4 Steps You Can Take NOW to Strengthen Major Donor Engagement

Major Donor Engagement

Strategic engagement leads to increased investment. We all know this. Yet, we often offer a too small selection of ways to engage our major donors and potential donors.

  1. Help us fundraise
  2. Attend an event (fundraising, alumni, cultivation, stewardship luncheon)
  3. Take a tour
  4. Join our board (or a committee)
  5. Meet with me

That’s often it.

We shoehorn our donors into one of these five boxes. Some fit nicely, but for others, none of the above lights a fire. Even worse, they fail to move the potential donor closer to an inspired, joyful and generous, “Yes.”

Our goal, however, is to tap into all of our donors’ personal capital – human, intellectual, network, and financial. We want them to be “All In.” Women demand it. Men respond to it. Millennials love it. Gen Xers and Boomers, like most men, give more even though they say they don’t have time or don’t need it. People of color like being part of a larger group who are also involved.

It doesn’t matter who you are. Asking for more than money and contacts makes one feel valued. When we tailor that engagement to interests and skill sets, we have a winning formula.

Step One: Assess your current major donor engagement options.

Involvement and engagement are not the same. A major donor engagement opportunity is interactive, two-way, flexible, taps into emotions, intellect, and skills and requires ACTION. A tour, for example, can be either involvement or wonderful engagement. You can walk people through, talk at them, answer questions. OR, you can open by asking the major donors a question taking involvement up a level to engagement.

“You are going to see a lot of our work first hand over the next hour. At the end of the tour, we’d like to discuss your responses and recommendations. What did you find most compelling? What were your impressions of our effectiveness? What are some of your takeaways?

In addition, it is sustainable by your office. It isn’t busy work but rather MEANINGFUL AND PRODUCTIVE. For example, if every time that certain committee meets you are scratching your head about what to do with them, this is not a good major donor engagement activity. They know it isn’t important and you know it.

Finally, a good suite of major donor engagement options has variety. Some need to be highly personal like hosting a small “consultation” gathering in one’s home with the CEO and other major donors. Others should be longer term like heading a task force or serving on a committee.

Bring your team together. Define engagement so everyone understands the difference between involvement and engagement. Provide easels, flip charts and markers. Stand around each flip chart in groups of five or six. Then, ask which of our current major donor engagement opportunities meet the criteria. Write them all down on the first page of the flip chart. Which almost meet them and could if we just tweaked them (like the tour example above)? That’s page two. For page three, ask which don’t even come close and we should stop doing them. Have the teams report; discuss why they put some opportunities on one page or the other. Come to agreement.

Step Two: Brainstorm New Major Donor Engagement Opportunities

Using the same brainstorming technique, think about what you would like to add. Start by telling your team to remove constraints from their minds. Don’t start with, “we tried that and it didn’t work,” or “we can’t afford that.” Instead, dream big. Report out and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of some of the new ideas. Make sure they meet the criteria.

Karen Blog SmartArt - August 2016

Step Three: Create your new suite of major donor engagement opportunities

Here is one way to organization the brainstorming results:

High Impact

  • Can be tailored to the needs and desires of the major donor
  • Highly interactive and steeped in mission
  • Taps into intellect and skills
  • Meaningful and productive
  • Sustainable

Harder to Maintain or Get Started: Requires budget approval, or more help from outside your office, coordination and time

High Impact

  • Can be tailored to the needs and desires of the major donor
  • Highly interactive and steeped in mission
  • Taps into intellect and skills
  • Meaningful and productive
  • Sustainable

Easy to Implement:  Already doing it well or only needs minor tweaking, easy to add

Lower Impact

  • Isn’t mission infused and hard to do so
  • Mostly presentation, no room for conversation
  • Not really needed by staff, more on the “busy work” side

Harder to Maintain or Get Started: Requires budget approval, or more help from outside your office, coordination and time

Lower Impact

  • Isn’t mission infused and hard to do so
  • Mostly presentation, no room for conversation
  • Not really needed by staff, more on the “busy work” side

Easy to Implement: Already doing it well or only needs minor tweaking, easy to add

Step Four: Take Action

  1. Act on High Impact and Easy to Implement
  2. Plan for High Impact Harder to Implement
  3. Improve the Lower Impact Easy to Implement or drop
  4. Drop Lower Impact Harder to Implement

Making Data-Driven Event Decisions

Event season is almost upon us, but it’s not too late to set measurable goals to maximize your events. It’s also a great time to take a step back and determine if you should repeat this event again next year.

This month’s Chronicle of Philanthropy has a great article on Killing Sacred Cows, letting go of those time-honored strategies that might not be the most effective. One of the most prevalent examples of this is special events.

This isn’t a new topic. You’ve probably read many articles about event return on investment. But, have you taken the step of collecting data and doing an honest assessment of your events? Of course, this assessment is dependent upon knowing what our event goals are in the first place.

So what are your event goals?

Many people would answer this question with the dollar amount listed in their budget. However, there are several potential outcomes, such as identifying new prospects or generating publicity. And, while raising money might be the primary goal, these secondary outcomes are often the reasons given as justification for holding on to an event that might not be seeing an adequate financial return.

It’s completely legitimate for an evenevent decisionst to have goals beyond raising money, but they have to be deliberate objectives, not rationalizations. So, how do we make sure that we’re setting intentional, strategic goals, measuring achievement of these goals, and ultimately, using that data to make decisions about an event’s efficacy?

  • Raising Funds: If raising money is your primary goal, then you should be netting no less than 70%, including staff costs. If raising funds is not your primary goal, then you might be able to justify a higher cost per dollar raised, but this should be for legitimate, measurable goals and not arbitrary excuses.
  • Non-Revenue Development Goals: Events can play a critical role in building a prospect pool, engaging potential donors and stewarding existing donors. In fact, you may have several events that are intended solely for this purpose. In these cases your return in investment should be measured against the annual and lifetime giving of the donors engaged in these events. But, they should be real numbers, not assumptions about how the events are influencing donor engagement.  If events are a key strategy in your donor development program then you should have measurable new prospect goals – how many do you hope to attract to this event, for how many did you capture contact information? And, if you’re using events for donor cultivation, are you implementing strategic initiatives or “moves” at the event? And, did you secure a “yes” to a next step from at least 80% of those engaged?
  • Marketing and Public Relations: Beware, this one is a slippery slope. As the Chronicle of Philanthropy article pointed out, many organizations use the idea that an event generates publicity and builds awareness as a reason to maintain it. In some cases, this is true, but many events fail to generate the kind of publicity or awareness they are looking for to see long-term results. If marketing is truly a goal of your event then you have to measure it – how many media impressions did you receive, how many new attendees were exposed to your message, etc. And, to make this goal meaningful, you must have a plan for following up to further engage and enroll potential donors.  Identify your “think, feel and do” messages and make sure you deliver them in a mission-infused way. What do you want your participants to think about your organization because of this event? How will the program and activities during the event achieve this? How do you want them to feel and, most importantly, what do you them to do after the event. A good event should be part of a continuum of activity, not an end unto itself.
  • Attendance Goals: For too many of our events, we only measure attendance in quantity – last year 300 people attended and this year 350 attended. But what about quality – did the right people, the people you most wanted, attend? And, if your event is annual, are you looking at retention and what that number tells you about the event’s effectiveness in long-term donor strategy? And, don’t forget board participation. Your goal is to get them there AND get them working the room on your behalf – delivering messages, asking questions, helping you meet new people and securing follow-up visits.
  • Programmatic, Volunteer Recruitment: As with the previous examples, this is a completely legitimate goal for your event, as long as you’re measuring the event’s ability to achieve it. Anecdotes about meeting a guy at that event awhile back that ended up becoming a volunteer don’t count. Track the number of inquiries you receive from your event and the number that ultimately become involved in your program. If you can’t justify the costs of the event based on the number of volunteers you’re recruiting, then you might have to let it go.
  • Stewardship: An event isn’t worth doing if you don’t have a measurable follow-up plan. Do 100% of attendees receive a thank you note within 72 hours of the event? Do 100% receive a stewardship touch three to six months after the event? Make sure your plan includes special impact communications to top event donors, volunteer fundraisers, and hosts. And, don’t forget to follow-up with those whom you invited and wanted to attend but couldn’t.

True assessment requires brutal honesty. Data helps with that. It’s hard to argue with hard numbers. But, as we all know, it can be easy to put a spin on numbers that allow us to rationalize keeping an event that we know isn’t giving us the results we need. By setting measurable goals, we limit the ability to give anecdotal justification and are able to objectively analyze events and make data-driven decisions that can best benefit the organization.

For more information on making data-driven decisions, check out this webinar.

What Makes a Good Development Plan?

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 8.45.13 AMLast month, Laurel McCombs shared the importance of having a written development plan.  New studies suggest that having a development plan vs. not having a development plan can be the difference between success and failure.  So what makes a good development plan?

  1.   Know Your Goal – We’ve all heard the the maxim “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”  This cliche remains critically true.  The first step in creating a development plan is knowing what you are trying to achieve.  For most of us this boils down to knowing our monetary goal for the time period in question.  But it might include other goals such as creating a major gift program, piloting a monthly giving program, increasing the average gift size by 10%, etc.  Once you know your goals, you can work backwards to determine what is required to achieve them.
  2. Have Measurable Goals, Objectives and Benchmarks – This is critical.  Without this, a plan isn’t a plan, it is merely a statement of intent.  Metrics and benchmarks let you know if you are on the path to achieving your goals and give you advance notice to adjust your strategies if you are not.  Better yet, having measurable objectives, goals and benchmarks force you to actually have strategies.  Without empirical data there is no way to know if your plan is a success.
  3. Have Action Steps for Achieving Your Goals – Another critical piece that turns what might otherwise be a statement of intent or a vision statement into an actual plan is to have clear steps outlined with clear deadlines and clearly delineated responsibility for achieving the goals.  In other words:  who, what and when?  Breaking down the plan into smaller steps with deadlines ensures that your plan will be implemented on a timeline that makes success possible.
  4. Have a Budget – It’s important to think about what you’ll need to effectively implement your plan and what it will cost as part of the creation of your plan.  Almost all serious change requires some expenditure of resources.  Understanding your costs up front will ensure that your plan has all the resources it needs to be successful.

There are many other elements that go into successful planning but these are the basics.  Overall, it’s important to be specific.  Avoid statements like “We will create a culture of philanthropy” without tying it to specific actions.  How will you achieve this culture?  Does it it involve training?  Will you implement a staff giving program?  Who will lead it?  How will you know if you’ve achieved your goal?  Why are you creating a culture of philanthropy in the first place?  The more specific you can be with metrics, timeframes, responsibility and cost the better off you will be.

To learn about planning in more detail sign up for our January 28th webinar: “Creating and Implementing an Effective Development Plan”.  The Osborne Group is also available to help you create your development plan.

Fund Development Plan: Your Key to Success

In the last couple of years I’ve learned a lot about myself, as a consultant and a trainer. One thing I’ve come to realize is that I really like to talk about the fundamentals. In fact, just last year I wrote a blog post about the fundamentals key to development success.

As I reflect on 2015 and what I could write in my last blog post of year, I find myself coming back to the basics. I’ve said it before, real success isn’t about silver bullets and is rarely bright and flashy. In fact, success often lies in what we can read in black and white, in a strategic and thoughtful fund development plan.

So I was particularly excited by a recent study by Heather Yandow of Third Space Studio. In her report, posted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, she shares that in the organizations she studied, the clearest predictor of success was the existence of a formal fundraising plan.  Additionally, she found some interesting correlations between investments in staff, time spent on individual donors and the effect of face-to-face meetings. But these correlations could only be found in those organizations that had a formal plan in place.

The work we do is highly quantifiable with a number of ways to measure progress and effectiveness, and yet, many organizations look at one metric, revenue, to determine success. A solid plan to reach revenue goals, supported by action steps, timelines and progress metrics allows fundraisers to create a clear path that is as helpful in determining what they will do, as what they won’t.

How many of us have heard “you know what we should do, we should have a (insert event name here)” or the classic “that organization does a (insert event name here) and they raise a ton of money, we just need to do one of those.” Having a plan in place allows you to sort through these ideas from a strategic perspective. Maybe a new fundraising activity fits perfectly with existing strategies, or you find that your plan won’t allow for the extra staff time and resources a new event would require. Either way you can point to the development plan as the rationale for your decision.

An effective plan puts you in control of how you spend your time and allows you to prioritize strategies. It puts front and center those activities that you believe will provide the greatest return on investment and creates a system for measuring effectiveness and adjusting strategies when necessary. In fact, we explored this in more detail during a webinar earlier this year.

Yes, writing a development plan takes time, and yes, reviewing your progress toward that plan takes time, but the truth is, you’re already spending that time spinning your wheels on ineffective strategies and a lack of prioritization. The good news is that once you have a plan in place and make a few adjustments in your management systems, you can start to see immediate results.Image result for make a plan

For help in creating and implementing an effective fund development plan, join me on Thursday, January 28th at 2:00pm EST for a free webinar: Register Now

December Major Gift Countdown for Success

December-2015-Calendar-Images-3 (002) You are so busy! December is packed with work and personal obligations. The key? Set priorities.

  1. This week, (December 1-4), list every $1,000+ donor and prospective donor yet to make a gift. Moving from the top down, assign someone to make a personal call. At the very top of the list, if possible, invite for coffee.  Try not to rely on email. Pick up the phone! If $1,000 is too low because you have too many donors at the level, go to $2,500 or $5,000. If $1,000 is too high, start at $250 or $500. Whatever your situation, work the top of your pyramid.
  2. Next week, (December 7-11), list every donor who gave you $1,000+ in the last six months. If you’re a small shop, Every $1,000+ gift n 2015. Big shop with too many donors at that level, move up the pyramid and/or make the time frame shorter. Call. Say thank you again. Specify the difference he, she, the family, the foundation, the company made.  Get help with these calls. Everyone on the team can make a call a day. Mission staff and board members can call. Students, clients. “I hope you received our holiday card. Just wanted to add my voice. We appreciate all you’ve done to help (the people or cause you serve). Your investments have made a significant difference. Thank you.”
  3. Week three, (December 14-17), finish your calls and cards by Thursday. If you’re behind, save some to wish a Happy New Year the first week of January.
  4. Week three, (December 14-17), review the data you want collected for January assessment and planning. Ouch. It’s been all fun up until now. Closing and thanking. But we have to hit the ground running January 4. At a minimum:
    • Retention rates for all $1,000+ (ideally for all gifts of every size). New donors, donors giving for 2-4 years, donors giving 5 plus years. If you’re able, do it by giving program — monthly donors, direct mail, phone, board solicitations and so forth.
    • Upgrade rates. Percentage of donors who were asked to increase and said yes. Percentage who upgraded without a specific request.
    • Yes rates. Percentage of yeses to requests; percentage of yeses to 85% or more of the amount requested at the $1,000+ levels.
    • Progress against goals. How are you doing?
    • Check out this free recorded webinar on metrics.
Throughout the month, remember to take care of yourself. Try to find time to exercise, even if it’s only a quick walk at lunch time, or walking during phone calls. Keep in mind that office and donor holiday parties are working events. Either don’t drink or nurse a glass. Covey QuoteAre you good at power napping? Put your feet up above your heart (on a desk for example). Close your eyes for 20 minutes before an event.
And say, “No thank you.” It’s okay. No matter the request or requestor. You are a December major gift priority. For more on saying no, check out this blog post.

Engaging Your Board in Year-End Activities

The end of the year typically brings a flurry of activity between #Giving Tuesday, year-end appeals, holiday stewardship activities, and much more. This is a perfect time to engage your board in supporting fund development activities and build momentum and enthusiasm for growing their participation in the new year.Engaging Your Board in Year-End Activities

If you were unable to join us for this webinar or want to watch it again, click here:  https://youtu.be/kyZ5CYMkKto

Periscope! Why Not-for-Profits Need to Use It

imgresHave you heard of Periscope?  No?  You will.

Periscope lets you live stream whatever you are doing directly from your cell phone to the world.  Not only that, viewers of your live stream are able to comment and interact with you in real-time as you stream.  The iOS and Android phone apps launched last spring and have been steadily gaining traction since.  Periscope follows a growing trend of more and more live streaming of events, games, etc.   The trend began with sports (on major league baseball’s platform) and video games (on services such as Twitch) but now have moved more into everyday use.  The important thing to note is that your phone has become a mobile broadcast studio.  This is going to change a lot of things in our world.

Right now the broadcasts on Periscope (and its main rival Meerkat) remind me a lot of the early days of podcasting about ten years ago.  The content isn’t great, as the earliest adopters don’t necessarily have broadcasting knowledge or experience (although I’ve noticed some tv personalities have taken it up), but there is a lot of enthusiasm around its practitioners.  You can tour foreign cities as users walk around or just follow along as people live their everyday lives.  Periscope is owned by Twitter and works seamlessly with it, allowing you to announce your live streams via your Twitter feed and take advantage of the Twitter following you’ve already built up.

When I learned about Periscope at its launch, my first thought was “what a great way for not-for-profits to show their work.”  Every not-for-profit’s biggest challenge is engaging people with their work in meaningful ways.  This can be especially challenging if the beneficiaries of a not-for-profit’s work are in hard to reach places or are even abroad.  Periscope lets you bring those experience directly to the donor or prospective donor as well as to a wider audience.   Even though the recording of the live stream is only archived for 24 hours, you can save videos on your phone or use services such as Katch allow you to keep it longer and distribute the video to an audience that wasn’t able to join you live.  The Central Park Conservancy regularly periscopes tours of Central Park.

Your live streaming doesn’t have to end with just your client work.  What about streaming an event (like a $5K run or your gala), an interview with one of your program staff, a panel discussion, or even a board meeting?  The opportunities are many and can be especially powerful because of Periscopes’ ability to take questions and comments live.  This isn’t just passive watching of video; this is active engagement with your donors and potential donors.  And you can do it all with your phone.

What ideas do you have for Periscope?  Let us know if you’ve tried this fantastic new tool.

Don’t Tell The Story Before You’ve Heard It

imagesDuring a recent client visit I was talking to the VP for Advancement about major gift strategy and the importance of truly understanding donor motivations and values.  She told me that when she meets with major donor prospects she tries to ask as many questions as she can, and in her words: “I try not to tell the story before I’ve heard it.”  What a great phrase!  So many times in an effort to come up with an effective cultivation strategy we make all kinds of assumptions and speculations about our donors.  Does any of the below sound familiar?

“Our research shows that she gives to the local Boys and Girls Club.  Children must be her biggest cause and we don’t work with children so she’s not a good prospect for us.”

“He’s the CEO of his own manufacturing company so he’ll probably want to work on the finance committee.”

“She created an endowed scholarship for her university.  Scholarships aren’t our main priority but it seems like that is what she likes to do.”

The reality is that in each of this cases, based on the information provided, we know very little about our donors in terms of their values, giving preferences, and how they might wish to engage and give to our own institution.  About ten years ago if you were able to look at my own giving history you’d see that I gave to quite a few organizations that helped people with disabilities.  Is this my main philanthropic priority?  Not really.  Did I give to those cause because a friend asked me to and it was his philanthropic priority?  Yes.

The only way to truly know what a donor’s priorities are, what their values are, and what their priorities are within your own institution is to ask the donor directly.

“I know that you are an ardent supporter of the Boys and Girls Club.  Are children a philanthropic priority for you?  What are your other priorities?”

“With your business background we’d love to have you involved with our finance committee but tell us, how do you best like to be engaged with the organizations you work with?  What was your best volunteer experience and why?”

“What was your motivation in donating an endowed scholarship to your university?”

Asking strategic questions will give you the most accurate information from which to design an effective cultivation strategy.  It will also result in a far more satisfying experience for your potential donor.  Finally, asking strategic questions will also set a tone of open dialogue and information sharing.

If you find that you are speculating and filling in information that is based on anything other than what you’ve heard directly from the donor, stop, realize that you don’t truly know the answer to the question you are asking, and make a point of asking it the next time you meet with your potential donor.  The results will be a far more interesting story than the one you’ve made up in your head.

 

A Relationship Lesson from Lemurs

Last month was my friend Chris’ birthday. Chris has a love of lemurs and his wife started a campaign on GoFundMe.com to give him a day trip to a lemur center.  I don’t particularly share Chris’ fascination with lemurs andlemurs it wouldn’t be my choice of birthday of celebrations, but I contributed. In fact, as I look back, I realize that I have given several gifts in the past few months to a variety of things that my friends were raising money for.

Through sites like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, I had supported friends in the achievement of things that were important to them, both professionally and personally, but none of them were tied to a not-for-profit organization. I won’t get a tax write-off for these gifts and I don’t care, because I was giving purely because I believed in their individual causes or dreams, the achievement of something special for people that are special to me.

Here at the Osborne Group, we often talk about the “Rights”. Having the RIGHT person ask for the RIGHT amount of money for the RIGHT purpose at the RIGHT time. My experience over the past few months has left me contemplating one of those rights in particular, and that is the RIGHT person.

I hear from a lot of development professionals that are frustrated by the lack of response from current and prospective donors. We’ve all been there, donors that won’t return phone calls or reply to emails (even ones that don’t ask for money) or asks that we felt incredibly prepared for, but just fell flat. It can feel like you’re continuously running into a brick wall when trying to engage people who seem to be interested and supportive of your cause, but are consistently unresponsive.

As you dissect the mystery of why you can’t seem to move forward with a prospect, I encourage you to take a lesson from the lemurs. Instead of focusing on HOW you are reaching out or WHAT you are trying to engage them in, take a moment to focus on the WHO. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • As you conduct research on prospects, employ peer screening with board members, staff and volunteers to find out potential connections and relationships
  • Utilize those connections when making your donor engagement plans to determine the best roles for everyone to play in the process
  • If there are several people connected to the same prospect, take a team approach – determine each person’s strengths and deploy them when most appropriate
  • The WHO isn’t just about making the ask, but is also about making sure the RIGHT people are involved in engaging prospects and delivering personal, high-impact stewardship
  • When in doubt, ask someone who knows. Don’t try to guess what a prospect wants or why they might be unresponsive, ask for advice from people who know them. Even board members or volunteers that are reluctant to get involved with engaging or asking a prospect directly will usually be happy to offer up advice on how to best move forward.

Whether you’re running a Friends Asking Friends campaign online or developing a major gift prospect, the WHO is a critical component of success. While increased personal fundraising might be seen as more competition for dollars, let’s instead look at it as a learning opportunity to figure how we best take their example to harness the power of relationships in our own endeavors.