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.

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

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.

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.

 

August Major Gift Countdown

 

imagesLabor Day will be here before you know it. You have about 15 days to complete your August Major Gift Countdown to success.

  • Let your metrics lead the way. What worked well from January to now? Or from last June or August until now? Learn from your successes. What didn’t work? Why
    • Donor and volunteer retention for new donors, donors giving for two to four years, donors giving for five or more years
    • Upgrade rates
    • Yes rates (how many closed gifts compared to how many requested; what percentage of the requested amount actually given; how close to capacity)
  • Dust, re-tool, or create off your name-by-name table of gifts. Whom will you, a member of your team, your cadre of volunteers, solicit for a leadership or major gift between September and Thanksgiving? For how much? For what impact, outcome, purpose or project? What results are you anticipating?
  • Line up The Rights. Do you know, with confidence all of the Rights for each of the donors listed in your name-by-name table of gifts?
    • Right amount
    • Right purpose
    • Right solicitation team
    • Right donor participants
    • Right time
    • Right place
    • Right materials
  • Think through your strategic engagement. In order to INSPIRE a gift of that size, what strategic steps do you need to take BEFORE the solicitation conversation?
    • A strategic conversation to confirm on of the rights?
    • Contact with CEO, a mission staff member or volunteer?
    • An interactive tour
    • Stewardship of the last gift?
  • Whom on the list could you inspire to do more by connecting them to the impact of their last gift?
    • What stewardship have they received?
    • How long ago?
    • What can you do now that might inspire a joyous, generous yes?
  • Look at your strategic fundraising plan. Re-tool this year’s tactical plan. Are all your goals SMART?
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Results-focused
    • Timed
  • Make sure your planned events are worth doing and you’ve positioned them for success.  Clear goals for new donors, donor retention, gift upgrades, think, feel and do messaging from credible message bearers and most important, your follow-up plan.
  • Are your volunteers ready? Do they have fresh and compelling stories to tell? Have you inspired them? Have you solicited and stewarded them?
  • Have you thanked and prepared your internal partners – your team, mission staff and c-suite staff who helped you, who you want to help you going forward? Do they have fresh and compelling stories to tell? Have you inspired them?
  • Have you taken care of you? Did you take time off? Can you get off the grid for Labor Day weekend? Did you, can you find time to power down? You’ll need all of your energy, enthusiasm, smarts, and savvy to ensure a major gift success this fall.

You can read more here.

Fundraisers Share Their Vision for 2014

It’s the beginning of the year and many of us are making our personal New Year’s Resolutions . My New Year’s Resolutions are being more consistent with exercising, reading more and enjoying more time with my family.  Many of us also have 2014 resolutions or a vision for the non-profits we serve. Here’s what fellow fundraisers had to say when asked the question: “What is your vision for your organization in 2014 and what will be your role in making it happen?”

    Laura Mannion                      

Laura Mannion, Director of Development, Franciscan Alliance  Foundation, Mishawaka, IN

My vision for the Foundation in 2014 is to increase our fundraising by 30% so that we can maintain and expand our programs in communities in Northwest  Indiana where the unemployment rate is higher than both the state average and the national average.

Increased philanthropy will enable the Foundation to impact the lives of the working poor throughout our region.  Changes in health care have already increased demand.  To achieve a 30% increase in philanthropic donations, we have recruited a board of community leaders who are passionate about our mission.  Each of our board members is hosting events at their homes or private clubs to help us build affinity for our mission programs amongst those with the capacity to impact our mission.  In addition to working with our board, we are leveraging the strength in numbers of our employee base by launching an employee giving program.  We are also expanding our work with family and corporate foundations.   Finally, we are initiating physician giving and a grateful patient program while marketing planned giving opportunities. Working this diversified plan will enable us to continue to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis in embracing a community in need.

 Tricia Pic 1 011013 (2)

Tricia Brosnahan, CFRE,  Major Gifts Officer, Detroit Zoological Society,
Royal Oaks, Michigan

My vision for 2014 is to continue to build the organizational culture of philanthropy as we work together to fully fund the largest and most dramatic capital project in DZS history, The Polk Family Conservation Center.

My role is facilitating communication between staff, board and donors!

 

Michelle

Michelle S. Gollapalli, MBA, CFRE, CAP, Chief Development Officer, Bancroft,
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

My vision for Bancroft in 2014 is that we are able to raise awareness about the quality and range of the services we provide to children and adults with autism, brain injuries and intellectual and developmental disabilities and to tell our story in a powerful way that appeals to stakeholders who can really help move our mission, empowering the people we serve to maximize their potential.

Chad

Chad Hartman, Vice President of Development , Epilepsy Foundation,
Landover, Maryland

My vision for 2014 is that the Epilepsy Foundation will continue to have a keen focus on building a mission driven culture of philanthropy and serve as a national leader of best practices for all advancement activities.  We want a new organizational attitude, internally and externally, toward philanthropy and the development process.  The Foundation encourages every constituency to understand, embrace, believe in, and act on his or her collective and individual roles and responsibilities in philanthropy, stewardship and donor engagement in a collaborative and donor focused manner. 

I see my role as leading and supporting the organizational and department strategic and financial goals to expand public awareness, community services, education, and innovative research and new therapies for people living with epilepsy. 

We’ll revisit our fundraising friends six months from now to see where they are at in achieving their vision for 2014 and share their strategies for success. We’ll also ask various leaders and board members about their vision for 2014 as well.

In the meantime, check out our resources on building a culture of philanthropy and join us for our January 16 webinar on what you can do during the next six months to end the fiscal year strong.  Register now!

Back To School: It’s Not Just For Kids

back to schoolIt’s that time of year again: “Back to School. “ The dog days of summer are over and soon our stores will be filled with Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations. But wait.. the concept of “Back to School” is not just for kids or for those who work at schools, colleges or universities. “Back to School” can be used as a metaphor as a new beginning for your fundraising efforts.

School supplies

Let’s face it, school supply shopping is not fun but getting new supplies can put a smile on your face. So, what are the supplies you need to arm yourself for a successful “school year” ? Need a new pen to write those handwritten donor letters or perhaps your favorite carryon bag needs an upgrade? How about updating the visuals that surround your desk or better yet incorporating some Zen or feng shui into your office?  How about updating the mission pictures you have in your office or even changing your telephone greeting  to share something new about your organization?

What other supplies do you need? Are there new board members who can supply you with a good list of individuals they are willing to engage with you? Or mission staff that can supply you with anecdotal and real stories of impact to share with your donors? How about your CEO supplying you with more of their time to engage in donor relationship building? Make your list of supplies “to purchase”.

Wellness check-ups

Ok, maybe you are not due for a shot but when was the last time you got a check-up or had a maintenance day? Karen Osborne and I were talking recently about how to fit things into our packed schedules like doctor appointments, alterations, or even getting your hair cut.  Karen shared that she schedules “maintenance days” to take care of these necessary tasks that seem to pile up. Perhaps Karen will share this knowledge in an upcoming blog post (hint hint)

So what type of shot do you need? Maybe you need a shot of fun? Put in for some time off before the holidays to help you maintain and recharge. Maybe you need a shot of reality from your donors? Now is the time to ask those questions that help you better understand your donor’s perceptions of your organization and their philanthropic values, attitudes and desired impact on your cause.

Does your overall fundraising program need a check up? What can you do differently to get the results you want?

In Case of Emergency

I just completed emergency cards for both of my kids providing instructions to their schools on what to do in case of an emergency. So how about an emergency plan for your donor work? Emergencies do happen and sometimes right before some big event or on your way to a substantial donor ask. My former colleague always had a folder on her desk for “in case I get hit by a bus.”  She provided essential details for projects she was working on and even basics like her work-based passwords.  Having an emergency plan and a succession plan saves time and energy.

Who do you call in case of an emergency? We all need a support system to get us through those tough times personally and professionally. I am grateful for the wonderful colleagues who have become friends especially during those trying times.

 Training and Education

Fall conferences are around the corner. Yippee! Yes, I really enjoy my fair share of trainings both as a facilitator and attendee. There’s so much out there and more opportunities than ever to stay on top of your professional development. Check out our website: http://www.theosbornegroup.com/corp/workshops-seminars.asp for our fall schedule and stay tuned for our upcoming complimentary webinars and podcasts. What other types of training and education is out there? Perhaps now you can take that yoga or cooking class you always wanted or maybe it’s time to share your expertise with others by teaching as class of your own or facilitating a training session for your fellow colleagues.

“Back to School” doesn’t have to mean the end of summer fun and it’s not just for kids. It’s a time to refocus and try something new. Who knows? Maybe because you tried some new strategies you’ll hit that FY14 goal ahead of time!

The 72%ers: Individual Giving for Everyone

I admit it.  I wait for the Giving USA numbers to come out each June with perhaps more excitement than is due.  What will they tell us?  Are things really looking up, or does it just feel that way?  Will there be any big anomalies?  A big swing one way or another?  And then they come out and…  well, I’m not ever that surprised by the results, honestly.  At the 60,000 foot level, they tend to say the same thing every year: images most giving to religion and education; 72% from individual giving, outright with about 7-8% more through bequests each year.  I guess that what does surprise me is the conclusion that more organizational leaders do NOT take from these findings, year after year:  despite the fact that $227.7 billion dollars were given by individuals last year, and individuals gave $8.67 billion more than last year, so many anchor their growth strategy in corporate giving, the smallest part of the giving pie.

My hunch – from conversations with many of these organizations – is that the instinct is to go where the money is:  okaaaaay.  And the perception, often from the board, is that corporations are where the money is.  But, of course, we don’t have to go digging very far to find that the many millions of giving individuals in the country give about 2% of their disposable income each year while corporate giving has fallen and stagnated at levels not seen since 1977 – a mere 0.8% of corporate profits last year.  So, clearly individual giving IS where the money is, but building an individual giving portfolio feels unattainable to many organizations.

Why?

The reason I most often hear is, “I/we don’t know ‘those’ people”.  And with the proliferation of the Philanthropy 50, the Most Generous lists, the Forbes Titans of Philanthropy, the press on those who have taken the Giving Pledge, it is easy to understand why accessing “those people” does not feel like it is within the purview of the thousands of small and medium-sized organizations around the country.

But, who do you really need to know?  For sure, knowing and engaging high-net worth individuals who can and will give major gifts is critical and wonderful.  Giving USA confirms again that having volunteer opportunities that attract, inspire and engage these individuals is key:  88.5% report that their giving follows their volunteer involvement.

Leadership donors – those who can give between $1,000 and $10,000 or $25,000 a year – are the bread and butter not only of these Giving USA numbers, but of strong, small and mid-sized organizations around the country.  (After all $1,000 is $83 a month.  $83.  How much was your cell phone bill?)  The “big dog” organizations have known that for years and have invested staffing and fund development strategies to find and keep this cohort above all others.  What can the little guys do to catch up?  The details in Giving USA this year point the way:

  • Leadership donors report that they often give to inspire others.  Do you give your current leadership donors (at whatever level) a voice in your communications?  Do you seek out some who are willing to be showcased to share their story of inspiration with others?  It’s not just about finding those who will be solicitors for you (nice though that is!) but those who are willing to tell your story to others… or have their story told.multi-channel-marketing-fueled-by-crm-increases-member-giving_16001162_800926552_0_0_14057469_500
  • 66% of individuals report that they give regularly to a few organizations they really care about.  Are you offering the opportunity to give multiple times a year?  Through different channels?  To many parts of your core mission that matter to your donors?  I am not advocating a constant, unceasing barrage of mail and email to your donors, asking and asking, always with a hand out.  But, I do know that small and mid-size organizations can cut back – waaaay back on the number of times they invite people “to the table”, either because of fear or just a lack of staff or volunteers to get appeals out the door.  Could you divide the impact of what you do into four or five different pieces and send an appeal, an email, a link to a video on your website quarterly or about every other month?  What and who would it take to do that?  $200 at a time builds up quickly.
  • 90.8% report that they have some or great confidence that the not-for-profit sector can solve problems in society.  That’s HUGE confidence, especially given the much more dismal numbers we were seeing just five or six years ago… (And much greater confidence than Congress currently enjoys, yet they don’t seem to have pulled back the political fundraising…hum.)  Here’s the “But” and it’s big:  the Fundraising Effectiveness Project found that the not-for-profit sector has a crisis of donor retention.  Those who believe in your organization give regularly; however, there is a huge number – on average, 59% of donors – who are getting passed around from organization to organization, year after year.  Notice that I say “passed around”, not “jumping around”:  so often we’re complicit in letting them go by not paying attention to donor stewardship and reporting back on the impact of giving in a way that matters and gets noticed. (Check out our podcast #7 and #15 for more on stewardship.)  Recoiling at the thought of soliciting four times a year?  What if you communicated a powerful stewardship message in between each of those appeals?  Much more palatable, right?  And your donor retention will move closer to those few who top 70% – and you’ll build stronger leadership giving along the way.

In the end, I know what keeps a commitment to individual giving off the table for many organizations:  the reality is that individual giving is a “people to people” business and that can be messy, it doesn’t have a tidy recipe that bakes up every single time.  It is like cooking – you throw yourself into it with good ingredients, you tinker with what works and what doesn’t, you ask others how they’ve made it come out so well and try again and again.  Lots of people know how to cook.  You can too.

Letter to a Friend (About Why I didn’t Give More to your Gala)

A good friend who sits on the board of the organization that she loves invited us to their gala and then called to follow up.  Isn’t she a good board member?  I’m so proud of her!  We couldn’t attend.  But we did give… just not a stretch gift.  And look above: this is a GOOD friend… someone I’m really proud of and have great feelings about.  Why didn’t I give more?Gala X

I have lost track of the number of times that I’ve used the Tarnside Curve to illustrate why donors don’t make stretch gifts based on the relationship they have with the person doing the asking.  But my email to her spelled it out at greater length and I decided to share it with you in hopes that like her and her organization, you might find some lessons learned to apply to yours.

Dear Very Good Friend,

First, I’m so sorry that we can’t make it to the Gala.  It would have been lovely to catch up with you and see you in your new role on the Board.  Second, I wanted to share with you why I am not giving more.  I know that you asked for my input on fundraising for your organization before, and this seemed like a good moment to share my thoughts.

As I was going through your organization’s site and figuring out how much we should give, I had some thoughts.  Please know that I realize how hard it must be to run Organization X and that most of the staff are out there doing the real work of helping clients who need it.  And I don’t know any of the back story on the site, who wrote it, the politics, etc.  In any case, this isn’t meant to come off as belittling any of the work they do on the ground or who they are as people.  Not at all.  I’m sharing my thoughts with you because if Organization X were my client, it’s what I’d do.  If it’s helpful, then share and feel free to share as is.  If it’s not the teachable moment I think it could be, and/or would hurt feelings and be unhelpful, then please don’t.

I tell my clients all the time that there are plenty of great organizations out there to support.  Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find them.

I went to Organization X’s site because of you and your clear passion about the work they do.  I trust you.  I value your opinion.  I don’t know all that much about Organization X.  This is how many many donors are introduced to organizations, especially in the context of events.

So there I am now looking around on the site and trying to figure out how much to give.  Should I do what’s comfortable, or should I forgo something I want to do and stretch?   If I do the stretch, then I have to explain it.  Already, I’ve explained to the family that we’re giving to Organization X because “Aunti loves them and I respect her and want to support her cause.” 

But to go the extra mile on this, I’d have to say more. I’m looking… I’m looking… I’m not seeing much.

When I get to the “stories” page, the first thing I see is the founders page and it’s a little bit off-putting because it suggests that the organization was founded on a whim.  I am willing to bet that the founders story is an awesome one that had much more than, “had nothing better to do” as a beginning.  But this is what it says.  I stop reading.  I’ve got 10 minutes to my name here and this isn’t what I’m looking for.  So then I move on to see if there is an annual report anywhere.  What I am looking for is a breakdown of the financials, what the annual budget is and also an idea of giving levels. Here again, I come up empty-handed.  OK… what about an idea of what various levels of giving means in terms of impact?  Nope.  Nothing to be found.  I sit back a minute.  It dawns on me that there are no photos.  That the site is all text, and not even written particularly well.  Ugh.

My thoughts go back to you.  I remind myself that you are super-smart and that you wouldn’t sit on a board for no reason.  Organization X MUST be doing terrific work.  I just don’t have any sense of it.

And so… I make my “comfortable” gift.

After the gala is behind you all and you can sit and think, here are a few things that I’d do right away:

1. Create impact statements.  My son and his friends just raised money to plant trees and gave it to http://www.plantabillion.org/  Every $1 plants 1 tree.  They want to plant one billion.  Take a look.  It’s a huge goal.  But they aren’t afraid to throw it out there.  And incredibly, every $1 of that billion feels important.  When I give my gift to Organization X, what does that mean?  What can I feel good about in making this contribution besides vaguely knowing I’ve done something good because you say I have?  Create impact statements to tell visitors to your site and donors new and old the impact of gifts made at various levels.  This is going to be useful for far more than just your site.  (Sidebar:  I didn’t include this in my letter, but you can download a great resource on writing impact statements here.)

2.  Post your financials.  You don’t need to create and post an annual report in my opinion.  Hardly anyone reads those.  But what they do look for is exactly what I looked for.  To not have that information up makes you look bad.

3.  Make the site more visually appealing.  You have this know-how.  I realize you can’t post photos of the clients for safety sake.  But there are all kinds of creative images you could post that don’t show faces.  Look at what other like organizations are doing.  I know you know this already, but Facebook is ranking images and video much higher than plain text in terms of their edge rank, their news feed algorithm that determines which posts get seen and by whom.  That says it all, doesn’t it?

4.  Be sure all the content is appealing and it’s not there for political reasons alone.  If you are going to share stories, make certain that they are really strong.  And know that most visitors are looking for client stories.  It helps me feel good about giving when I see a story of a client whose life was transformed by Organization X.  When I have my consultant hat on, I talk about helping donors feel like superheros for supporting them.  Keep that in your mind as you decide what to post on the site.  Would reading it make someone feel like a superhero for supporting?

I could go on.  But I won’t because I know it’s going to take time to get through this list as it is and that is going to take commitment from more than just you.  No matter that I know how hard it is to think about these things right after going through the hard work of putting a successful event together, it’s really important that you all do this.  I’m happy to chat about this whenever.   In the meantime, good luck tomorrow night!  I’m sorry I won’t get to be there.

Good for you for being involved with Organization X.  I’m proud of you and will be rooting for you guys tomorrow… 

Love, Neesha

Have you had a friend – a GOOD friend – visit your organization’s website?  Asking for that frank assessment of the public face you are sharing with the world can offer invaluable feedback.