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.

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!