A recipe for securing major gifts

recipeWhen I was an internal consultant working for Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), my team was charged with helping local affiliates build their organizational capacity around resource development. In the beginning, there were two sides of our team — annual campaign support and planned giving support. As time passed, our team focused on creating a third vehicle of service — major gifts.

Over the last few years, there have been a number of consultants hired to help develop the pilot project and then ultimately the help with the roll out. Lots of thought went into developing BGCA’s major gifts initiative.

As you can imagine, there is great diversity among local affiliates. Some Clubs are very large and capable, and many others are small and still developing. With this in mind, my former team preferred to develop programs that involved taking simple steps. This approach was the easiest way to ensure all local affiliates regardless of their size and capacity were able to implement any fundraising program.

The following are the 10 steps my team advocated for when teaching others how to secure a major gift:

  1. Develop your internal case for support and menu of gift opportunities
  2. Identify top ‘ready to give’ major gift prospects
  3. Assemble your cultivation team
  4. Develop confidential personal strategy plan(s)
  5. Implement specific personal strategy(ies)
  6. Monitor progress and modify plan(s) as needed
  7. Ask prospect for permission to develop specific proposal(s)
  8. Present proposal in person; modify proposal if needed
  9. Finalize gift when donor is ready
  10. Thank and recognize donor as appropriate

For those of you who think I’ve given away major trade secrets or violated copyright laws, I assure you that I have not.

Of course, I checked the manual for copyright warnings and there were none. The reason being is that these 10 steps are part of the public domain and are common knowledge. Spend a few minutes on Google and you’ll find any number of bloggers and traditional authors who’ve published similar lists.

When I look at this list, I think of any number of recipes that I might find online or in my mom’s old cookbooks. These 10 items are akin to simple ingredients on a recipe card for a yummy dish.

ina gartenOf course, there will likely be a HUGE difference between me making a recipe and the Barefoot Contessa (aka Ina Garten) making the same dish. I suspect there will be huge differences in results between small and large non-profit organizations. In my opinion, here are just a few things that will make a difference:

  • how well your donors are being stewarded and depth of relationships
  • experience of fundraising staff
  • experience and relationships of fundraising volunteers
  • resource development systems (e.g. donor database or CRM, Moves Management program, etc)

When Claire published her call for submissions for October’s Nonprofit Blog Carival, she asked her fellow bloggers with tongue firmly planted in the side of her Halloween cheek to consider:

“Do you HAUNT prospects through a series of managed ‘moves’?  Do you fly in on a BROOMSTICK and just drop in spontaneously? How do you put them under your SPELL?”

I love these questions. Those of you who regularly tune into the DonorDreams blog know how much I talk about stewardship. I honestly think it is the key to developing relationships and cultivating major gift donors down the road. The following are just a few of my favorite stewardship focused posts over the years:

Does your organization use a similar major gifts “recipe” as the one I shared from my former employer? If so, what steps do you think are the most important? Do you find particular cultivation and stewardship strategies more effective than others? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Are you a “Fred the Baker” type of non-profit leader?

building train tracksWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Tracking,” John talks about the power of planning by sharing an amazing story about a stretch of mountains in the Alps that is next to impossible to pass. Instead of waiting for the train technology to catch up, Europeans decided years ago to build train tracks through that part of the mountains in anticipation that train technology will one day produce an engine with enough horsepower to get the job done.

Reading John’s post made me think of the countless non-profit executive directors and fundraising professionals who take on the role of “Fred the Baker” instead of embodying the spirit of those European planners who built those train tracks.

What? You don’t remember who Fred the Baker is? Check out this YouTube video and ask yourself this simple question: “Do I look like this every day and evening on my way to and from my non-profit job?”


The story that immediately comes to mind and is very common and why many non-profit organizations can’t seem to get a major gifts program off the ground. When asked what is stopping them from building the capacity to add a major gifts program to their fundraising program, the explanation looks and sounds remarkably like “Fred the Baker”:

  • The day-to-day, month-to-month routine is so fast and mundane that there is no time for planning.
  • In January, we do the dinner.
  • In February-March-April we do the annual campaign.
  • In May we do the golf outing.
  • Etc, Etc, Etc

I recently had the privilege of working with a group of non-profit volunteers who said . . . ENOUGH . . . let’s build some train tracks.

They understood the following:

  • They didn’t have the right staff in place to implement a major gifts initiative.
  • Their technology (e.g. donor database) needs a lot of work to support an initiative like this.
  • Their resource development practices and systems need to change (e.g. stewardship)
  • They might even need to change the people sitting around the table.

Yet, none of this stopped them from working on those train tracks. They made it a goal in their resource development plan to some day have a fully functional major gifts program. They then look realistically at what they could start doing rather than what they couldn’t do and came up with the following handful of objectives for this year:

  • Develop an internal case for support.
  • Develop a menu of gift opportunities.
  • Identify a small handful of potential major gift prospects.
  • Develop personal confidential personal strategy plans for each prospect.
  • Engage in implementing each plan and start cultivating.

They are laying train tracks for the future and doing what they can today in anticipation for what they want to happen tomorrow.

How are you ensuring that you and the folks at your agency are NOT “Fred the Baker”? Do you use the planning process (e.g. strategic plan, board development plan, resource development plan, marketing plan, program plan, etc) to lay future train tracks for your organization? Do you have a great success story that you want to share? Please scroll down and use the comment box to jump into this discussion because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Election 2012 can be called “The Year of the Donor”

I really try not to talk about politics on this blog platform because: 1) it is about non-profits, fundraising, and donors and 2) readers come from a variety of political persuasions and I don’t want to offend anyone. However, sometimes I see trends that I feel are important to share because there is a teachable moment or lesson to learn. Today, I’m going to dissect the 2012 Presidential election with regards to fundraising and donors. I think there are many interesting things happening that should give the average non-profit professional an opportunity for reflection and thought.

Gingrich demonstrated the power of major gifts

During the Republican primary season, it was well reported by most media outlets that the Gingrich campaign was able to sustain itself for longer than anticipated because of one very large donor — Sheldon Adelson. Fredreka Schouten illustrated this point in USA Today’s blog “On Politics” when Mr. Adelson and his wife each donated $5 million in January 2012.

A good friend of mine who works with Boys & Girls Clubs says that every non-profit organization needs a major gifts strategy even if they’re a small organization and it is just for one donor. Gingrich’s campaign certainly places an exclamation point on this piece of advice.

If your organization doesn’t have a major gifts strategy, I think Gail Perry at Fired Up Fundraising does a nice job talking about this issue as well as the trends she sees associated with major gift fundraising in 2012.

Donors are powerful and getting more influential every day

Recently, a Romney spokesperson said something that angered conservatives. I won’t go into the details because they aren’t relevant to my point; however, click on this YouTube video of MSNBC re-broadcasting Ann Coulter’s comments from Fox News and watch the first 20 seconds or so of the clip:


Did you catch that?

Ann didn’t ask people to call the Romney campaign to express their outrage. She didn’t suggest conservatives flex their muscles in the voting booth. Nope . . . she specifically asked that donors flex their muscles and “not give another dime unless . . .

I’m not suggesting that non-profit agencies don’t understand how influential donors are; however, I do see a trend where donors are becoming more vocal when they see things that upset them.

For example, last year I blogged about a local donor in Elgin, Illinois who became very upset when his charity of choice started running deficits. He resigned from their board of directors. He pulled his financial support. He went to the newspaper, made a lot of noise, and suggested that other donors make noise and demand more accountability and change.

Is your non-profit prepared for a donor revolt?

Obama 2008 vs 2012

Team Obama certainly shouldn’t be crying poor because they have raised a lot of money; however, the following quotation caught my attention in an article by Julie Pace at boston.com:

In an email to supporters after the July numbers were announced, the Obama campaign said, ‘‘If we don’t step it up, we’re in trouble.’’

I’ve talked to a number of donors who wrote checks to the Obama campaign in 2008 and asked them to explain the perceived enthusiasm gap by some donors. I think it is fair to sum it up like this . . .

  • The first time a donor makes a contribution to your cause, they are investing in promises.
  • The second time a donor makes a contribution, they are investing in results.

According to many studies on the topic of donor loyalty, it is common for many donors not to renew their support. I’ve read studies that suggest the average turnover rate is in the neighborhood of 50 percent.

If this is the case for your agency, then I suggest you look at your program outcomes data and how you’re communicating that to your donors. You might also want to talk to those lapsed donors and ask them about their expectations after making their first contribution and what happened in the months leading up to the unsuccessful renewal solicitation.

You can bet that Team Obama has done this, which might be why we saw overt outreach efforts throughout the summer to specific special interest groups including women’s groups, Latino groups and LGBT groups.

Super PAC trend gives hope to United Way

Traditional political action committees (PAC) and the new Super PACs are playing a huge role in this year’s election. Paul Blumenthal wrote about it last week in his Huffington Post column.

I look at this trend and wonder why some individual donors aren’t  just giving their money directly to the campaigns. Why give it to a “middle man”?

While I am sure there is a number of reasons to explain this trend, I wonder if one of those reasons is that bundling money together allows donors to speak with a louder voice and bigger stick.

Non-profit professionals should pay attention to this phenomenon because it might explain the increasing popularity of “giving circles“. It might also become what re-energizes donor enthusiasm for supporting their local United Way.

Are you paying attention to the 2012 election cycle from a fundraising perspective? If so, what are you seeing that might be relevant for non-profit and fundraising professionals? Do you sometimes take a step back and look at what’s happening around you and your agency? What do you see? Please use the comment box below and share those observations with your fellow non-profit professionals.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Non-profits under fire: Measure this! Measure that!

Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

Today, we’re focusing on a post that John titled “How Much Do I Love Thee?“. In that post, he talks about the recent obsession in the workplace to measure EVERYTHING (e.g. SMART goals, Management by Objectives, etc) and pushes back on the idea that everything must be quantifiable. He starts his post with the following quotation from Albert Einstein:

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Every non-profit professional in the world knows that our sector is under extreme pressure to conform to the trends that John references in his blog post. Here are just a few examples:

  • measuring community impact,
  • program outcomes measurement,
  • employee performance (e.g. management by objective), and
  • measuring donor loyalty.

Neither John nor I (or Einstein) are saying that we must fight this trend; however, there are things that are not measurable that must be considered and brought in the equation.

More concerning to me is the impact that this trend seemingly has on fundraising practices. Specifically, I’ve heard more and more fundraising professionals talking about program outcomes and how it can be used to demonstrate “return on investment”.

Speaking as a donor, I love hearing that my local Boys & Girls Club’s homework assistance program resulted in 75% of kids either maintaining or improving their grades. However, I really want to hear the personal stories about little Jack and Jane; Jose and Irma; or LaShaunda and Xavier. There is something inspirational in those stories. More importantly, it helps me understand the impact of that program.

I think the Center of NonProfit Excellence stated it best in their marketing for a 2010 training titled “Narrative Philanthropy: Stories that Result in Gifts”:

“But the pendulum may have swung as far as it can in the direction of statistics and outcomes. Accountability is crucial, but cannot account for the fact of why people give.  What explains the emotional impulse to give?  Stories. One good story is worth at least 10,000 measurable outcomes.”

If you get a chance, I encourage you to click here and read more about Jim Grote and his ideas around Narrative Philanthropy.

I also like what Norma Cameron said a few weeks ago in her blog post titled “The Power of Legacy Stories: A Daughter’s Love“. You should check out an awesome template that Norma created to gather legacy stories from your donors. A link to this tool is embedded in her blog post.

Circling back to John’s blog post — “How Much Do I Love Thee?” — he drives home his point by posing a simple question: “How much do you love your spouse?”  Of course, there is no way to answer this question in a quantifiable manner.

The same holds true for the non-profit version of this same question:

How much do your donors love your organization?

While you may be able to look at your donor database LYBUNT reports and review the results from a recent donor survey, I suspect none of this data will ever truly answer the critical question that I just posed. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that you stop trying to answer the question.

So, what should donor-centered fundraising professionals do???

I suggest picking up your phone, calling that donor, and inviting them out for a cup of coffee or lunch. When you are sitting across the table from them, do what Jim Grote suggests . . . tell them stories (and pepper in a little outcomes and impact data). Make them smile. Make them feel good about their last donation. Once you get to this point, you may want to take Norma Cameron’s suggestion and ask the donor about collaborating on the creation of their “legacy story”.

Yes, I know how busy many of you are. I am not suggesting this approach with all of your donors or the folks who buy raffle tickets to support your mission. Surely, you know who your most important donors are. Right? For small organizations, this might be a great project for your Top 5, 10, or 25 donors. For large organizations, the sky is the limit. This might even be a great cultivation/stewardship project in which fundraising volunteers can be trained and included.

I suspect this is can be woven into all organization’s Major Gifts and Planned Giving programs.

Where is your organization at with all this “measurement” stuff? What are you doing to adjust to the trend and ensure that you’re not over compensating? Are you having success aligning with United Way’s “Community Impact” model? Do you employ any of Jim Grote’s or Norma Cameron’s Narrative Philanthropy suggestions in your resource development program? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share a little bit of your experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC