Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Dr. Rita Kottasz of The Center For Sustainable Philanthropy at the University of Plymouth recently teamed up with Amy Eisenstein MPA, ACFRE and released a breakthrough research study last month. It focused on major gift fundraising for nonprofit organizations of $10 million and less of reported annual income, which comprises 95% of the registered charities in the United States. However, the research report findings can help any size organization with their major gift efforts.
This study was one of the only instances of analyzing nonprofits where the majority of the respondents were below one million in annual revenue. In fact, more than 50% of the participants fit into that grouping.
Therefore, these recommendations can work for vast majority of nonprofits engaged in fundraising. Without further ado, here are the ten suggestions named in the research brief and a few comments helping to clarify how to improve major gift fundraising results:
1) Donor Retention – Placing a focus on retaining donors via stronger cultivation yields markedly higher levels of return. A specific game plan for donor retention should be discussed, outlined and in place for daily usage.
2) Prospect Research – The study revealed a negative impact of focusing too much on new donor acquisition. Any pipeline or donor prospect portfolio should be evaluated with some aspect of prospect research tools. Those tools used should not only reveal the ability to give, but more importantly a past tradition of charitable giving.
3) Tenure – The individuals who stay longer at any nonprofit perform better raising greater sums of revenue. It is wise to develop a plan for retaining members of the fundraising team. The plan should foster higher levels of commitment to the fundraising profession and to your organization.
4) Training – The professionals who participate in proper training are simply put, much more successful. Every organization with fundraisers should invest in such training. The fear of investing in an individual then that person leaving is a truly shortsighted vision. The fear should actually be that individuals without proper training would stay and underperform!
5) Education – Formal education and certification opportunities appear to have the strongest relationship with fundraising success! Even though attendance at local conferences or viewing appropriate webinars can help a more rigorous and planned program of study or certification such as the CFRE should be utilized for greater fundraising results.
6) Donor-Centered Culture – Developing a donor centered culture and more importantly maintaining it long term are keys to major gift success. This may well be one of the harder recommendations to achieve because the study found low levels of donor centricity in most organizations. Building meaningful giving opportunities at all levels will increase donor-centricity for all sizes and types of organizations.
7) IT Systems – Having appropriate systems in place, particular those that the entire staff felt comfortable in using, contributes to a larger number of major gifts being secured. Proper database technology can enable better stewardship, a significant part of a few of the previous recommendations above. Such systems also protect against “institutional memory” regarding major donors being lost when any portion of the fundraising staff departs.
8) Volunteer Engagement – The study revealed low levels of volunteer engagement in relation to fundraising. Every size of nonprofit should search for ways to properly engage volunteers in this vital process. The research revealed how much of a factor volunteer participation plays in raising the trust and comfort levels of donors. Seeing and hearing their peers explain their commitment and passion for the organization raises trust for everyone involved.
9) Board Engagement – It is probably no surprise that the study revealed fairly low levels of board involvement. Seeing the success coming to the organizations in fundraising who maintain higher levels of board engagement should prove as testament enough for this to rise in importance. Educating boards on this direct relationship would seem to be quite worthwhile and well worth the effort!
10) Metrics – The focus on fundraising metrics of nearly any type was quite low in the respondent organizations. The major gift fundraising endeavor is longer term. This requires knowing other metrics besides just dollars raised to insure long term success in this game changing activity. Such metrics should also be part of the appraisal of the fundraising team members.
The above top ten recommendations are sound and proven to statistically lead to better major gift fundraising results. They will take time for some organizations to fully implement all ten. However, the process of moving to achieving all ten can be a wonderful journey of transformation for every nonprofit engaged in fundraising.
May your journey be exciting and transformational as you strive to achieve major gift funding success!
The preceding is a guest post by Jay Love, Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomerang, which helps nonprofit organizations to reach, engage, and retain the advocates they depend on to achieve their vision for a better world. A veteran of the nonprofit technology sector, Jay is a founding member of the AFP Business Member Council and chair of the AFP Ethics Committee.