quite well. But that’s rare.

The fastest and more reliable way to build this advanced major gifts fundraising skillset is to take our groundbreaking eCourse – Donor Story: Epic Fundraising.

The course is built upon the lifetime of research from Dr. James. We at MarketSmart didn’t just come up with all this so we could ‘have a course.’ Dr. James’ work has greatly influenced our own work too, and how we work with gift officers and organizations. And the nonprofits that apply his teachings just do better.

We want yours to do better too. We want you to win more transformational gifts. We want your organization’s internal teams to work well together and be on the same page. And we want to reduce turnover among your gift officers.

Donor Story: Epic Fundraising will help you achieve all that.

What Does Epic Fundraising Do Differently?

This course is designed to be taken with your whole team, not just one gift officer. But don’t get us wrong – one gift officer will transform their entire career through this course, and if you’re alone and want to raise your game, you should take the course. But if your whole team can take it – even board members and volunteers, as well as administrators – so much the better. And the cost will be virtually the same either way.

Epic Fundraising gets at the root of working with major donors. It unearths the skills you need to help them advance their hero stories.

  • What do donors need, want, and desire from giving?
  • What are their expectations, hopes, and dreams?
  • How can you tap into these and turn them into giving?
  • What are their suspicions about you and about nonprofits, and how can you overcome these?

It should bother you that so many wealthy donors give to or start private foundations instead of giving to existing nonprofits. Billions of dollars end up in foundations that could have gone to organizations like yours.

Why does this happen?

Because too many wealthy people feel as if they’re treated like an ATM, instead of feeling heard, valued, and understood. They’re told why they should donate and why they should care. They’re told why nonprofit organizations deserve their money.

They’re told they should just give, because they have money and other people need it. That doesn’t feel good.

The Donor Story: Epic Fundraising eCourse teaches you how to relate to donors on the level described earlier – how to draw them into a relationship that feeds their soul and inspires them to give their best gift, and feel great about it.

What Fundraising Skills Will You Learn in the eCourse?

This is a big course. You can earn 20.5 CFREs by taking it. There’s also a Fast Track version worth 2.5 credits. Go here to find out more about what’s in the course.

In brief, here’s what you’ll learn:

  • TONS of questions you can use in all sorts of scenarios you encounter within your caseload
  • Research behind these questions – why they work
  • Actual fundraising experiments that reveal true donor motivations
  • Precise strategies you can use in every situation – from identification to stewardship
  • Fundraising killers – forces from within your organization that cripple major gifts fundraising
  • The metrics that matter – and why you can ignore most of the others
  • And so much more

There are four modules, and you can see much more detail about what’s in each module here. Plus there’s a Fast Track version that takes a few hours to complete. Then, you can take a deep dive into one or all of the modules later, if you’d like.

Either way, this training is all centered around story. Not telling great stories, which is a different skillset. This is about helping the donor see themselves as part of a great epic, with them playing the primary role. They want to go on a quest to fulfill primal needs and desires they have for their lives. They want to conquer obstacles and experience triumphs in climactic moments. They want a giving experience that feels like a great story.

In that story, you as the gift officer are the sage, the guide. Great stories have great characters, and you’ll see how different character archetypes show up in the fundraising process – including villains.

Yes, this story has villains, and they are determined to prevent you from raising the biggest gifts. You’ll find this out in the course too.

What does It Take for You to Succeed as a Fundraiser?

To succeed as a major gift fundraiser, you don’t want to do this alone. That’s why the eCourse introduces you to an online community of like-minded fundraisers who want the same things you do. Here, you can bounce ideas off each other, commiserate, and vent. You can benefit from the combined years of experience of others in the group.

We get together monthly in online video conference meetings we call Mastermind Mixers. They’re fun and engaging. You might even make new friends! Plus, they offer a chance to hear how others just like you are dealing with similar challenges at their organizations. And, they provide a forum for learning with Dr. James’ insights with like minded, growth-oriented professionals.

What Does It Take for Your Organization to Succeed?

As mentioned, the best approach is for the other people on your team to also take the eCourse so you will all be rowing in the same direction. That’s why we made it so an unlimited number of staff can take the course or attend the Mastermind Mixers too, for no additional cost.

What you’ll learn in this eCourse is a paradigm shift, and if half the people are still doing things the old way – the less effective way – there will be conflict and tension that will frustrate everyone. It’s best if everyone unifies around this research-backed approach to fundraising.

With what you’ll learn in this eCourse, you could teach others on your team, as well as your administrators and board members. And that would be one way to do it. You could schedule regular meetings to teach them what you’ll be learning. At some point, you’ll have to do this, as new people are brought on. Donor Story: Epic Fundraising will require some adjustment in your onboarding and internal training processes.

But the best approach is, again, if everyone can take the course together. And for some, the Fast Track version will be sufficient, so the level of commitment required from everyone may not be the same.

And that’s why we’ve made the cost virtually the same no matter how many people on your team take the eCourse. Find out more by clicking below.

Learn More about Donor Story: Epic Fundraising


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