To be a major gifts fundraiser is to be like that iconic redheaded orphan, Annie. Tomorrow always looks better and it is only a day away. Just as we know the sun will come out tomorrow, you know that the gift will come…eventually. However, donors are much less predictable than the sun. They make decisions on timetables that work for them.
This can be frustrating. The missions of our nonprofits have needs that cannot wait until tomorrow. The following techniques and strategies can be used to help predict (but never guarantee) future gifts.
1. Create and Implement a Donor-Centered Communications Plan
You must create timely and personalized acknowledgement letters and consistent communications (e.g., newsletters, anecdotal updates, annual reports, etc.) that focus on the impact donors can have by investing in your mission. This ensures your current and prospective donors have your mission on their minds. As a result, major gifts fundraisers can better prioritize their contacts with prospects because they know they are all receiving quality soft touches. Lastly, it softens the entrée for our major gift fundraisers when they pick up the phone to schedule a meeting or make an ask. It gives them a hook: “I wanted to be sure you saw…”
2. Individual Fundraising Goals
Fundraising is a team sport. If you want to ensure our fundraisers are consistently driven towards output, you must have individual accountability. These goals should be supported by performance management systems needed to make the goals meaningful. Targets should be realistic, but each individual team member should understand how much money they are expected to raise and on what timeline. This prevents the natural tendency to convince yourself that a donor is not ready to be asked yet. As relationship managers, you want to take the long view and make the right ask at the right time, but your missions are vital and need funds now. You must be accountable for meeting those needs.
3. Maintain and Measure Donor Pipelines Against These Goals and Discount for Probability
Require your fundraisers to chart how they will achieve their goals and monitor the ever-changing nature of their pipeline’s value. You should discount pipelines for probability. This is not an exact science, but by weighting the value of the projected gifts, you project just how likely meeting your goal is. This ensures fundraisers are constantly identifying new prospects and adding them to the pipeline as decisions (favorable or not) are made. While the predictability of philanthropic revenue is difficult, a good rule of thumb is that by the end of the first quarter, each fundraisers’ pipeline should have a discounted value greater than the remaining funds needed to achieve their individual goal.
4. Measure Activity Within Their Pipeline
It is very easy to come to the office and be busy on meaningful work. However, no money is raised by the staff who stay in the office talking to each other. Set expectations for external contact (personal meetings, phone calls, emails, etc.) and then report publically on a monthly basis how each individual team member is doing against these expectations. Tracking this in a dashboard format allows you to quickly see how your staff is spending their time. It also communicates to your team that you value the external contact that will ultimately drive the financial outcomes you need. As well as the volume of contacts you should track the percentage of prospects within the pipeline that have been personally visited.
You will never be able to guarantee someone will make a gift or project exactly when they will make it. But by using these major gift best practices, you can start to know that the sun will indeed come out tomorrow -- and maybe even be able to say what time you expect it will rise.
The preceding is a guest post by Craig Shelley, Vice President of Orr Associates, Inc. As a member of the firm’s Management Team, Craig designs and leads client engagements that provide strategic and action-oriented fundraising services to help nonprofits improve their sustainability. Craig is responsible for achieving revenue results for clients, developing new business for the firm, and leading, training, and mentoring staff.