Practice Your Way to Major Gift Success

Blogger, Nicolas Cole, states, “To succeed, you have to love practicing more than you love any goal or reward.”

Hmmm.

Could this be true for major gift fundraising, that you have to love practicing more than you love closing, more than hearing that joyful “yes” to your artful solicitation?

You’re goal-oriented.  You have to raise x dollars by y date and to do that you have to close z major gifts.  People are counting on you.  The love of the close is paramount.

Maybe not.

Don’t you have to be GREAT at strategic conversations?

Don’t you have to TERRIFIC at listening to understand?  Don’t you have to EXCELLENT at storytelling, sharing impact, creating meaningful and productive engagement opportunities?  Don’t you have to write the smartest, most strategic and tailored donor plans?

Major gift fundraising is a craft.  The best way to get good at a craft is to do it, to practice.

You’ve probably met them.  Those folks who don’t believe they have anything new to learn.  “This has always worked for me.”  They attend conferences to network only, enjoy the lunch.  The consultant’s advice rolls off of them, leaving them untouched and unmoved.  As their supervisor, you can’t get them to try a new idea, or burnish a deficient skill.

Being good at anything means you have to practice, continually acquire knowledge, learn from you mistakes and experiences.

So, maybe Mr. Cole is correct.  You have to care about practicing more than the end goal or the reward for true major gift success.  You can practice your way to inspired, joyful generous “yeses.”

Sincere and Effective Thank You Notes, Make Your Donors, Staff Members, Colleagues and Volunteers Smile

I recently read this article and loved it. The article offers great advice for thanking colleagues and staff members.

Below, I’ve borrowed and converted that advice (and added some additional thoughts) for writing the perfect thank you note to donors, board members and volunteers.

1. Make it personal. The thank you note is one more opportunity for starting or deepening a relationship. Research conducted by Penelope Burke and replicated by Blackbaud tells us that the most effective way to thank donors is by picking up the phone and calling. More effective than the handwritten note, which is next in line for personalization.

Whether you call, write or email, make sure your message includes most of the elements below.

2. Be specific. You know this is true. It feels nice when someone says thanks for a good job. It feels even better when they say, “Thanks, Sally, for navigating that tough conversation during the development committee meeting. You did it with integrity and still kept us on track.”

Thanking a donor should also be specific. “Thank you, Tom, for your generous gift of $15,000 to help your children achieve their full potential. The children you support will gain the skills they need to start kindergarten prepared and excited to learn.”

3. Offer praise. That’s what I tried to do with the example above. Make the donor and/or volunteer the hero. “You insights turned the meeting around.” “Your service inspires everyone around you to be a little bit better.” “Your idea jump started the brainstorming process. The ideas that flowed will make us stronger and more focused in 2018.”

4. Authenticity and sincerity count. Make sure you’re being truthful and are genuinely grateful. Have a smile on your face while you speak or write. You are sure to convey it.
5. Say something about the future. “Our plans for the new fiscal year are shaping up. We’d love to discuss them with you, get your insights. Over the next, few months we’re holding several “idea salons” (vision discussions, strategic plan reviews, program demonstrations). Please look for your invitation. We welcome your creativity (business savvy, straight talk).” Say what’s true.

If you’d like a resource for vision discussions and/or salons contact us:  mail@theosbornegroup.com

6. Wish them well. “Until we next meet, I wish you all the best.” “Good luck with this year’s fishing trip.” “Please give Harry and your children my best.”

7. Consider including a small gift. “One of the children you support made this bookmark. I know how much you love to read. I hope you enjoy this token of our appreciation.” “We received this lovely note from one of our parents. I thought you would enjoy reading about the difference you are making from a parent’s point of view.”

8. Use the words “you” and “your” as often as possible. Research tells us that we love hearing our names and the words “you” and “your.” Sprinkle liberally.

Your January Major and Leadership Gifts To-Do List: 8 Steps to Take Now!

Perhaps you’ve just closed your fiscal year and this is the beginning of the New Year. Maybe you’re mid-way through. In either case, January presents opportunities for taking a hard look and making strategic changes in your major and leadership gifts program. Here are eight steps you can take over the course of January that will help make 2017 your best year ever.

1. Crunch Those Numbers
• First, of course, you are measuring your progress against goals.
• Then go deeper. What is working and why?
• Finally, look for opportunities disguised as problems. For example, if your realized table of gifts indicates poor performance at the $1,000 level but you’re doing great at $500, make a plan for inspiring all of those $500 donors to make a second gift to reach $1,000. Share the impact that a $1,000 investment brings. Ask a great donor to offer a challenge. Turn that problem into a success-opportunity.
• Don’t forget your e-scores. Which of your engagement activities are resulting in the most new gifts, donor retention and upgrades? Do more of those in the coming year, and drop or tweak the non-performers.

2. Steward Your 2016 Donors (Again)
• Start at the top of your realized table of gifts. What did you do in 2016 to make that donor say “WOW?” When did you do it?
• What creative and personalized impact experience and/or communication did you share and when?
• If it has been more than six months since you’ve provided an impact/outcome experience or communication, get going, starting from the top of the pyramid and moving down.
• Consider making February your stewardship month and getting everyone (board members, peers, and mission staff) involved. 28 days, 28 calls and visits per person. Celebrate on the last day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgrA3v3ozcE

3. Refresh Your Plan (or write your first plan)
• We know that having a sound development plan tops most everything else in terms of results. Visits without a plan are better than no visits, but with a plan, you are on your way to great year. Find more on planning here.
• Make sure your plan includes your realized table of gifts and a refreshed projected table of gifts. These are two old fashioned (yes) but indispensable tools. Everything old is tired. Just saying.

4. Solicit All Board Members Who Have Yet to Make Their Gift (If this is the beginning of your fiscal year, you want them on board EARLY. If this is mid-year, they need to give now, modeling the behavior you seek from others)
• Peer-to-peer is best. Who are your best givers, best solicitors? Ask them to ask the rest of the board. Not via email. Call or visit. Make it personal. Ask for an increased gift. “Please join me with an investment of…”
• If you solicit them by email or snail mail, how will they learn to solicit others in a warm, personal manner?

5. Maximize Your Upcoming Events
• Spring event season is only months away. What is your “turn-out” strategy? How are you ensuring high donor retention by getting all who came in the last two years to return? What is your donor acquisition plan? What strategic initiatives or “moves” are you planning for those in attendance? Who is responsible for getting your ED or key volunteers around the room, making introductions, asking strategic questions, and sharing key points?
• Most important, what is your follow-up plan? Not just getting the thank you notes out. What are you doing to engage attendees and those who declined post the event?

For more on making data-driven event decisions, check out this blog post and webinar.

6. Spend Time Planning Your Calendar
• Whom do you need to visit over the next three to six months? Where are they? What alternative dates can you offer so that you are sure to get on their calendars?
• What days are you crossing off for donor visits each month?
• What days are you setting aside for developing donor strategies?
• What time are you marking each week for making appointments and follow-up calls?

7. Take Care of You
• Your professional development, morale, and health matter. Build in recovery time. Be sure to take the vacation days that your organization offers.
• Consider crossing off one day a month as an “admin” day for catching up on things, reading the articles you were saving, organizing, and strategic thinking.

8. Celebrate
• Philanthropy is a joyful experience. Giving, and helping others do the same, adds to the quality of our lives and the lives we touch with our generosity. It wouldn’t happen for your organization without you and your team.
• Say thank you. Celebrate. Feel good about all you are doing to make your community, country, and our shared world a better place. For more reinforcement, read this great post from Lynne Wester.

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.

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

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.

 

Fundraising Tips and Ideas via @15SECFUNDRAISING

If you’re an Instagram user, please check out out new tips and ideas show on Instagram, @15SECFundraising.  Every week @bobosborne17 and guests give you fundraising ideas and tips via Instagram for running a strong fundraising program based on best practice and the latest in cutting edge ideas and technology.  You can also check out this blog for the latest installments.

 

 

 

The Foundation Screening List

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.24.46 AMI want to talk briefly about an important but underutilized development tool: the foundation screening list.  When we are first beginning our development careers everything we learn about foundations implies that they are pure meritocracies.  Have a good organization with a good project, write a good proposal and you’ll have as good a shot at getting funding as anyone else.  And to some extent this is true.  If you aren’t a well run organization and you don’t have a good project you probably won’t get funding.  But the reality is that you will be competing against many other meritorious organizations and not everyone one will get funded.  So, how do you stand out from the crowd?

The reality is the business of successful foundation funding is very much a “who you know” business.  I’m not saying that there is any sort of cronyism involved.  But I am saying that your ideas are more likely to be heard if you know the decision makers involved and have had a chance to talk over your work in detail.  I am saying that knowing trustees counts for a lot more than knowing program officers.  And I am saying that trustees and program officers knowing you and believing in your leadership and your ability to deliver on the promises of your proposal is critical.

So, a really valuable exercise for any organization is to know who you know on foundation boards and staffs.  How do we find this out?  The foundation screening list.

The foundation screening list is a packet of foundations (up to 25) likely to fund your organization based on their stated mission and its relevance to yours.  Each foundation gets it own page and on each page, triple or quadruple spaced, you’ll list every trustee and program officer.  If it is a large foundation then just list the relevant program officer.  You can see a sample layout here.

Now, what do we do with foundation screening list once we have one?  Sit down with your staff, your board and other volunteers, friends and anyone else willing to listen to you.  Ask them to flip through the list and see if they know anyone.  Ask them to write in the margins who they know and any important information about them.  Ask them if there is any foundation or anyone not on the list that they would be willing to contact.

Ask them if they’d be willing to help set up a meeting with anyone they know.

Over time you should get a pretty good catalog of who knows who and hopefully have people setting up meetings on your behalf.  Record everything in your database.