Have you been dreaming of what it would be like to be on the receiving end of a $100,000 gift for your annual fund? Are you tantalized by newspaper reports of mega-gifts to other organizations? These donors do not drop from the sky, nor are they only in the database of “big name” organizations. The likelihood is very high that right now among your constituents and supporters is a major gift donor in the making. What separates those organizations that “get” from those that wish? It is a vision and a case that requires/inspires major gifts, solid research, a plan, and love, respect and common courtesy for your donors. It is surprising to discover these basic elements missing from many development programs.
The Vision Thing
What is this elusive thing called vision? A vision is the power of the imagination to dream or project something beyond the ordinary. For a nonprofit organization, it is the driving force that informs and propels all programs and services. For donors or constituents, it is the key motivating factor for their investment. Your vision is presented in the case for support. If your non-profit organization does not have a current case that presents a clear rationale for why you need a donor’s investment or major gift, the likelihood is high that you will not receive one.
Let me challenge you to consider that a current, compelling case for support should be developed every year for your annual giving campaign. They are not just for capital campaigns! No matter how large or small your annual operating budget, you want to develop a case that inspires major gifts at whatever financial level your organization identifies as a major gift. This annual exercise is best completed with input from your program, finance and executive staff, as well as with relevant key volunteer/board committees. Philanthropic support is built around the case and it should inform and be consistent with all organizational appeals as well as written and verbal communications.
How much do you really know about your donors? Having an accurate understanding of your donors necessitates compiling information from many sources. At the most basic level research will help you understand your donors’ patterns and levels of giving. Do they only support you with a year-end gift? Do they only respond to written appeals or to emails? Which appeals? Are they motivated by special events? How long have they been giving? What can you discern about what motivates/prompts a gift? What do you know about their capacity and their support to other organizations? You will want to compile a solid data profile to help you ascertain their level of financial capability.
However, here is the most important research you need: what have your donors told you personally about what inspires and motivates them to support you? When was the last time you sat down with your donors and really probed them on their passions, their aspirations and their goals?
As Jerry Panas points out “The truth is, there is not much you can tell people that will truly motivate them and change their behavior.” But there is a lot you can ask. Have you mastered the skill of listening for intent and listening to understand? It is this asking of questions and listening to understand that is the research you need to move your donors to greater giving.
(This vital research has another important benefit: it opens conversations with your donors and begins to position you for the number 1, single most important aspect of obtaining a major gift. What is it? See below.*)
“If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.” – Cheshire Cat, Alice in Wonderland
As so aptly observed by the Cheshire Cat, a sound plan provides the road to your destination. If that destination is a journey towards increased support from your donors, you want the path to be as efficient and smooth and free of obstacles and surprises as possible. Does your plan include a realistic table of gifts and is the gift table based upon a sufficient number of donors at the required gift levels? Does the plan include action steps, your calendar, benchmarks? Is it flexible? Does it allow you to leverage external opportunities that can provide your fund raising with a boost, such as breaking news or national observances that may be relevant to your mission or programs and provide some opportunities for a special compelling appeal or greater awareness of your work?
There is only one mystery as to why some non-profit organizations are obtaining major gifts and others are not. Decades of experience have produced recognized best practices and procedures that are well documented and widely acknowledged to result in greater giving. The only mystery is why some organizations follow best practices and have the commitment and discipline to execute well while others struggle.
Love, Respect and Common Courtesy for Your Donors
Surprisingly, non-profit organizations still exhibit what can only be described as bad manners, rudeness and lack of common courtesy toward their donors. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Would you consider not thanking Aunt Jane or Uncle Bob for their wedding gift or annual birthday gift? Or not taking the time to tell grandmother what you have been up to or what you plan to do with her gift or how appreciative you are? Stewardship issues abound at even the most sophisticated not-for-profit organizations.
What is your organization’s Stewardship Scorecard? How long is the turnaround time for your acknowledgement letters? Two days, two weeks or two months? What is the level of personalization and accuracy you achieve? How do you keep your donors up-to-date with your achievements and results? Do your donors believe you really know them? Do you make them feel as if nothing would be possible without their support? How do you nurture and deepen your connection to them and their bond to you? Take the challenge to develop an organizational Stewardship Scorecard that identifies basic elements of stewardship, establishes your organization’s standards and continually measure yourself to see how you are doing. Have your donor’s rate you; what are their standards and desires for contact, information and recognition?
Take your donor’s on this journey with you and watch as their investment deepens.
*Answer to above: It’s asking! Don’t forget to ask!
Written by guest blogger, Deborah Peeples, CFRE. Deborah is a certified fundraising executive with more than 25 years of experience. She has directed and led major gifts and capital campaign fundraising programs for national, regional and local non-profit organizations and is a proven leader in the field. Her skills include strategic thinking and conceptualization; and motivation of staff and volunteers. She is knowledgeable in all aspects of development and campaign planning.