Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE recently joined us for a webinar in which she highlighted the findings of a brand new research project on how small and mid-sized nonprofits can successfully raise major gifts.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript

Steven: Well, Amy, my watch just struck 1:00. Do you want to go ahead and get started officially?

Amy: Yeah, let’s get started.

Steven: All right, cool. Good afternoon everyone if you are on the East Coast, and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks so much for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, How to Raise Major Gifts the Right Way. My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of Marketing over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

I just want to say thanks to everyone for being here. I’m really excited. Happy New Year. I missed you all. It was weird to not have our Thursday webinars over the past holiday weeks. So glad to see you all back. This is a great way to get started. We’ve got a lot of great speakers planned for 2016 but we’re going to kick it off with a bang today.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we get started. I want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and we’re going to be sending out the slides and the recording to you later this afternoon. So if you have to leave early or if perhaps you want to review the content, you’ll be able to do that later on today. Just look for an email from me later on this afternoon.

As you’re listening today, please feel free to use the chat box right there on your webinar screen. I know a lot of you already have, but we do like for these presentations to be interactive so if you have a question or a comment, don’t be shy about that at all. Please send it our way and we’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A, so don’t sit on those hands. Don’t be shy at all.

As you’re listening today, please feel free to tweet along with us. I know a few of you usually do tweet these presentations. That makes me happy. You can follow along @BloomerangTech and #Bloomerang.

If you’re listening today, if you have any audio problems, just send me a chat. We’ll try to get you all connected. Usually the quality is a little bit better by phone. So if you’re listening by your computer and it’s a little choppy, try dialing in by phone. It’s usually a little bit better. The phone number is right there on the email from ReadyTalk.

Just in case this is your first webinar with us, welcome, we do these webinars just about every Thursday. But in addition to that, Bloomerang offers some really great donor management software. So if you’re interested in that, perhaps if you’re in the market for that some time soon, we’d love for you to learn more.

Check out our website. You can download a short video demo, a recorded demonstration. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson. Who want to do that, after all? So if you’re interested, please do check us out. We’d love for you to learn more about Bloomerang.

I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. One of my great friends, one of my favorite people in the non-profit sector for sure, Amy Eisenstein. Amy, how’s it going today?

Amy: It’s great, thank you, Steven. And the feelings, of course, are mutual. I’m thrilled to be here.

Steven: Yeah, I’m really glad for you to be here. I can’t believe that three years have gone by and you haven’t done a webinar for us. I feel bad that we didn’t extend the invitation earlier because we’ve got over 1,000 people ready to hear you speak.

Before you get started, I just want to brag on you a little bit just in case you guys don’t know Amy. She’s an author. She’s a speaker, a trainer and a consultant. She’s written a few books. Her books include Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops, Raising More with Less, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks.

She’s a frequent speaker. You may recognize her name from some conference agendas. Maybe you’ve seen her around lots of national and local conferences. She is an AFP Certified Master Trainer. She also has her advanced certification. That’s the ACFRE, which not a lot of people have so it’s kind of a big deal. She’s also the past president of the board at the New Jersey chapter of AFP, one of my favorite AFP chapters actually.

Amy, I’m just super excited for you to talk about your new major gift research so I’m going to pipe down and turn it over to you my friend. So why don’t you go ahead and get us started?

Amy: Great. Thank you so much, Steven. Thank you for having me and let me just see now, I’m having my own technical difficulties. How am I going to advance this slide? Why is it not working? Here we go. Okay. We’re ready now.

We’re going to be talking, as you mentioned, about this brand new research project that I did. I’ll talk a little bit more about it in a second but I just want to thank Steven again and Jay from Bloomerang, because without the two of them, this project would not have happened. We’ll talk about that in second but I just wanted to throw that out even before we got started.

Today is really about helping you raise major gifts in bigger and more effective, more efficient ways. We were so excited to be able to do this research project about it. Today is not about theory. It is about research results and how you can put these results to use at your organization when you are trying to raise major gifts. So let’s get going.

You may be feeling frustrated. You are not alone if you’re thinking about feeling this way in terms of raising major gifts. I work with small, mid-size, large non-profits and a lot of the development directors I work with are feeling frustrated when it comes to major gifts. That’s one of the reasons that we did this research project.

What I found is that so many development directors, especially in smaller shops feel like they’re on this treadmill, this hamster wheel of event planning and grant writing, chasing deadlines, and they really can’t get off. The way that I’ve seen, I’ve found to significantly grow your major gifts program, there’s no better way than when you start raising major gifts in big and important ways.

Let me give you a little bit of background before we get into the research. A few years ago, because I do work with so many smaller non-profits, I was seeing the frustration and the challenge that people were having raising major gifts, so I wanted to figure out how can we get more smaller non-profits into raising major gifts because that is really the way to significantly boost your annual fund. Certainly if you’re even considering a capital campaign, you have to be proficient at major gifts.

So I decided that on my blog I would do a one-year challenge called the “Major Gifts Challenge” where I challenge non-profits to start and grow their major gift program. Basically with every week I posted a blog post that talked about what are the next steps to raising major gifts and we took it step by step, week by week all year long. But the bottom line is that it’s a lot about how much time you’re investing in the process because major gifts is a long-term process. It was about sticking with it every week, in and out, week after week, all year.

As I’ve been thinking about major gifts and how do small non-profits raise major gifts, I asked the question of Dr. Adrian Sergeant, I said, “Do you think small and mid-size non-profits really can raise major gifts? Can they really raise them, and if so, how?” Fortunately for me and for you, Adrian Sergeant said, “Yes, I definitely want to help you answer that question.”

And for anybody who doesn’t know Adrian Sergeant, he’s probably the best known and most respected academic and researcher in the field of philanthropy. He’s written books and research and he does lots of research and he has his own center on philanthropy and he’s the best of the best. He said, “Yes, I want to help you answer this question,” and we launched a formal research project.

You may be wondering how we defined a small organization. Participating organizations in this research project included those with operating budgets of $10 million or less. That’s who we included when we were talking about small and mid-size non-profits in terms of how they raise major gifts and if they really can, and if they can, how are they doing it.

Just by a show of hands, you can raise your hand on the webinar, I’m just curious, how many people do we have on the line that have budgets of under a million dollars? I’ll give you just a second to raise your hands. I think we won’t go through all the categories but I’m just wondering how many really small organizations we have. Okay, we’ve got 65 so far. Another minute, we’re almost up to 100. Okay, we’re going over 100. All right. Good. Hands down, un-raise your hands.

We’ll skip the middle category and we’ll assume everybody else is in the middle, but raise your hands if your budgets are over $10 million, if you’re at an organization with a budget of over $10 million. We’re not doing a formal poll today. We’re just doing an impromptu kind of poll. All right, great. About 50, maybe a few more. Okay, great.

The research that we did today, I think it is applicable but one of the reasons that we really wanted to do this research is that we knew that most of the research that existed out there was focused on big organizations, organizations of over $10 million, universities primarily, big institutions where gifts were $1 million or more. That’s what is focused on so that’s why we wanted to take a look at some of these smaller and mid-size shops.

I just want to say thank you again to Bloomerang and DonorSearch. They were two of the key sponsors for this research project. They funded it. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. In addition to funding though, Bloomerang really took the lead in supporting this project. Again, a shout out to Jay and Steven from Bloomerang who did so much to make this project happen.

So how did we do the research? I’ll just say that I’m going to talk for about 10 or 15 minutes maybe on the research findings, what we found, how we did the research, and then we’re going to talk about how you can apply the findings to your organization and to your major gifts program.

So we’ll get started. We’re going to go through the research results. Some of you may think it’s interesting. Others may think it’s boring, but we’ll spend the last half or more of our time on what are you going to do with these results to make sure that you improve your major gift fundraising at your shop.

Anyways, really quickly, the study process, we did a complete literature review. We looked at existing literature and research that existed on raising major gifts. And as I started to say, what we found is that pretty much exclusively the research had focused on big institutions and big gifts, a minimum of a million dollars and more. So to our knowledge, this is the first of its kind study that looks at smaller organizations.

After the literature review, we did a series of interviews. We did more than 10 hours of interviewing experts in the field and development directors to find out what are the key issues that they know of and that they’re facing to make sure that we were focused on the right issues.

Finally, based on the literature view and the interviews, we put together an online survey and we had over 660 non-profits fill it out whose budgets were $10 million or less. To me, that is really outstanding. That is more than twice as many than we needed for a statistically valid survey, so we were thrilled with the response and it was quite an intricate and detailed survey and sort of, if I may say so, a pain in the neck to fill out.

The fact that so many people from small shops took time out of their day to complete this survey just tells me how needed this information is and how interested people are in the topic. So we were absolutely thrilled.

All right. So this who responded to the survey by budget size. You can see that more than half of the organizations that completed the questionnaire have budgets of $1 million or less, and the other half have budgets of over $1 million up to $10 million.

And by category, who they were, mostly human service agencies at 27-28%, educational institutions at almost 18%, then arts and culture and health and services at 10% each and on down from there. That’s who responded.

So what were our findings? Okay. Basically, first we looked at where are these organizations getting their money from, and to tell you the truth it wasn’t that different than what we expected or what the national average, the industry norm is.

The one thing that we were a little bit surprised and disappointed about was the bequests and planned giving that is significantly smaller than what the average is at closer to 10%. So what we’re taking away of course is that smaller non-profits need to do a better job at soliciting and cultivating bequests and planned giving.

So how did we define a major gift? If we’re going to talk about major gifts, obviously we need to talk about what is a major gift. To these organizations that responded, as you’ll see, the most frequent and common major gift amount is around $1,000 to $5,000, the average up to $25,000 taking into account some of the larger gifts from some of the larger organizations. But really, when we talk about major gifts at the majority of these organizations, we’re talking about $1,000, $5,000, $10,000, maybe $25,000.

We’ve got full-time employees employed in fundraising. They’re all staff members working on fundraising. So we’ve got approximately one person, and this does include the executive director at organizations under $1 million, two to three people at the medium sized organizations, and five or more at the bigger organizations. These are the number of organizations specifically employed to work on major gifts in terms of full-time equivalents.

Then we’re looking here at pipeline. So who is in the prospect pipeline at these organizations for major gifts. The first column we’re looking at the average cultivated for a first gift, and at the small organizations they’re cultivating about 14 people. At the bigger organizations, approximately 30. Then the average stewarded for a second or subsequent major gift at the smaller organizations approximately 17, the biggest ones 50. Very interesting, right? We’ll talk about that in just a few minutes and what that means and what you do with it.

Major gift fundraising performance, the total major gift revenue at the smaller organizations, $93,000, okay, approximately 10% of their budget, a little less perhaps. Or a little more, depending on how small they are, I guess. The average number of gifts is 25, so that shows us that we’re talking about these small gifts under $5,000. The gifts get bigger as you go up the organization, so it makes sense.

Training and education, we asked what opportunities were people taking advantage of or available or participating in. The most frequent kind of training and education that development directors are participating in is of course online training, what you’re doing today, webinars, and ad hoc or occasional training. Then it goes down from there. The most intensive forms of training, CFRE, ACFRE, FAHP or formal courses on fundraising at a local university are only 10% and 11%, respectively.

So really what most people are able to do is online training webinars and it goes down from there. That’s going to be really important when we talk about what to do, so keep that slide in mind.

Now let’s talk about our regression analysis. Regression is about how we can predict success. In other words, it shows a correlation between two things, such as training and education and major gift received, so just what I was talking about. What difference does it make whether people have training and education or does it make a difference in terms of how much they raise? That’s what we’re going to look at now.

We’re going to look at total income from major gifts for our first regression analysis. We’re going to look at training and education because we’ve got some really interesting results. We’re going to look at the number of pipeline prospects of first gift major donor prospects, and then number of prospects for a second or subsequent gift in terms of the total of what these organizations were able to raise.

The first regression we’re going to look at is training and education. Amazingly, what we found was that the more training opportunities that people participated in, the more they raised, significantly. The correlation was very strong and very close. For each additional training opportunity that a person participated in, it resulted in an additional $37,000 raised.

Let me say that again. It’s really important. What we found is that for every additional training opportunity that people participated in, they raised an additional $37,000.

Now think about what does your local conference cost you? What does even going to a national conference cost you, $2,000, $3,000 to go to a national conference? And the resulting major gift increase was $37,000. Totally worth it, right?

Now, obviously, it’s not the same amount for a webinar as it is for a CFRE or a diploma, a master’s degree level diploma. The correlation got stronger and the amount raised went up significantly. But there was still a correlation for number of webinars taken or conferences attended an increase in the bottom line of major gifts raised. So I think it says something that you’re all here today and what’s important, so I’m excited by that.

Now, this next result may not look so good the way it’s presented here on the screen. We are looking at the pipeline for first time gifts compared to dollar raised. The study found that for every additional new prospective major gift donor in your pipeline, your major gift income went down by $300. Now at first, that may seem like a real bad result. But when you think about it in terms of direct mail, direct response, we’re going to equate this to an acquisition mailing.

Everybody knows that in direct response, when you do an acquisition mailing, it is an investment in future fundraising. We’re going to look at this the same way so that when you have more first time major gift prospects, you may have to work a little longer, a little harder.

That being said, it’s also really cautionary that you can’t have too many major gift prospects for first time gifts in your pipeline because your income is going to go down. So you really need to pay attention to what’s in your pipeline, and we’ll talk about that.

But there’s really good news. For every additional subsequent major gift donor you have in your pipeline, income went up by $2,200. So for every second or third or fourth major gift that you were cultivating and soliciting, major gifts went up by $2,200, which is really, obviously, the numbers that we were hoping for and looking for, so that’s really exciting and we’ll get into more detail towards the end.

Now what we were talking about before was regression analysis with regard to total major gifts, the dollar. Now we’re going to look at the number of gifts with regard to tenure and information technology.

Great news, the longer . . . well, good news and bad news, right? For every additional year that a staff member is at their organization, they will raise an additional 6.5 major gifts. What we’ve known all along is that fundraising is about relationships. It’s right here. This is really important because the longer you’re at your organization, the more major gifts that you’re going to raise.

We found the same thing with good technology. The better the technology, the higher number of gifts the organization was able to secure, and we will talk about why in just a couple minutes.

All right, now quick, cultural readiness. There was a strong correlation between the attitudinal statements that we were asking for in the survey and major gift success. I really want you to think as we go through some of these questions quickly, ask yourself if your board and your staff members are actively engaged in major gift planning and is your organization ready to raise major gifts.

Here are some of the questions that we asked in the study. I’ll just read a couple of them. “How long have you been working in your current role?” That’s how we got the tenure question. “In our organization we have an inventory of major gift opportunities at each level,” do you? “I regularly liaise with my peers in other functions to discuss how we can work together to secure success in fundraising.” “The interests and aspirations of our donors is a topic regularly discussed by our senior management team and Board.” Really interesting questions.

This one we’re looking at the number of major gift receipts. “We have good IT systems in place.” “We have dedicated software to assist us in major gifts fundraising.” “In our organization donor stewardship is seen as everyone’s responsibility.” How true is that at your organization?

Okay, so that’s the research part. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the recommendations and probably what you’re more interested in in terms of how to apply the research results at your organization. What does it mean for you?

First we did some talking about pipeline before. One key outcome of the research . . . oh, first, let me just say about all the recommendations, I’m sorry, let me say this. Some of them you’re going to say, “Okay, Amy, those are obvious. Those we’re already doing and these are things that we already know.” I have to tell you that I am thrilled that some of them or so many of them are things that are already best practices in the field because if this research came out and said everything you’re doing is wrong, that would be a serious problem.

The reason that these recommendations are so important and this research, in my humble opinion, is so important is because it gives you a document and research to take to your board and take to your executive director and say, “Look, I’m not just blowing smoke about these things that we need to be doing to raise major gifts. Now there’s research to back it up.”

Some of the things will be new and will come as a surprise, but for the most part they won’t. The question is how seriously are you doing them at your organization and what will it take for you to really do them. That’s why these recommendations, to me, are so important.

Okay, so back to pipelines. Like I said, one of the key outcomes of the research was the importance of really paying attention to what’s in your major gift pipeline. I’m not sure how many organizations take this as seriously as they should. Obviously what goes into your pipeline impacts what comes out. They really need to be paying attention to who’s in your pipeline both in terms of new prospective donors and of course existing and repeat donors.

Sorry, I lost my train of thought for a second but really important to pay attention to who’s in your pipeline, right? But that leads us to prospect research as well as wealth screening. Because this is going to help you figure out who needs to be in your major gift pipeline.

Now, I have to admit that for awhile I didn’t think that it was essential for smaller non-profits to have their lists screened or prospects researched because mainly, honestly, because they were spending so little time and resources on major gifts that I didn’t think they were going to get the results they wanted so the investment wasn’t worth it.

But I really have done a full 180 on that. If you are serious about raising major gifts, you will need to invest in the proper tools and systems to succeed. Honestly, the prices have come down and the technology is so advanced that there really is no excuse if you’re going to try to raise major gifts, not to invest in the proper research and screening tools and technology.

In terms of pipeline, I want to just say that while acquisition is important in fundraising, retention is king. Your ability to get board and staff members to focus on existing donors will be key to your future success. If you have an executive director who constantly wants you to find new donors, you’ve got to show them this study because while we do want to acquire new donors, absolutely, you want to be building your pipeline, you need to have in your pipeline over and over again those donors who love you most.

The beauty of taking the time to build relationships, honestly, is that the eventual returns are excellent and typically $10 for every $1 of investment. But that’s if you’re paying attention to the right donors and making sure that retention is king. You know that if properly stewarded, major donors rarely make just one gift, and experience tells us that their first gift is rarely their largest. So you want to make sure and do this the best way you can.

Now I know that there is going to be people who say, “What are we going to do if there’s nobody in our database or we don’t have existing donors?” That’s when I say . . . or for acquisition, I say, “Okay, it’s time to go out to the circles that you already know and the relationships that you already have and this is an exercise that I do when I facilitate board retreats in helping board members figure out who they know and who they might bring to the organization.

So let’s move on from technology and from pipeline. Let’s talk about tenure for a minute. You saw the results and it really is crystal clear for every additional year that a development person stays in their job, they’ll raise an additional 6.5 gifts compounded year after year after year. Those who stay in their jobs longer raise more money, but as you know in our sector, turnover is a real challenge in our profession. The average tenure right now for development directors is under two years, and maybe significantly under two years.

We talk a lot about the importance of relationships and here’s more evidence that long-term relationships are important factors in major gift fundraising. So the question is what do we do about this? We need to ask ourselves how do we keep our development directors longer? It’s really going to be important for you and non-profits everywhere to create strategies and plans for keeping their fundraising personnel.

Here I’ve identified a few important issues in terms of keeping your development staff. Happy work environment, appropriate goals, salary, time off, flexible schedule, and of course professional development. What I would say to executive directors, and I will on my blog if you need to send your boss to my blog, if you have a great development director, you should do everything in your power to get them to stay, anything that you can.

Now, if you don’t have a great development director, that’s a different story. But if you have a development director that you love, you should be doing everything you can to get them to stay. All right. Enough about this.

Now I want to talk about staff time. I realize I didn’t show you the stats and the results from the research project but what we found, and it’s not going to be a big surprise to you, is that development staff at these smaller and even the mid-size organizations are spending shockingly little time devoted to raising major gifts. The smaller the organization is, the less time they were having their fundraising personnel focused on raising major gifts. No surprise.

I have to say I come back to the major gifts challenge. That’s why I started this three or four years ago because I just knew in my gut, and now this research project confirms that organizations are spending such little time on what could be bringing in the most money for them and we have to figure out a way for them to spend more time focused on raising major gifts.

I’m going to recommend a few things. One is a development team meeting. Now, you may be thinking, “Oh Amy, not another meeting,” but this meeting is different. It is just 10 minutes and it is the same two weekly agenda items every week. One, what did we do this week to raise major gifts and, two, what will we do next week to raise major gifts?

It is an accountability tool, honestly, to keep everybody on track and moving because if you have a grant deadline, if you have events coming up, it’s easy to backburner major gifts work because you’re not seeing the results right away, and it’s not the same kind of hair on fire thing that when your gala is that week. The question is how do you say, okay, I have to dedicate a few hours a week every week, no matter what, to raising major gifts in order to be successful.

Now, you may be thinking, “That’s nice, Amy. How are we going to keep this meeting to 10 minutes? All of our meetings last an hour at least.” This is what I say to that. Keep it short. Have a standup meeting. You can bring your coffee but you can’t sit down. All you do is answer those two questions and everyone in the office knows what did we do this week to raise major gifts and what follow-up needs to happen and who’s responsible and what will we do next week to raise major gifts and who’s responsible? That could be anything from calling a donor to scheduling a meeting.

Okay, now we’ve got this guy eating a frog. This is to remind me to tell you about a book by Brian Tracy called Eat That Frog! This is not the cover of the book but I like the picture anyways. If you haven’t heard of it, you may or may not want to check it out. But basically it’s an anti-procrastination book. It turns out that Mark Twain came up with this concept originally to talk about doing your worst task first and then the rest of your day will look great.

So if major gifts are your frog, how can you put them at the beginning of the week, first thing in your day, and in the major gift challenge, I talk about if you’re going to dedicate at least five hours a week to raising major gifts, hopefully significantly more.

But let’s start with a base of five hours, then is it every morning Monday through Friday from 9-10 a.m. you’re going to do your research, you’re going to make your calls, you’re going to schedule appointments, you’re going to send thank you notes, you’re going to work on your cultivation plans. Or is it major gifts Monday? All day Monday is dedicated to raising major gifts.

Now, that doesn’t mean in either of those scenarios that if a donor wants to meet on Thursday afternoon you’re going to say, “Oh, no, sorry. I’m working on major gifts on Monday.” Obviously that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about your behind the scenes office work. But if you leave it to Friday afternoon, guess what’s not going to happen?

All right. Great. Now the last thing I want to talk about in terms of time and staying focused on raising major gifts because, honestly, I think this is one of the most important key things that non-profits struggle with is just staying focused on it and dedicating time to raising major gifts. So I strongly recommend an accountability partner. This is really similar to your weekly development team. Okay, if I go back to my weekly development team meeting here for a second, some of you were thinking, “What development team?” or, “That’s not going to happen in my office,” or whatever the case may be.

Now, you can have a board member be part of your development team. Your executive director must be part of this development team. An administrative type of person who helps make appointments or sends thank you notes can be part of this team. But anyways, let’s go back to this accountability slide.

If you don’t have a weekly team meeting, I suggest you get a partner to say, “Okay, we’re going to have a 10-minute call each and every week to say, ‘What are you doing to raise major gifts this week? I’m going to hold you accountable next week and what are you going to do next week? And we’re going to check back in for 10 minutes.'” I have found that this really helps people stay on track.

Okay. Another thing that we didn’t, I guess, talk so much about in the research findings but was one of the key pieces of research . . . and by the way, if you want the full research results, and of course I’ll say this again at the end, on the bottom of every slide it says “MasteringMajorGifts.com\report.” Some of these recommendations I didn’t tell you all the details of the research project because we would’ve had to be here all day. But if you want an executive summary or the whole report, just go to MasteringMajorGifts.com\report and you’ll get all the results.

But one of the things that we found and, again, no surprise, is that board and volunteer engagement was horrifyingly low. So the question is how do we get board members and volunteers more engaged in the major gift process? Because another important component of major gift success we found is having engaged board members and volunteers. But for the most part, they’re not so engaged and so how do we get them more so?

My question to you is do you have boring board meetings? If so, if your board members look like this, if your board meetings look like this, why should they participate? Why should they be excited about your organization? How are you going to engage them and motivate them and value them for what they bring to the table?

One of my suggestions for today is to have ongoing training and discussions about fundraising. This is a very basic calendar for ongoing training and discussion. You’ll also want to have an annual retreat. How many people, instead of just having a fundraising report at your board meeting where either the development chair or the director of development reads what has happened in the last quarter. That is so boring. Send that out in advance, and the only thing you should do is ask for questions or discussion about that. There’s really no reason to read reports at your board meetings.

How you can engage your board members is have a discussion, have an interactive training every single time you have a board meeting, and certainly at your annual board retreat. So in January, you might have a discussion about who do you know, how can you bring them in? How can you engage them?

Now, I’m not really talking about asking for everybody in their rolodex because you’re going to get crickets. Nobody’s going to turn over their list to you. But really thinking strategically and I have some great tools and techniques and training exercises on my blog and I’ll be happy to share later about how you can have this discussion with your board members and not get crickets and actually get them to come up with some names.

In March maybe you’ll have a board retreat and you do a fundraising basics overview. The question is who’s going to do this? Are you going to have an outside facilitator do that? Do you have somebody internally who can do that for you?

May at your board meeting, maybe you have a discussion on planned gifts and bequests. Who has one, if they’re willing to share, either for your organization or any organization why might somebody leave a bequest or make a planned gift. I bet these are conversations you’ve never had with your board members.

How do we treat our donors? In July we can talk about are we treating our donors the way we’d want to be treated. What’s the best way an organization has ever treated one of them? Can they give some examples? You can try and plant some or ask for suggestions in advance, so they start to think about these things.

In September maybe you want to do an asking role play. Then November, gratitude strategies. These are just some really basic examples of how you can have discussions and ongoing about major gift fundraising at your organization to involve and engage your board members.

I think too often we assume that because our board members are professionals, maybe they’re in sales or maybe they’re in marketing, that we assume that they know what we need from them or that they understand what fundraising is. But the fact is most people are really uncomfortable fundraising and don’t know what we want from them, so we need to be very clear and specific. Training and ongoing discussions really do help.

I also talked about IT systems and technology. As the study shows, having IT systems in place really truly does help increase the number of gifts that you can track and manage, obviously. We know that having proper systems in place helps retain institutional memory in the event of staff turnover, which unfortunately is so frequent. A good database will help you organize your major gifts pipeline and stay on track with cultivation and solicitation.

It’s so important to think of a database and wealth screening and prospect research as an investment, not as an expense in terms of major gifts. One or two major gifts the size we were talking about, $1,000, $5,000, certainly $10,000 will cover all of that investment, one major gift. It’s shocking to me how many board members will say, “Oh, it’s too expensive. We can’t do that. It’s not in the budget.” I’m thinking, “Well, if you get three major gifts all year, one of them is going to cover it and the rest is gravy so how could you not invest in those types of things?”

Honestly, the good news is that today, in the age of cloud-based systems, you really don’t have to have so many IT staff as you did in the past because it’s all online and help is just a click away.

All right. Let’s talk about institutional readiness and organizational culture, which is something we really focused on in the research. The research showed that planning meaningful gift opportunities and donor engagement opportunities was really critical for success. So if you don’t have a culture of philanthropy at your organization, it’s really time to think about how to make some changes.

We started to talk about it in terms of board training. That’s the first step. But the question is how can you have interdepartment total cohesiveness? Gift opportunities really focus on donor centricity. We need to make sure that all of your departments are working together on major gifts and it’s really disappointing to me whenever I head that a finance office isn’t working with a development office.

I have to tell you, the other day I had an executive director tell me that the board won’t let his development director speak to their campaign consultant. So the development director is not allowed to speak to the campaign consultant. I was just like, “What? I don’t even understand what that means.” How could they not be getting their signals crossed? Where’s the trust?

Finally I’ll mention the importance of being donor-centric. That means that you think about doing things from the point of view of your donor, and we found that the larger the organizations were in the study, they were doing more things that were donor-centric. The $5-10 million organizations were more donor-centric, certainly, than the smaller organizations. It’s just something to think about.

All right, so metrics. As you know, of course, if you’re not measuring something, it’s hard to know where you are, where you’re failing, where you’re succeeding. The survey showed that most organizations are measuring short term goals, like dollars raised. But they’re not thinking about longer term metrics. Major gifts is a long-term process, so it’s going to be really important to consider both long and short term metrics.

I want you to start thinking about lifetime value of donors when you make decisions on fundraising investments. Even more granularly, more practically, I want you to think about checking in with your donors every year to see how they feel about you and the quality of your service and how engaged or involved they feel in the organization and the mission. Those are going to help you gauge your long-term value and lifetime value.

So you can do this a couple of ways. You can do a simple online survey, a scale of 1 to 10 how engaged they feel. It will help tell you how well you’re doing with cultivation and stewardship. But of course you also will want to sit down with your biggest donors and do it as a conversation because the higher value donors are going to feel appreciated about being asked.

You can ask them about what are their expectations and are they currently being met and what would they like to happen. Then discuss those results that you get back both from the conversations and your survey at your next board meeting.

The final recommendation that we’re going to talk about is the results of the training and education and the results were really crystal clear about the importance of pursuing additional training and education. I can’t say any more how excited I am about these results because I’m a big proponent of AFP and continuing education.

Of course I went on to get my ACFRE, which is the highest credential in fundraising, and I just think it’s so important that people continue to be lifelong learners and attend conferences and webinars and take courses. That’s all I’ll say about that, but the results are clear.

As I start to wrap up so we can get into 10 minutes of Q&A, I want to get back to the question that I started with, and that is, “Can small non-profits and mid-size non-profits really raise major gifts, and what does it take for them to be successful?” Honestly, I believe we’re just getting started in terms of major gifts fundraising at small non-profits. Although some organizations and staff members are doing well relative to their peers, the reality is the vast majority of small non-profits have nowhere to go but up.

But there’s good news. I think as a sector, as we get more sophisticated in terms of training and education, technology, board development, pipelines, and all of the critical factors we talked about, we will see more and more non-profit organizations raise major gifts in bigger and more impactful ways. I think you’re right to be listening in.

I hope that you take some of these recommendations to heart and apply them. I hope you will think about going to MasteringMajorGifts.com\report and getting all of the research results, but I’m going to turn it back over to Steven for questions and thank you so much for joining me today.

Steven: Thank you, Amy. That was awesome. Great to hear the research again. I was pretty familiar with it but it was cool to hear your comments on those data points for the first time. So thanks so much. Thanks for taking an hour out of your day to share all that with us.

We do have some questions so I’m just going to kind of pick out the ones I thought were interesting. I know a couple of them you probably answered as you went along, Amy. Amy, you mentioned donor centricity, being donor-centric. Beatrice here was wondering what are examples of that? What does that look like? Is that in gift acknowledgements? Is that in stewardship pieces? What does that look like in a real life use case?

Amy: Yeah, good question. When we talk about donor centricity, it’s talking about looking at the organization from the perspective of the donor. When you’re thinking about asking for a major gift, don’t think so much about what your organization needs, but think about what your donor needs. What are their philanthropic goals and what would make them so happy that they’re over the moon?

Hopefully the goal of major gift fundraising is to find a match, obviously, between organizational needs and donor needs or desires. What do they want their legacy to be? What do they want their mark to be in the world? If you can help them accomplish that, then you’re going to get the biggest gift possible.

To be more granular and specific even, when you’re writing thank you letters or appeal letters, talk about how they’ve helped, how their gift has helped, not just about what your organization does. Hopefully that’s helpful.

Steven: Yeah, absolutely. Amy, there was a question from Barry here and as soon as I saw it in the chat it immediately jumped out at me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since he asked it. This idea of the time gift and the pipeline for people who haven’t given or maybe have given once. Can you talk more about that and maybe why you think that is and kind of the idea behind cultivating a major gift from someone who has been giving for while and kind of has a connection to your cause already?

Amy: Yeah, so I think, if I understand the question correctly, when we talk about direct response or direct mail, we really know that as donors give more or give again, they tend to go up. As they give again and again year after year, they get more loyal to our organization and they’re much more likely to give more.

The same is true with a major gift. Just think about when you’re spending your own personal money. Are you going to make a huge investment the first time or are you going to sort of test the waters, make a small investment, see how the organization reacts, what they do to it, how they acknowledge it, if you know how your money was spent? And then they’ll consider investing more in your organization.

I wasn’t totally sure. Do you think I answered the question, Steven?

Steven: You did. You kind of read my brain a little bit in terms of what I was thinking as an answer as well.

Amy: Okay.

Steven: It’s about 1:55 so I’m probably going to do maybe one or two other questions. A couple people asked about the role of the volunteers, so I’m going to kind of condense maybe three or four questions into one. How can volunteers play a role in this? Would you include volunteers in those development meetings you suggested? And using the term “volunteer” more broadly, can board members be involved in this process? What do you think about those non-paid staff members helping out?

Amy: Yeah, so when I use the term “volunteer,” I’m definitely including board members. I have to say that every campaign that I’ve ever worked on, whether it’s capital or an annual campaign, the ones that are the most successful are those that have engaged, involved board members. They can leverage fundraising like nothing I’ve ever seen.

I would strongly encourage you to involve your board members and your most active and engaged volunteers in fundraising. Of course your non-board member volunteers, those that are helping with fundraising or that show an interest in helping with fundraising are prime candidates to be future board members. So it’s a great way to vet future board members is to have volunteers do some fundraising and see how they do, and then you’ll know if they’ll make great board members or not.

Steven: Makes sense. That’s a great idea. Amy, we’re about out of time so I thought I’d pull out one question that may be a good way to end, and it’s a question that’s repeated a couple times. For someone at a small shop, which I think is a majority of the people listening, maybe even organizations that don’t even have a full-time development person, how can people get started? What do you think is maybe the first two or three steps they should take to kind of get this kind of thing off the ground? What would you say to a small shop with pretty limited resources?

Amy: Yeah, so as long as the organization, I think, has one staff member, so even if it’s just the executive director who’s working on this, I think starting with a pipeline that you can manage, which I generally say is, for the smallest organizations maybe 10 prospects in your pipeline. For organizations that do have a development director who’s involved in everything, up to about 20 prospects.

But it’s really about saying, okay, every week, even if I’m spending one, two, three, four hours a week on this, even if it’s one, what am I going to do to move the process forward? I’m going to call and, first of all, I’m going to make my list. I’m going to figure out who are my best prospective donors, both repeat donors and maybe, if you have a list of 10, maybe 6 or 8 of your best donors and 2 or 3 new potential donors, and what am I going to do to research them? What am I going to do to cultivate them, to bring them closer to the organization?

And I’m going to make sure that come hell or high water, I’m going to ask them for a major gift this year within the next 12 months, because I think even the smallest organization can do that. Whether a major gift to your organization is $1,000 or $5,000 or $10,000, as long as it’s impactful and significantly bigger than the other gifts you’re getting, it’s worth spending your time on.

Steven: Makes sense. Great way to cap it off, Amy. We’re about out of time and I know we didn’t get to all the questions and I apologize to those people who did ask a question, but, Amy, I’m going to flash your contact info. Do you mind taking some questions offline?

Amy: Oh, sure, I’m happy for people to email me as well.

Steven: Awesome. I thought you might say yes. Yeah, please do that, and please do the report. I played a very, very minor role in the creation of this but I thoroughly enjoyed my involvement and it’s a really cool report, really interesting data. Please download it and print it out and spend some time with it because I think it’ll really do you some good, for sure.

Amy, thanks so much. This was really awesome to have you. Thanks for taking so much time and sharing all this great information with us.

Amy: Thanks, Steven, and thanks to you and Jay so much for making this whole project happen. It really wouldn’t have happened without the two of you, so thank you again.

Steven: Oh, we didn’t do too much. But it was fun. And thanks to all of you for taking an hour out of your day. I know it’s a busy time of year. You’re probably following up on all those end of year gifts, so thanks for being here. We’ve got a lot more resources on our website. You can check out our blog. We’ve got some cool downloadables. We’ve got our video podcast.

And of course we have our webinar series. You already know about that because you’re on a webinar right now. Every Thursday we’ve got them scheduled out already through June. We’ve got some really cool speakers lined up for 2016 for you.

One week from today, same time, 1 p.m. Eastern, we’re going to be talking about crowdfunding. So if you’re interested in crowdfunding, peer to peer fundraising, all that good stuff, if you don’t know what those words mean, you should definitely attend and find out. It’s going to be a great presentation. We’ve got some other ones listed right there on our webinar page, some other topics you may find interesting.

We would love to see you again. These webinars are always free, always educational and it would be awesome to have you back, so we’ll leave it at that. Thanks so much for being here today. Look for an email from me in about an hour or so. You’ll get the recording and the slides and all that good stuff. So we will hopefully see you again next week or sometime soon, so have a great rest of your day and a great weekend.

Major gift fundraising

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.
Kristen Hay