The Four Best Predictors of Major Gift Success

Projected Table of Gifts

A core part of our work here at The Osborne Group is helping organizations build fundraising capacity.  Very often our clients want to build a major gift program or strengthen their existing major gift program and our job is take a look at the best way for them to create major gift success.  This involves a detailed understanding of what makes major gift programs and efforts tick and taking a close look at how any given organization measures up. While we take a very comprehensive look at data provided by our clients, we interview staff, board and investors, and we look at marketing materials and marketing collateral, etc. we have found that the likelihood of major gift success boils down to a few factors.  I’d like to share four of them with you here.

Do you have sufficient prospects?  Fundraising is a very quantifiable business; there is no reason to ever guess at projected results or be surprised when your numbers fall short.  How many gifts do you need and at what levels do you need to make your goal?  How many prospects do you need to close each gift?  What does that add up to and do you have enough prospects?  It really is just that simple.  I am continually amazed at how few experienced chief development officers and major gift officers fail to have or make active use of a projected table of gifts or the more accurate name by name table of gifts.  If you have enough prospects, there is a good chance your major gift effort will be successful.  If you don’t, it probably won’t.

Do You Have a Vision?  Vision is a fancy word for answering the question “why should I give you any money?” or saying “this is what will be different tomorrow because you gave money today”.  A good vision promises specific outcomes within a specific period of time (usually 1-5 years), is a stretch for your organization requiring increased generosity by your core supporters, and is articulated in terms of the impact it has on the community and society in general.  Let’s be clear, most major donors have a clear sense of the amount of money they are going to give away in any given time period and when you ask for a major gift you are either asking that donor to not to give to something else or give more than they intended and thus make some other interest of theirs less of a priority.  People and institutions are open to this but only when the impact is clearly and specifically defined.  This is your vision and you need it or your major gift program is dead in the water.

What does your leadership level annual giving look like?  Typically leadership level annual giving is defined as gifts between as gifts from $1,000 – $24,999 or $1,000 – $49,999 depending on the size of the organization.  You can think of it as your mid-level gifts for your organization or your highest level gifts that you receive on an annual basis.  Another way to think about it is the level that a potential donor will give prior to making a major gift.  Explicitly or implicitly high capacity donors who give at this level are saying “let’s see what you do with this money.”  They are evaluating if they hear from you on a regular basis, if you’re communicating the impact of their gift to them effectively and regularly, and if they are appreciated.  If they have a clear sense that their gift made an impact and what that impact was they may start to consider a major gift.  If they don’t, they won’t.

This work is usually only effective if you have an actual plan.  What does your stewardship calendar look like for this group?  For your major gift prospects in this group do you know how they prefer to have you communicate impact?  Do you have an individualized cultivation plan for each?

Do you have a sufficiently large, motivated, affluent and influential volunteer corps?  Many organizations approach the creation of, or enhancement of, a major gift program as a exercise in strategic staffing.  Having well trained and high quality major gift officers certainly is very important for major gift success but the best major gift officers in the world can do little if they are not surrounded by sufficient affluent and influential volunteers starting with the board.  You don’t hire your hire major gift officers and development staff based on their personal connections (at least you shouldn’t).  You hire them because they are skilled at working with large numbers of people and getting them moving in the same direction in a motivated manner that results in large gifts.  But they need prospects to work with and those prospects must be generated by an army of volunteers.  The more volunteers you have with high levels of social capital the more prospects you have.  Again, it’s that simple.

There are many other factors such as engagement, culture of philanthropy, sufficient staffing, sufficient capitalization, etc. that go into major gift success but I would consider the above fundamental.  Without them, no matter how good everything else is major gift success will be difficult.  These four predictors are in many ways the hardest areas to develop but by far provide the largest payoff.

you can follow me at @bobosborne17

Working in the New Normal: Annual Fund Strategies for Today

As you read this I have probably already sat down to meet with my very first boss, who is hiring me for the second time: first as her annual fund assistant, and this time as her consultant for her school’s annual fund.  As I prepared for our visit, I have been reflecting on how the annual fund that she and I built back in 199…whatever…  has changed from the practices we see our clients implementing today.

thenAndNowFrontHere is my running list of Annual Fund Strategies:  Then and Now (Add a big, booming voice as you say “Then and Now” in your head for added effect… Nice, right?)   What would you add to your list?  How has your annual fund approach changed in the last ten years?  Or the last five?  What happened before 2008 that is just not coming back?  Post comments here or leave your ideas on our Facebook page.  We’ll collect them all and post in a future blog entry.

Then…  Segmenting your mailing was enough.  I will admit to having a 32-segment mailing once, each with their own slightly parsed difference between one letter text and another.  Everyone got fundamentally the same message and everyone was just asked to “give, give, give… trust us and we’ll do the rest.”  Unrestricted dollars that could slop around to every corner of the budget were the only thing to do.

NOW:  There are few programs today who don’t see a higher level of engagement and more inspired giving when donors are given the ability to be activists.  CFOs (and I) still need unrestricted dollars: that will always be the heart of a strong annual fund, but making tangible the impact of giving to the annual is mandatory.   No more “margin of excellence”; annual fund dollars help provide things like the manipulatives underpinning the mathematics program in the after-school experience.  Gone is “bridge the gap” talk about other revenue sources and the annual fund; the annual fund helps ensure that mission staff have the iPads and tech training they need to collect and evaluate data on the efficacy of your program in the field.  These dollars all need to hit your budget directly, but need specifics around them that make it clear and concrete what they accomplish.

An extra idea, building on this one?  Look for three to five “big buckets” within your budget toward which your annual fund gifts can be designated (not restricted!  This makes your CFO happy!).  For schools these categories are often:  financial aid, faculty salaries, library and technology, spaces for learning, athletics, etc…  What would those big budget areas be for your organization?  Allowing your donors to vote with their dollars for the things that most resonate for them not only provides one more good reason to step up giving, but also gives you a clear road map for how to steward these donors.

…which leads to “Then and Now” #2…

Then… Stewardship was something you did for endowment donors, donors of Chairs, building naming, scholarships when they became fully funded and probably only did once:  put the plaque up, name the new Chair holder, have a dinner, and wash your hands of it.

NOW:  That pig isn’t going to fly for even one second.  Not only must stewardship be a year-on-year institutional value that is woven throughout your relationship building with your donors, it is a universal.  All annual fund donors deserve WORLD CLASS stewardship.  Getting used to talking about the annual fund in tangible, specific ways is the first step.  Understanding your donors’ motivation through their gift designation is a second step.  Getting people to help you take on this project – even with its enormous value add – is the third.

Try this:  rather than just asking volunteers to “please make 10 (or 20 or 30) calls” to past donors, thank-a-thon style, let your volunteers know that you have $75,000 (or $500,000 or $5M) worth of thank you calls to make and would they be willing to take $12,000 of that.  Then keep reporting back:  “Your thank you calls valued at $75,000 last year turned into repeat gifts of $83,000 this year.”  Who wouldn’t feel great and motivated to do more?

Finally, a NOW and NOW:

Maybe you saw these two incredible stories about focused giving contests – one at Columbia that raised $7M in one day (ONE DAY!  CloEve Demmer, who spearheaded this is a friend of ours and, no kidding, one smart lady!) and the other that may have helped inspire and guide Columbia’s efforts:  Giving Days.

Among the reason these two focused campaigns worked is that they borrowed the “vocabulary” of gaming to bring fun into the annual fund.  (C’mon.  I had to.  Put the FUN back in the annual fund? A classic knee slapper.  To development officers only.)

  • These initiatives had a near-term, reachable goal for which everyone was responsible.
  • They had a clear beginning, middle and end to their quest.  A 365 day campaign is the AF Director’s reality but soooooo long for a volunteer.
  • They had rules of engagement:  certain volunteers could use any of a variety of outreach tools, but had to do it themselves and accounted back to “home base” with their results.
  • They knew what winning was going to mean:  dollars, new donors, repeat donors.

We play games because we love taking on tasks that are exactly hard enough.  How can you use today’s tools – email, social media, video, podcasting, blogging, etc… to make your annual fund volunteers’ job more fun and more of a game?  And, how about using this to jump start a monthly giving program?  Europeans envy our culture of giving in many ways, but are befogged by why we don’t embrace monthly giving programs more fully.  Deploy your volunteers on a quest for new monthly donors!

Another Now:  these campaigns were terrific, engaging, generated great excitement and energy.  But what do we do the other 364 days a year?  Once upon a time, we mailed a lot of letters, made slightly fewer phone calls and almost never left the office.  Today a robust annual fund program must be anchored with personal visits to top donors in conjunction with the major gift staff (we have a great resource on boosting annual giving in a campaign here.), to leadership donors to explore their passion and focus for their giving, to new potential leadership donors, to lapsed donors and to volunteers.  If there were one more position everyone could add right now, I would vote for a solid individual giving officer who LOVES being on the road, closing $1,000, $10,000, $50,000 annual gifts three days out of five.

Are the fundamentals of annual giving the same?  Yes.  I agree that they are.  Are there so many more ways to be creative and innovative in reaching your community of supporters?  Absolutely.  The annual fund is more fun.

50+ Donor Engagement Ideas

Picture 3Engagement and involvement are critical to succesful fundraising.  As fundraisers, we must go beyond simply telling people how strong our work is, how effective the methodology is, etc.; we must show them.  Messages that are delivered by active engagement are far more credible and memorable than messages that are delivered orally or written.  People believe and remember their own experiences.  They tend not to believe or remember what they have simply been told.

Here are 50 ideas for engaging your donors and potential donors and inspiring true belief and buy-in to your mission, vision, leadership, plan and projects.

  1. Invite to have a private conversation with your CEO on a matter related to your mission or organization
  2. Do the above but with your head of program or a person in the field
  3. Invite to listen in on a conference call where your CEO discusses a matter related to your mission or organization
  4. Invite to speak at a conference or meeting
  5. Invite to attend a conference or meeting
  6. Invite to speak to the people your mission serves
  7. Ask to host a parlor or vision meeting within their home or office
  8. Ask to provide space for a vision or parlor meeting and then report back to them on the results
  9. Ask to speak at a vision or parlor meeting
  10. Ask to introduce the organization to others within their corporation
  11. Ask to provide feedback on your case for support
  12. Ask to provide feedback on your vision statement
  13. Ask to provide feed back on your website
  14. Ask to provide feedback on your Facebook page, blog, etc.
  15. Ask to provide commentary on your strategic plan
  16. Ask them to serve on your strategic planning committee
  17. Ask to serve on your stewardship committee
  18. Ask to serve on your campaign committee
  19. Ask to serve on your board or advisory board
  20. Ask to provide advice on a matter facing your organization
  21. Ask to provide expertise on a matter helpful to your organization
  22. Invite to a briefing in your office on a issue related to your mission
  23. Ask them to interview a staff, donor or board member for your newsletter
  24. Interview them for your newsletter
  25. Ask them to be a guest blogger on your blog
  26. Ask them to review your marketing materials
  27. Invite them into the field to see a demonstration of your work
  28. Invite them to take pictures of the people you serve when they are in the field- use the pictures for your marketing, send them a nice montage of the pictures too
  29. Ask them to mentor a client
  30. Ask them to meet a parent, student, or someone else you serve
  31. Ask them to volunteer at your event
  32. Ask them to review your finances
  33. Ask them to take part in a panel discussion
  34. Invite to a panel discussion that takes place of Google+ Hangout
  35. Ask to shoot video for you
  36. Ask to edit video for you
  37. Ask if they will look at a screening list and make introductions to foundation officers on the list (or individuals or corporate officers)
  38. Ask them to interview other effective organizations within your community for insight
  39. Ask to help make a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to another potential donor
  40. Invite to attend a fundraising training with your staff
  41. Invite to attend activism training with your mission staff
  42. Invite to listen in on a staff meeting
  43. Invite to be part of your campaign video or other video
  44. Ask to provide an endorsement quote for your organization
  45. Ask to start a Facebook campaign
  46. Ask to participate in a crowdfunding campaign
  47. Ask to call a list of donors to thank them for their gift
  48. Ask to organize a “thank you-a-thon” where the whole organization calls donors to thank them
  49. Ask to call a list of new donors to thank them for donating
  50. Ask to help your clients find jobs, internships or other relevant experiences
  51. Ask them to host a party for your clients to congratulate them on an achievement
  52. Ask them to visit other potential donors that live in the area on a business trip

 

G. J. Hart’s Six Steps of Leadership Translated For Fundraisers

GJ-Hart-1G. J. Hart is the CEO of California Pizza Kitchen.  In an interview reported in New York Times he discusses each of his steps – fabulous steps that we can all use to lead with courage and effectiveness.

  1. He starts by saying we should all be the best we can be.  But what does that really mean? “You have to be honest with yourself.” This I definitely believe.  We have to start personal assessment which means seeking feedback from others.  My mother-in-law has a great expression.  “I talked it over with myself and decided I was right.”  If we only listen to ourselves, we’ll miss a lot. Take a management and leadership assessment.  Email Karen@theosbornegroup.com and I’ll send you one.  Then ask trusted others to fill it out for you as well.  Find a way to get a 360 degree review from above, peers, and those who report to you.  Then choose those areas you want to improve and set achievable timed goals.
  2. Dream big.  Love this one.  As leaders, we need big ideas.  We need to be ambitious for our missions, for our departments, for our teams.  Our job is to inspire action, loyalty, and advocacy.
  3. Lead with your heart.  Don Gray, major gift guru, identifies courage and consideration as top qualities for major gift officers.  In a study reported in The Harvard Business Review, empathy and professional will were cited as the top two competencies of outstanding salespeople.  Jim Collins in “Good to Great” found humility and professional will as the top qualities needed in leaders.  Empathy, humility, and consideration. Heart.
  4. Trust the people you lead.  Stephen M. R. Covey in “The Speed of Trust” points out how important it is to extend trust to others if you want to be trusted.  Leading by allowing others to try their own ideas, let them “fail forward,” as David Bornstein describes it.  This all sounds right to me.
  5. Do the right thing.  Sure.  We all think we do, but how do we know what is right?  Hart’s example is about giving people a second chance. Yes. But I also think, in our business, it’s about the grey areas we find ourselves in, or members of our team stumble into.  Conflicts connected to good donors, or powerful trustees, or presidents who make missteps.  One of the smartest things I did as a new VP was to form a small group of trusted other VPs.  We used each other as a sounding board, sought advice, shared.  Doing the right thing was a lot easier when I had smart people to weigh the issues with.
  6. Serve the people you lead.  This one is really important for us.  We are donor-focused, outward looking.  But as leaders, must also serve our teams.  They need us to fight for them, secure the resources needed to be successful, invest and believe in them.  As Mr. Hart says, “Create an environment where people can grow and prosper.”

by Karen Osborne