spectators watching baseballI 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.In major gift fundraising, every day is game day
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Campaign Strategy represented by chess boardIt is virtually impossible for a fundraising effort of the magnitude of a capital campaign to succeed without the leadership and support of the nonprofit organization’s board. Board members are carefully chosen based on the strengths they offer the organization. They know the challenges the organization faces, help make key decisions about the organization’s ongoing welfare, and are among the most knowledgeable about the organization. Others look to them for reassurance that their own commitment, efforts and support of the organization are well-placed.  So when it comes to capital campaigns, what exactly should be expected from members of the board?

Strategic Planning – Your board should be involved in the strategic planning process that leads to the campaign. This is essential if you want them to assume proper ownership and approve the plan. By participating fully in this process, they can be confident that your organization’s priorities are properly aligned. They will also understand the costs involved in the plan’s objectives and the vision for how they will be funded.

Campaign Approval – Your board should approve the capital campaign. This should not be an issue if they have been involved in the planning and vision for your organization’s future. However, there are instances where everyone is not in agreement regarding the timing of a campaign, whether or not to conduct a fundraising feasibility study or hire outside fundraising consultants or other aspects of the campaign. Having dissention among the ranks in a board as you are gearing up for a capital campaign is highly disruptive and issues need to be resolved as quickly as possible.

Study Participation and Support– A fundraising feasibility study is most often the first step in planning and designing capital campaigns. Board members’ willingness to participate and responses in the study are some of the best indicators of the potential and success of the campaign. If those most knowledgeable of the organization and the campaign are not supportive, it is unlikely that others will be persuaded. Board members’ participation in the fundraising feasibility study should include a personal and confidential interview, identifying others whose opinions are critical to the outcome, and using their influence and personal relationships to open doors to ensure the right individuals participate in the study.

Financial Commitment – Your board members should be among the first to make a financial commitment to the campaign, setting an example for others, with each member stretching to give to their fullest capacity. While some say that there is a “typical percentage” a board’s collective contribution toward a campaign goal should be, the reality is that the “right percentage” is the combined individual capacity of board members giving at their highest level of ability. Capital campaigns reach goal more quickly when 100% of the board gives (which must be the expectation) and when they set the pace by giving to their capacity.

Campaign leadership is the Board's responsibilityLeadership – Board members set the example for others within the organization, volunteers and the broader community. Every board member should be involved in the campaign in a meaningful way with their time. Board members should also be engaged in identifying and enlisting campaign volunteers from among their own contacts.

Prospect Engagement – Your board members should be willing to open doors to potential donors, engaging with them and making introductions. Board members can help with the anecdotal review process of potential campaign prospects to further fine-tune the list based on knowledge of individuals’ lifestyle, life events, interests and personal history. President of The Fundraising Resource Group, Daniel Neel says, “I had a board member say to me once that he would be willing to do many things, but he didn’t want to ask his friends for money. Once he went through training he came to understand ‘the ask’ process better and to understand that all that was really expected was for him to share with others his story of involvement with the organization and his passion for their mission and the project. With proper training, most people become comfortable asking others to consider joining them in their mission but those that don’t can still be involved and an important part of the cultivation and solicitation process.”

Community Advocacy – Each board member should be an advocate for the organization and make it a priority during the capital campaign process. Their key role in this effort will be expanding your organization’s influence and exposure throughout the community. A few ways this can be accomplished are:

  • set aside time each week to plan how to help the your organization with its campaign;
  • host small social gatherings and cultivation events to gain key volunteer or donor support;
  • arrange tours of the your organization for interested individuals, corporations or foundations; or
  • share their passion for the organization and project as a speaker  at campaign events;
  • participate in asking others to give.

Oversight – Board members should ensure that the contributions of donors to capital campaigns are well-managed, properly accounted for, used in accordance with the donors’ wishes and that fundraising and management costs are responsible and in line with industry norms.

thank you noteDonor Thank Yous – Board members should be expected to make thank-you calls and write personal thank-you notes when appropriate, acknowledging donors, keeping them informed of the project plans, and remaining in touch.

Post-Campaign Evaluation – Even the most successful capital campaigns should be evaluated to determine organizational strengths, areas for improvement and the effectiveness of the board’s policies and decisions. Open and thorough evaluation by the board can only lead to improved insight and governance.

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.


Red die with 3 sides showing: cost, risk, benefit

1. Cost – This is usually the #1 reason organizations hesitate to hire fundraising consultants, but it is also the #1 reason to hire a fundraising consultant. Daniel Neel, the president of The Fundraising Resource Group, says, “The biggest expense in a self-led campaign is the money left on the table.” Too often, clients seek help after a self-led capital campaign has been launched, mistakes have been made and the needed goal is nowhere in sight. An experienced capital campaigns consultant knows how to structure the campaign process, enlist the right leadership and volunteers, train staff and volunteers, interpret research, facilitate productive donor anecdotal review sessions, how to prepare for “the ask” and most importantly, how to tap into the interests and passions of each individual donor to encourage capacity giving. They are also experienced in campaign budgeting and know where it is possible to cut corners and where it is essential to invest.

2. Capacity – All too often, development and advancement offices are stretched thin with business-as-usual and the idea of taking on all the additional responsibilities of a capital campaign simply isn’t realistic. Consultants are responsible for many of the major deliverables in the campaign. Fundraising consultants can also fulfill a critical function in helping you to be more strategic, better organized, and more effective in developing a strong overall fundraising program.

3. Readiness – Self-led campaigns often do not take time to consider internal readiness or verify goals are attainable via a well-run, objective feasibility study. When money is desperately needed, they also may not feel they have any alternatives or options other than launching a campaign, ready or not, and therefore do not consider the value of investing in the process. An outside consultant can make a truly objective readiness assessment along with recommendations in any areas that are lacking. Reputable, experienced consultants will recommend steps that may need to be addressed before launching a campaign if the time is not right.

4. Experience – Most fundraising consultants spend the majority of their time conducting capital campaigns for non-profit organizations. The experience that comes from guiding capital campaigns with organizations of all types and sizes with a variety of needs brings expertise that the organization may not possess within its existing staff. All of this experience means they are able to see and anticipate potential bumps in the road and have experience with how to successfully respond to these challenges.

5. Insight – One of the most critical components of successful capital campaigns is the fundraising feasibility study. Consultants bring a variety of experience, and from that depth of experience comes insight. These insights are most valuable in planning and organizing a successful campaign through a well-orchestrated fundraising feasibility study. It is also this insight through experience that will also benefit the organization in its ongoing development activities.

6. Objectivity – As part of the fundraising feasibility study process confidential interviews are conducted with high-level prospective donors, board members, and staff. Bringing an experienced outside consultant into the process encourages openness; people are more likely to tell someone outside the organization their negative as well as positive thoughts and concerns. Additionally, because of their experience, consultants are adept at actively listening, reading between the lines on what is said and coaxing honest and meaningful information regarding any concerns.

7. Methodologies – While every organization has its own unique culture and all capital campaigns require a custom plan and approach, successful fundraising consultants are guided by proven methodologies. There is no need to reinvent the wheel each time. The tools and techniques that fundraising consultants use for successful capital campaigns can, and should be adapted for each unique situation, using the platform of a well-tested methodology.

8. Training – The best fundraising consultants are also good teachers. They will be training volunteers and staff who are involved in the campaign. The consultant will also serve as a coach to senior management and executives. The object for good fundraising consultants should be to transfer their knowledge to your organization for lasting benefits.

9. Accountability – Well-planned capital campaigns are based on discipline and timing that keep staff and volunteers within the organization accountable and on schedule. With a self-led campaign, it’s just too easy for capital campaign tasks to blend in with other development activities and for timetables to slide and many times frustrating the process and people involved.

10. Urgency – An outside consultant keeps the sense of urgency in the campaign; organizations are a lot less likely to let activities and deadlines slide because they are investing in the services of the fundraising consultants for a finite time frame.

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.

Cornell University brand guidelinesLast week, fundraising consultant Daniel Neel and I gave a presentation at the National Conference of Catholic Educators (NCEA) in Pittsburgh on The Essential Elements for Strategic and Effective Marketing Communications. (We also offer a free webinar recording on this topic to non-profit organizations.) One of the things we talked about is the importance of consistent branding (yes, strong branding is related to fundraising success*). Developing a Brand Guide is an important step in that process.

What is a Brand?
A brand is not a logo or a tagline. A brand is the sum total of how someone perceives your organization. Brands are developed over time through:

  • Consistent verbal and visual messaging
  • Interactions with an organization and its representatives
  • Recommendations
  • Real life experiences using a service or product

Page from Jesuit High School brand guideThe Purpose of a Brand Guide
Written Brand Guidelines help ensure consistent verbal and visual messaging. This is essential for all non-profit organizations, large and small, but it is critical for large organizations that are decentralized and have multiple offices. The American Heart Association (AHA) is an example of such an organization and I love how they preface and explain the need for their branding guide:

“This is a guide to the basics that must be followed in all instances. Its goal is not to limit creativity, but to provide direction that will guide us all to produce materials with greater unity, clarity and visual harmony. This will help us produce materials that the public recognizes as distinctly ours, whether the items…come via the Web or direct mail, on video or in print. To use a musical analogy, we’re not asking everyone to play the same instrument, only to play the same music.”

Essential Brand Guidelines
AHA’s Brand Guide is a somewhat daunting tome of 75 pages. A smaller organization could conceivably create an effective Brand Guide that is only a few pages. Here are the basics I would suggest including:

  • Logo Guidelines – Most organizations need a variety of acceptable formats for their logo. Variations might include: a black & white version, a 2-color version, a 4-color version, a reversed out logo, a horizontal version and a stacked version (stacked versions are often needed for online social media). Some organizations may have logo variations related to different services. One example of this in the for-profit sector is FedEx. The “Ex” appears in different colors depending on whether the service is Ground, Freight, Home Delivery, etc. American Cancer Society has design variations based on events.brand guide for nonprofit organization
  • Color Guidelines – Colors should be established based on the Pantone standardized color reproduction system or PMS (Pantone Matching System) that features over 2,000 colors. All graphic designers and printers are familiar with and use this system. For example, the standard red for all AHA products is Pantone 485. The standard red for University of Maryland is Pantone 186 (their other logo colors are Pantone Process Black and white). Many organizations also specify color palettes that go beyond just the logo.
  • Typography Guidelines – Typefaces should be consistent in everything your organization does. This should extend beyond “official” marketing materials understanding that everything your organization and its people say and do is all part of your brand. For example, everyone should use the same typeface to write letters or send emails on the organization’s behalf. AHA has two typefaces it uses: Times and Helvetica. University of Maryland uses just one typeface, Interstate, and specifies point sizes for printed publication headlines, subheads and body copy for a uniform look. The same is true on their website.

Example of a non-profit brand guideAbove are the three most basic categories and a good place for organizations without defined standards to start. Later, if desired, consideration can be given to adding standardization to design (ads, newsletters, postcards, brochures, etc.) and imagery (AHA provides photography guidelines, for example and most organizations do not allow clip-art).

I would encourage non-profit organizations not to be overwhelmed by this and to remember that the point of all this is recognizability and not to stifle creativity or create unnecessary rules or burdens on employees and volunteers. Start by writing simple guidelines for these three basic areas: logo, color and type and you’ll go a long way toward helping keep your messaging visually consistent.

Non-Profit Brand Guide Examples
There are many examples of non-profit Brand Guides on the Internet. Following are links to several Brand Guides that may help you get started in your efforts in establishing your own guidelines.

*When United Way underwent a rigorous brand evaluation in 2003, they discovered that the strong brand was 67% of the reason why people chose to invest in the organization.

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.

Recently, I came across a blog post questioning whether “expensive” capital campaign brochures and materials are a “good thing” or a “not so good thing.” The author and respected consultant, Gail Perry, expressed ambivalence and intentionally did not make a strong case for or against.  From the title of this blog post, you already know I intend to explain why I feel they are important and necessary.

Capital Campaign LogoA Distinct Identity
A capital campaign is “an intensive fund raising effort designed to raise a specified sum of money within a defined time period to meet the varied asset-building needs of an organization.” The first thing we do when we create capital campaign materials is develop a logo design and tagline/theme for the campaign. There is an important reason for this. It signals to your constituents that this isn’t “business as usual.” This is a special effort where you are asking donors to reach above and beyond their normal annual donation amount for your organization, often for a multi-year commitment. By creating a separate, but related, brand identity you are communicating the importance of this effort both to your organization and to your constituents.

Capital Campaign Brochures
Capital Campaign brochure spread Immaculate Heart Radio.Typically, we create two brochures for capital campaigns. One is a multi-page large brochure and the other is a small tri-fold brochure. The large brochure is used in face-to-face, personal meetings where those soliciting donations have done their homework on the prospective donor, understand their passions and interests and will be taking a very personalize approach in their conversations with the prospective donor. The brochure serves as a confidence-builder for those soliciting, frames the messaging, and is a leave-behind for donors who want to review information or glean more in-depth information not covered in the meeting. Very occasionally, we have a client or board member who worries about the materials being “too slick.” These are high-net-worth donors you are calling on. Unpolished, unprofessional materials can inadvertently signal a lack of professionalism, a “small potatoes” mentality or worse, a lack of caring enough. (The tri-fold brochure is typically used most during the public phase of capital campaigns for larger gatherings, mailings and for garnering smaller donations. It provides similar benefits to the larger brochure – frames the messaging and ensures consistency and gives volunteers greater confidence in their solicitation efforts, and can stand on its own.)

I would never claim that a brochure is solely responsible for an organization getting donations. I do believe that a lack of a branded campaign effort and professional materials can result in a lesser solicitation effort and lesser donations.

Capital Campaign logo for Christian Community ActionHow Expensive Is It?
The cost of your campaign materials should come out of campaign donations. Many times, you can approach a donor specifically to underwrite this effort. Virtually all marketing and design firms offer a non-profit rate that is less than their typical for-profit rates. Often, organizations have access to professionals who are willing to donate all or part of the development, production and printing of materials. (My only caveat here is that often, you get what you pay for. Vet any potential in-kind donations in this area the same way you would if you were paying for the materials. Ask to see other work samples and make sure that they have comparable experience.) If an organization receives offsetting contributions (either cash or in-kind) giving notice or credit to their generosity to allow you to development attractive, quality materials can diffuse the nay-sayers who may think you spent too much of materials.

When speaking to the value of hiring fundraising consultants versus self-led capital campaigns, Daniel Neel, president of The Fundraising Resource Group, often quotes the oil well firefighter, Red Adair, “If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.” He asserts that the biggest campaign expense in these situations is the money left on the table. I believe the same can be said for organizations that choose to forgo the “expense” of professional expertise in branding and capital campaign materials.

For more information on The Fundraising Resource Group and how we can help your non-profit achieve fundraising success through high-impact, high-return fundraising activities, visit our website at www.thefundraisingresource.com.