Jim Eskin Says, “Commit to Major Gifts Success in 2021” is a fundraising veteran’s take on what we all need to be doing in 2021. Here’s what Eskin has to share:
If they haven’t already done so, this is a good time for non-profit staff and board members to come together to map out their plans to develop more resources as efficiently as possible to advance their noble missions in 2021. There are many different ways to raise money and they all can yield meaningful results. But dollar for dollar and hour for hour invested, you can’t beat the returns of a major gifts initiative.
The term major gift means something different at every organization. Typically, it needs to have the potential to have a significant impact on the organization. Each board and staff can determine the amount that best describes major gifts for their non-profit. While many larger organizations use a higher standard, $10,000 is a common descriptor, recognizing about 88% of non-profits spend less than $500,000 per year. Note that the same best practices can be used for obtaining gifts at all levels.
Putting together a major gift initiative doesn’t have to be ominous or burdensome. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. The chief requirement is the time commitment made by non-profit leaders to initiate, nurture and sustain personal relationships that culminate in lifetime friendships and gifts.
There’s a tendency for smaller non-profits to view major gift programs out of their reach. That’s a serious mistake. Since modest gifts can have more immediate and dramatic impact and smaller non-profits can give donors and prospects more personal attention, they can be more strategically positioned to achieve dynamic results from these programs.
We strongly recommend targeting gifts from individuals since they account for nearly 70% of American philanthropy’s $450 billion. When we add bequests and gifts from family foundations, this share rises to a whopping 87%.
I like organizing major gift initiatives around the four distinct parts of the gift cycle:
Discovery: What are donor/prospect’s values, priorities and interests?
Cultivation: What are we doing to forge a personal and emotional bond?
Solicitation: When, how much, and for what are we asking?
Stewardship: What are we doing to thank donors for the last gift?
Discovery — The process begins with the identification of those most likely to give. Who should you consider approaching for support? To identify these donors, you can use what I call the “CIA Prospect Identification System”: C= capacity I=Inclination A=access.
Capacity: This is what usually comes to mind first when you start searching for prospects. It identifies someone’s financial ability to make a gift, driven by their income and wealth. Over and over, I see non-profit ears perk up when hearing that so-and-so has a lot of money. Of course, there can be several significant nuances to this information, such as liquidity, financial commitments, and other pressures. Too much emphasis can be placed on internal and external wealth indicating a hot prospect. Just because someone is wealthy doesn’t mean they’re going to give to your organization or cause.
Inclination: This is where you start to dig deeper and understand motivations. If the donor prospect is wealthy, do you know if he or she is philanthropic and has demonstrated this by donating to charitable causes? And, if that person is philanthropic, why do you believe he or she will care about your cause? The philanthropic landscape is incredibly competitive with about 1.3 million non-profits in the U.S. You should have some clear rationale to conclude that a donor prospect has a genuine connection to the cause or could be cultivated to develop such an interest.
Access: Even if you can establish capacity and inclination, the final — and biggest challenge — is figuring out how you’re going to be able to get to the donor prospect. The bigger the donor, the tougher the challenge usually is.
This is where board members, volunteers and friends of the organization can and should play a huge role. By serving as connectors and breaking the ice, board members and volunteers can contribute mightily to resource development success without ever actually asking for a gift. The “six degrees of separation” theory reminds us that everyone on the planet is separated by no more than six personal relationships. (In some communities, it’s more like two degrees of separation.) Think about it. You and members of your organization are no more than six relationships away from any donor prospect in the world. The collective reach of personal and professional networks is enormous.
Cultivation — Clearing the path to “yes.”
Think of the process that culminates in a gift as a continuum that begins with “hello, nice to meet you” and concludes with “thank-you for your gift of $10,000 (or whatever the amount is).” The stage must be properly set. Experts note that about 90 percent of our work precedes the solicitation.
If in real estate, it’s location, location, location, in fundraising — especially major gift work — it’s cultivation, cultivation, cultivation. Cultivation is about forging a personal and emotional bond.
So, our work isn’t that complicated. It’s to grow an appreciation of the mission our organization serves. More specifically, conveying what needs our organization address that aren’t being addressed by any other organization.
Cultivation can take a variety of forms. The initial activities need to discover interests, values and priorities. As the relationship develops, it’s fitting that we introduce prospects to our organization’s leadership, get them on-site so they see our facilities and programs close-up, and see for themselves how we touch and improve lives.
A simple cultivation plan should be developed outlining steps that will introduce the donor prospect to the mission so when he/she is asked for the gift, the answer will be favorable and at the level requested. The larger the amount being requested, the more time that needs to be committed to cultivation.
Methodically, we need to connect with the heart and head and find a genuine fit with the prospect. Fundraising demands the talents of asking the right questions and being an active listener. Ask probing questions and listen closely, and the donor will tell us when, how much and for what to ask for.
Solicitation — Ensuring that “the ask” is an enjoyable experience for all involved.
If the Discovery and Cultivation phases have been done properly, the time is ready to ask for the gift.
Many board members might be uncomfortable asking for the gift. That shouldn’t be an impediment. Other board members and especially staff can step up and handle that task. It is important that the board member or volunteer who has the relationship with the prospect be present for the solicitation.
Note that fancy printed material doesn’t influence major gift donors to say “yes.” In fact, handing out the proposal should be delayed until the request has been made.
So, what does make the difference? The passion of the solicitor. Appeals must be first-class, but success hinges much more on the ability to secure appointments, then making the best possible use of that time.
Stewardship — The right and smart thing to do.
Stewardship is an extension of cultivation, coming after the gift has been received. Thanking donors for their gifts is both the right and smart thing to do. It’s a proven way to get donors to do what we want them to do next — give again, give again sooner, and give more.
A smart guide is The Rule of 7X: Every gift must be acknowledged and thanked seven distinct times during the year. This might take different forms — a letter, a phone call, a private lunch, a public event involving many donors, an article in a publication, a story on the website, and so on.
The goal is a life-long relationship that draws donor prospects closer and closer to our organization, the mission, the staff, board and volunteers, and beneficiaries of their gifts.
For as long as we can remember, face-to-face meetings have been the gold standard in fundraising, especially when pursuing major gifts. The fundraising environment was turned upside down in 2020 by the realities of COVID-19 and social distancing. Fortunately, we discovered that virtual fundraising such as videoconferencing can work in the discovery, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of donors and donor prospects. Virtual fundraising has even demonstrated concrete results in securing leadership gifts of seven- and eight-figures. Hopefully, with the advent of the nation being vaccinated, social distancing requirements can be relaxed and face-to-face interaction can be restored. But whether it’s in person, virtual, or a hybrid approach, major gifts initiatives will produce exciting results for the non-profits that embrace proven principles, strategies and best practices.
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Jim Eskin Says, “Commit to Major Gifts Success in 2021” was first posted at Development Systems International
Jim Eskin Says, “Commit to Major Gifts Success in 2021” was written by Jim Eskin whose leadership roles span more than 30 years in fundraising, public affairs and communications in the San Antonio area. During his career, he established records for gifts from individuals at three South Texas institutions of higher learning. He enjoys training non-profit boards on fundraising best practices and overcoming the fear of asking for gifts. His consulting practice Eskin Fundraising Training builds on the success of his fundraising workshops and webinars and provides the training, coaching and support services that non-profits need to compete for and secure private gifts. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers and business journals across the country, and publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy. Sign up here for a free subscription. He is author of 10 Simple Fundraising Lessons, which can be purchased here.