Real Fundraising

You’ve just been hired as (check off one): 

___Director of Development

___ Chief Development Officer

____Director of Major Gifts

Your charge is to increase funding from individuals and, perhaps, institutions such as foundations and corporations.  You’ve been set a pretty ambitious goal for your first year.  So what do you immediate begin to do?

If you responded “redo the collateral materials and/or strengthen the marketing” go back to looking for a job.  No one, and I do mean no one, has raised money off a brochure or because of clever marketing.  Without a doubt, to raise significant funds you must build relationships with your existing and potential donors.

And yet, what most development people do—at least in smaller nonprofits—is ensconce themselves firmly at their computers and spend precious time diddling with language and design of the tri-fold or newsletter.


Double sigh.

Perhaps, however, the marketing materials are actually just fine.  After all, the last three development directors spent their time fixing them.  So why are you now spending your time rewriting the annual appeal or looking at the menu for the upcoming gala?  Both of those things will be just fine without your meddling.  Perhaps you will need to provide oversight, but that’s different than spending your time doing stuff that really doesn’t bring in money.

Sure.  Feel free to go out and get new sponsors—especially at those higher levels. Or explain to the powers that be that, no, the direct mail will not be done in house.  Rather, you are going to spend some money to make more money and bring in new donors by using a really great direct response company.

As for you?  You are going to be spending your time combing through the donor database, meeting with board members and major donors, setting appointments with prospective larger donors.  And reaching out to those lapsed donors who used to give large or frequently but have fell off the radar (or you fell off theirs).  And you will be implementing an aggressive stewardship program.

As you look through your database, begin by building a profile of a major giver.  Look for loyal donors, even if their giving has been small. It may be small because no one has reached out to ask for more.

Consider those who have increased their giving over last year.  Look at the percentage increase not the actual amount.  If it is significant, put them on your list.

Go back and see who has given a big gift in the past, regardless of what their current giving is.

Bring that list to your meetings with board members.  Ask who they know and what they know.  You’ll be amazed.  Ask them for three new prospects and they will swear they know no one.  But as they review lists, you’ll discover that actually, they have a wide network of people they know or know about.

If you don’t have a research department, look on social media and Duck Duck Go (or Google;  I don’t use Google, but you can) them. There is usually lots of information out there and some of it can actually be useful.

From this, start creating your prospect list.

If you really are new, start with those who are currently active and reach out simply to introduce yourself.  In any case, your goal should be to create a list of 100 prospective donors.  If you are in charge of it all, this list may include corporations and foundations. Rank them as best you can.  Then, depending on what else is on your plate, identify the top 5, 10, or 25.  Develop initial cultivation plans and start trying to set appointments.  Some of the top prospects will fall off your list; others will be moved because timing right now isn’t right.  Anyone who comes off your current list should be replaced with another name, another company, or another foundation.

As you start going out for meetings, consider what you want to accomplish.  Wait—beyond just getting a gift.  Great fundraising happens because relationships between the donor and the organization have been developed.  The more people at the organization who are involved in this process, the stronger the tie.

So how do you build, or build on, a relationship?  In a recent article, ace interviewer Terry Gross (Fresh Air on NPR) said that her best interview question was:  Tell me about yourself.

Great advice that I suggest you follow.  Stop thinking about what you want to say.  Focus, instead, on what you need to hear and learn about.  Create a list of open-ended questions that will get you that information.  But don’t play 20 questions.  Part of the reason major gift cultivation takes a long time is that building a true relationship is a slow process.  If there are 10 things you really need to learn about this donor, it may take 5 visits over a period of 8 months to have those conversations.

Don’t misunderstand me. You ARE talking about their philanthropic interests in you at every meeting.  And you are also talking about the size of a potential gift.  In order to make sense of that gift size, you must also be talking about the impact they are hoping for from their philanthropy and helping them to develop the gift that will energize them and serve your organization’s mission.

As for those brochures? Sometimes they can punctuate a conversation or be used as a follow up tool.  But they are no replacement for a personal connection and by themselves they will not help you to reach your fundraising goal.





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