How to Speak your Donor’s Language and get Major Gifts

So sometimes I am lucky enough to meet one of my e-newsletter subscribers, in person! Last year, I got a chance to meet Lisa Kelly Zuba. Lisa Kelly Zuba is a Major Gifts fundraiser and owner of BiZZantik, a nonprofit consulting firm. I relished every moment of our meeting, and realized that she brought some useful knowledge to the table, namely, how to get major gifts!

How can you be more like this Wild Woman? 🙂

You’ve heard it before: major gift fundraising is an art, not a science. But, how can you create the art that brings in larger gifts to your organization? It’s not in paintbrush, but it’s all about the language that you and your donor speak.

Communication is the foundation to successful major gift fundraising. It will make or break a relationship. And, building a relationship is at the crux of fundraising – especially in major gifts. Your reason for wanting their gift is almost always different from their reason for wanting to give. Since they are the ones with the money, their reasons matter the most. You will build a deep relationship with your donors if you learn to speak their language. But first, you must know your own.

What Language Do You Speak?

Language is not just about the words that come out of your mouth, but also about your mannerisms and knowing when to be quiet. It’s about body language and how you comport yourself. The nonverbal accounts for two-thirds of all communication. Developing your personal style counts more than almost anything else you can do as a major gift fundraiser. In other words, you can’t fake it.

Know Your Style…It’s More Than Words


  • Do you talk fast or slow?
  • Do you use jargon?
  • Do you know what you’re talking about?
  • Do you speak with passion?


  • Can you hear what’s not being said?
  • Do you interrupt when the other person is talking?
  • Do silences make you uncomfortable?
  • Are you thinking about what to say next when your donor is speaking?


  • Are you relaxed around people different than you?
  • Are you observant of your surroundings?
  • Do you truly care about what’s good for your donor?
  • Have you attached yourself too stridently to a desired outcome?

How To Shape Your Style

Discipline isn’t a dirty word. No one ever got good enough without practice — so practice. Do your research and know your strategy. Script and record conversations. Practice being comfortable with silence. Be aware of your body language and nonverbal signals you send.

Invest in yourself. Make a commitment to learn something new every single day. In order to be interesting to others, you need to know what’s going on in the world. It’s good to have opinions, but know when to share them and when not to. Developing your own interests and hobbies expands who you are as a person and makes you more interesting to your donors.

Discipline and investment bring confidence. Having confidence is fun! You can’t speak your donor’s language until you know your own.

Successful major gift fundraising depends on the art of speaking the right language.

Learn more about how to get major gifts in our October Major Gifts Masterclass series!


You can grow your major gifts program step by step with this four class master series.

Each class will take you step by step through how to move your current donors into major gifts, how it feels to be asked for a major gift, how to make the ask, and we will end with a clinic where you can practice your ask in a group of supportive peers. All classes will be recorded so you can review at your leisure, or share with others on your team.

Your investment for this four class series is just $287 until September 22nd, then the price rises to $307.

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Join us.

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