Unless you are running a national or international charity with a huge and highly sophisticated direct marketing program, chances are your major gifts program offers you the most leverage for fundraising success. But high-performance major gifts fundraising requires processes that are highly effective and eliminate wasted effort. Here are a few basic steps:
- Manage your organization’s mix. You need a complete pyramid of fundraising strategies and methods for long-term success, but maximizing your major gifts program will most significantly increase your ROI. A mark of a high-performing operation is a revenue mix of about 80% major gifts, which in number make up about 20% of total gifts.
- Don’t waste your MGOs’ time. Maybe the most oft-violated Lean principle in fundraising is to only use high-cost, scarce resources to do high-value work. Qualified, experienced major gift officers are truly a scarce resource, and usually among the highest-paid in the fundraising organization. The opportunity cost of policies, practices or processes (or lack thereof) that involve them in numerous activities other than donor-facing meetings is enormous.
- Consolidate portfolios and pipelines. Major gift fundraisers — like surgeons, fighter pilots and the iconic American “cowboy” — tend not to be natural team players, but will respond to ways their work can be structured to make them more successful. The traditional 100- to 150-person or family portfolio not only encourages a “my prospect” and “my donor” mindset, it spreads your MGOs’ attentions across a wide spectrum of situations, relationship objectives and activities. Lean principles that translate into focused portfolios and one centrally-managed pipeline enable wholesale gains in productivity.
- Define your processes for relationship development from first introduction through gift agreement and into stewardship. In Lean lingo this is called mapping your value stream. Essentially, you block out on paper all the key steps involved in the major gift process. Then go back and identify all the activities that take place between the key steps. Pinpoint the steps and activities that do not bring actual value in the process. Can any of these be eliminated? Automated? Reassigned?
- Shorten the solicitation process. This equates to the Lean Six Sigma concept of cutting waste and shortening cycle time, with a “cycle” being the time from the beginning to the end of a process. In a typical fundraising operation, a development officer might have a portfolio of 100-150 prospects, and the time from identification to solicitation and gift acquisition could take 18 months — or even up to three or more years. If you intensify the relationship-development process — which, among other things, involves reducing the size of the MGO prospect portfolio to around 30 good, active candidates — you can shorten the cycle time to less than a year, increasing throughput and raising more money.
- Develop stage-gate criteria to ensure that development officers spend time on the most likely prospects. Stages are the various phases in a process, and the gates are review points between each stage, where tough decisions are made about proceeding, reworking or stopping. If each gate has specific criteria, you can clearly assess when all criteria have been met — and only then move to the next stage. For each prospect, you move through specified stages and gates before reaching the “ask” — at which point, the prospect is well-primed, and asking is only a formality.
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