I was one of those odd kids who actually enjoyed algebra. I attribute a big part of that to Mrs. Maine, my eight grade teacher. I don’t remember everything she said about factoring equations or which train would get there first, but I do remember her mantra. When we would stare at her with blank faces, wondering if she was still speaking English, she would clap her hands with each word as she chanted “math-is-not-a-spectator-sport.” The same can be said about major gift fundraising.
I was recently with a client, having a stern discussion about how to advance the ball more quickly in their major gift and capital campaign activities. They were somewhat dismayed that they had not raised much in the past weeks. When I asked how many gifts they had received, they replied “none.” When I asked how many “asks” were made, the answer was also none. Taking another step I asked how many calls had been made and the answer again was a big goose egg. I am no Sherlock Holmes, but even I could follow the clues to solve the mystery.
I suppose it is possible to sit on the sidelines holding a big sign to promote your cause and have some passers-by drop coins in the hat. However, I suggest instead that you repeat after me, “major-gift-fundraising-is-not-a-spectator-sport.”
Here are five simple ways to make sure you and those involved in major gift fundraising in your organization are actually in the game.
- Adopt a game-day mindset – I try to impress on those responsible for forming deep relationships with major gift donors that every waking moment of every work day should be filled with one thought: “Who can I get in front of today to share the story of this amazing organization?” If it is an afterthought, you are already behind.
- Set realistic benchmarks – I understand that there are responsibilities that take your time other than major gift donor appointments. But you know the saying, “if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” You have to develop realistic metrics and goals for dollars raised, personal visits per week, calls and contacts to get those appointments, and number of relationships you can effectively tend to. Going back to my algebra days, it is a simple formula based on the amount of time you can commit to major gift fundraising multiplied by a baseline of 75 to 100 donors for a full-time major gift officer. You should set a plan that includes anywhere from two to four meaningful interactions with each of those relationships (only one of those interactions per year being an “ask”). That formula will tell you how many appointments you need every week to accomplish what is necessary to develop and grow those relationships, and form new ones.
- Schedule appointments with yourself and keep them – I often hear how difficult it is to get an appointment. That is true. However, I think many times we go at it backwards. I suggest first setting appointments with yourself and then with others. On your personal calendar, set aside times each week that you WILL have an appointment with a donor or prospect. Your responsibility is then to fill that slot with someone you want to get in front of to either thank, share information, ask permission to ask, or ask. Protect those times and fill those appointments.
- Track and measure activity before dollars – You can track and measure many things, but keep it simple so that those involved will actually record their activity. In your donor tracking system you should have fields for who is responsible (assigned solicitor), date of last contact, action, outcome, date of next contact, and objective. There should be a projected gift objective including amount and date. Measure yourself and others against these projections. Require discipline in reporting. Changing behavior of your organization is the first step. The dollars will come as a result of actions.
- Conduct formal accountability checkups – Whether it is ten minutes or an hour – whether on the phone or in the same room – develop a reporting system that can be as simple as how many calls, appointments, asks, and gifts are actually achieved each week versus the established benchmark for that timeframe. Taking the conversation a step further in discussing outcomes and next actions is better. But if you do not hold to a disciplined approach of holding yourself and others accountable, you are in danger of finding yourself sitting in the stands rather than being a participant.
Just like solving those algebra story problems, it sounds a lot easier that it is. Most organizations are thinly staffed and the demand for time is high. It is easy to allow the disciplines described above to slip in favor of activities that seemingly have more immediate results (although with much lower returns) such as a gala, golf tournament or another mailing. But to significantly grow revenue for your organization from major gifts or capacity giving in capital campaigns – choose your sporting metaphor – you have to get into the pool, step up to the plate, snap the ball, take the shot. You have to get into the game and stop being a spectator.
Written by Daniel Neel, President of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps non-profit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, non-profit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success, visit our website at www.thefundraisingresource.com or call 888-522-1492.