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.

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

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

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.

Webinar: Employing Metrics for Effective Course Corrections

It’s a great time to asses your development program to make adjustments and course corrections. Osborne Group consultant Laurel McCombs helps you identify key metrics to assess your development operations and walk through how to best put that data to use in developing your plan for the coming year.

Webinar: Building Social Capital to Increase Champions, Advocates & Donors

Join Bob Osborne on December 9th at 2:00 PM EST for an engaging webinar on building social capital.

Authors Shirley Sagawa and Deborah Jospin assert that social capital is our most valuable asset. Those organizations and institutions with a high level of social capital thrive in good and bad times, those that do not, continue to struggle. In this webinar, we define our terms, and learn practical advice for enhancing and maximizing social capital. You will leave the webinar with clear steps for increasing your social capital and strengthening your institution.

Click here to register: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2649097707904065794

Webinar: Ensuring a Successful Year-End Transition

Join Yolanda and Laurel on Monday, November 17th at 2:00pm EST for a one-hour webinar. During this webinar we will share tips and strategies for ending the year strong and getting the new year off to a powerful start.  We will cover topics that will help you, personally and professionally, take on this very hectic, and critical, time of year.  Click here to register now!

A Case for the Fundamentals

About a year ago, I was complaining to my dad that my shoe laces kept coming untied. He told me, as unpatronizingly as possible, that it was because I wasn’t tying them right. You heard me, I wasn’t tying them right…

This got me thinking, how did this happen?shoe laces Did I learn incorrectly? Or, was I taught correctly and over the years my technique got sloppy? Did I start taking shortcuts? Whatever it was, something I considered to be so fundamental and automatic, I was doing wrong, and it was causing me a great deal of irritation.

How many other things is this true for, particularly when we think about the way we run our fund development operations. There are basics that we all learn at some point. These elements seem so fundamental that it almost seems silly asking about them, but over the years, I have seen a number of organizations that don’t have these things in place.
I know that we all want to talk about the latest trends and emerging strategies, but I’ve decided, in this post, to channel your middle school Phys Ed teacher and focus on the fundamentals.

I get it, it feels like a lot of work to stop what you’re doing and work on these things. Your days are busy, your to-do list is long enough. But how much time are you wasting by not having these fundamentals in place? How many missteps are you making? How can you know that you’re optimizing your return on investment or prioritizing your activities effectively? How much time did I waste stopping to retie my shoes? And, who knows what might have tripped me up while they were untied.

So, to help make sure you’re on track for success, here are five key fundamentals to make sure you have in place. Hopefully, you’ll be able to check off each item with confidence, but if you’re missing any of these elements or they are in need of updating, I encourage you to make their development a priority:

  • Vision for the Future: Your big, bold vision expresses what will be different in the world because your organization exists. Everyone in your organization should be able to articulate and share it with passion and conviction. Without a compelling vision you lack the inspiration required to motivate your investors to make transformational gifts.
  • Long-Range Strategic Plan: This plan maps out the next three to five years and how you will achieve your big, bold vision. Every organizations has things they would like to change, in their operations, systems and culture. But, change doesn’t happen just because we want it to, it happens through being intentional and strategic in our actions and your long-range strategic plan ensures that.
  • Annual Fund Development Plan: Your annual operating plan includes specific, actionable goals and objectives with clearly defined roles and deadlines. A strong plan is as critical to guiding your organization in focusing on the most critical strategies as it is in helping to inform decisions about what you won’t do. Make sure that once the plan has been developed you implement strategies for continually checking on progress and make course corrections.
  • Table of Gifts: Probably the key fundamental that is missing the most from development shops, the table of gifts is a powerful management tool. Imagine always knowing exactly how much you have raised to date, how much remains to goal, which gifts have been closed and how many new prospects need to be identified. Now, stop imagining and go put together your table of gifts.
  • Case for Support: Can everyone in your organization – staff, board members, volunteers – effectively convey your organization’s case? Your case for support is a single document that contains information on who you are, why you exist, what you’re trying to accomplish and why a donor should care. A strong, well-written case for support provides the foundation for all of your donor materials and marketing collateral and provides consistency and effectiveness in your messaging.

These elements might not be flashy, they aren’t built on the latest technologies and they aren’t trending on Twitter. However, they are guaranteed to have a significant impact on your development success. So, don’t put them off any further, because otherwise you may end up looking as foolish as, say an adult that doesn’t know how to tie their shoes properly.