Jeff Schreifels, Senior Partner at Veritus Group, recently joined us for a webinar in which he outlined the ideal foundational tools for you to create your own major gift program.

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

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Jeff, my watch just struck 1 o’clock. Do you want to go ahead and get started with you?

Jeff: All right, yeah let’s do it.

Steven: Cool. Let’s do it. Good afternoon everyone if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s webinar: The 7 Pillars of a Successful Major Gift Program. My name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always. Thanks so much for being here.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin. I want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and I’ll be sending the recording as well as Jeff’s slides to you a little bit later on, just in case you didn’t get the slides earlier.

If you have to leave early or if you have to actually want to review the content later on, you’ll be able to do that but just look for an email from me later on this afternoon. As you’re listening today, please feel free to chat in any questions or comments to our guest. I’ll see those. Jeff will see those and we’re going to take some time at the end for Q&A.

So don’t be shy. Don’t sit down those hands. We’d like for it to be a little bit more interactive. We’d love to answer your questions live. You can follow along on Twitter today with #Bloomerang and our user name is @BloomerangTech, and if you are listening today by your computer, you have the option to also dial in by phone.

Usually the phone is a little bit better. So if you have any trouble listening via your computer, try dialing in by phone. There’s a phone number on the email from ReadyTalk. It’s usually a little bit better quality. That’s just a pro tip for you.

In case this is your first webinar with us, welcome. So glad you’re here. We’re excited for today’s presentation. We do do these webinars just about every Thursday, usually around 1:00 pm. In addition to that, Bloomerang is a donor management software company. We have some great donor management donor database software. If you’re interested in that or perhaps you’re going to be in the market for that some time soon. Check it out.

You can download a video demo. You can see the software in action. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. But we’d love for you to learn more if you want to know more about Bloomerang.

I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. Joining us from no longer snowy Philadelphia, Jeff Schreifels. Hey Jeff, how is it going?

Jeff: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Steven: Yeah, this is great for you to be here. You were on my podcast a few months ago and it was so great I decided to have you in for a presentation. Before you start, just in case you guys don’t know Jeff and you’ve got to know him. He is a great guy. He’s got over 27 years of experience in fundraising. He got his start at the Domain Group in Seattle which he was a senior strategist and he worked on a lot of the strategic plans and direct marketing campaigns for big groups just like Feeding America, Arthritis Foundation, the American Cancer Society, Salvation Army among others.

During the time there, he helped raise over $200 million for his clients over about a 12-year period. Since 2009, he has been working at a great company called Veritus Group. He’s got a partner in crime, Richard Perry. Great consultancy. You guys check out Veritus Group. They’ve got a really good blog. One of the best blogs in the sector in my opinion.

They’re a major gift consulting agency, which probably won’t surprise anyone since he is going to be talking about major gifts. He is a senior partner over there. He is in charge of client strategy for some other big names. He’s also got a new book out called “It’s Not Just About the Money.” He also blogs regularly. Overall, a great guy.

Jeff, I’m so excited for you to be here. I’m going to let you take it away and share with us your major gift with them. Take it away my friend.

Jeff: All right, thank you so much. I want to add to your little bio, Steven, just that I did actually work for two small non-profits when I first started in the business. So I understand what it’s like to be the only person in a non-profit doing fundraising, and I’ve had that experience and I did that for eight years before I went on to the agency side at the Domain Group back in Seattle.

So I do know what it’s like being the only guy that’s licking the envelopes and sending out fund appeals. But today I want to talk about the seven pillars of a major gift program and this will be fun.

Before we get into the seven pillars however, I want to set up the problem of what’s going on in our industry, which I think many of you will know, and where there’s the opportunity. Then talk about three operating principles that we all need to have in our head, in our heart, before we actually get into these seven pillars of what makes a successful major gift program. Then we’ll actually get into the seven pillars, and hopefully we’ll have time to be able to talk about some of your questions.

So the problem in our industry, as many of you know, is donor retention. We can’t seem to keep donors like we’d want to. We acquire them and very quickly they’re leaving us, and our job is to try to retain them of course. That is also happening on the major gift world and unfortunately, for many non-profits that could mean hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars lost every year because they’re not paying attention to their major donors.

This year, this little chart here is a benchmark of some of the organizations, 33 organizations that we’ve looked at, and just looked on over year-by-year, by cume level, $1,000 all the way to $10,000, looking at how much in year one, after they’ve been acquired and they’ve given that gift level, how many of them fall off the file, and it’s astounding.

It’s almost the same as you would find from a new donor or a repeat donor who is giving $25. So as I said, all the files that we’ve looked at, we’re finding a tremendous amount of attrition and it doesn’t have to be that way. Look at some more national numbers that you might . . . first one I’ll look at, well, who is actually giving? That’s one thing that you need to know.

So as you can see from this slide here, Boomers, those who were born right after the war, World War II, to 1964, those people are giving the most money right now. Why? Because they have the most to give. Their kids have already graduated from college, and then you also see the next to mature as those folks who are 75+ are still number two in giving, as a generation. Then you see Generation X, which I happen to be the first year of Generation X, 1965. They’re at 28.9, and then you see the Millennials down at 15.8.

Over the next five years, we’ll see a shift. The matures are going to be phasing out because they’ll be dying, and the Generation X, my generation, will be turning 55 in 5 years and have much more disposable income. This is where most of the major gift revenue is going to be coming from, those matures, Boomers and starting to see from Generation X.

We look at donor retention across the country. You can see that we’re at 43%, a median donor retention, and attrition then at 57%. That’s just across the country, across all levels of non-profits.

We looked at median gift retention is actually at 46% and attrition is at 54%. Then you look at retention over the past decade, in 2006 we were at about 50%, and 2014, we were at 43%, up from 2013. But this is still not good numbers and especially in major gifts, again, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars been lost every year.

For every 100 new and recovered donors, 102 were lost through attrition, and for every $100 a charity gained from new donors returning or increased their giving, we lost $92.

Now, this little slide here is from an actual client of ours that we looked at how their donors were performing year-over-year. If you look in year one at the bottom line, every donor that year, all those donors, there were 786 donors, gave over $8 million. The next year, those donors, those same donors, only gave $4.6 and then in the following year those same donors only gave $4.2 million.

So over time, we lost well over 45% of their value. So when we went to the client and looked at this, we said, “Well, who is this donor here that gave $72,000 and then in year two and three never gave again?” They all looked at each other and they said, “I have no idea who that donor is,” and that’s the problem. We find too many major gift files where people do not know their donors and don’t know what happened to them.

Okay, so I think I set up the problem here for you. Next I want to talk about three operating principles that all of us need to have before we really start a robust major gift program, and then one important thought that I want to leave you with.

Number one, treat donors as partners. They’re not just sources of cash. We hear a lot about this. Our donors, we need to be donor-centric. We need to be donor-focused, but we really do need to look at our donors as partners, and if we did, we would be first trying to create relationships with donors and not just going after them because of the money. I will say that going after the money doesn’t work. Going after the relationship is the way to go about it. The money will follow.

Secondly, donors have life and what I mean by this is donors don’t just give once a year or give to one project or do one pledge and that’s it. Donors, if they are really passionate about what you are doing and you have a need, they will give again and again if you ask. So that’s one thing I want to leave you with is that donors have life beyond just one gift per year.

Then the other principle I want you to realize is that money is a transfer of value. It’s a result. It’s not the objective. If our objective is money, we’re not going to get the result but if we really want to form that relationship, money will happen.

So if you remember in your history books, on the history of money, before there was actual paper money or coin money, how did we actually do trade with people? It was through barter and barter really was about transferring some value someone had. I had two pigs. I want four bushels of corn. I did this. This is what my value is and I will give you something of equal value. This is how donors feel when they’re giving over their money to your organization to do your mission well. They’re transferring their value over to you.

Now I want to leave you with one last thought. You see this great picture of this bridge? If anyone knows where this bridge is, I’d love to know because I want to walk on it someday, but as you’re sitting there in your office or wherever you are, I want you to physically put out both hands, your left and your right, and I want you to visualize that in your left hand is a donor that you know, and you’re taking that donor by their hand.

On your right hand is the need that you’re trying to be a part of, that your organization is meeting. Your job is to slowly, you’re bringing those things together. That’s your job. You are a bridge between a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. That’s what it’s all about and that’s what you do, and I think you have the greatest job in the world because how many people get to do that kind of work – bringing together a donor who wants to change the world and an incredible need that needs to change? I think that’s amazing thing.

So let that settle in your soul a little bit because now we’re going to go talk about the seven pillars of a major gift program. These pillars are what my business partner, Richard, and I have looked at over the years as these have to be part of every major gift program or you will not be successful.

We’ve audited, we’ve worked with hundreds of major gift programs over the years and these seven have to be part of it. It’s not the end all, be all, but these seven are the actual pillars that you need to have.

All right, number one, the first pillar is, we want to have the right caseload. Too many non-profits and their NGOs are not working with the right donors. In some cases, we see major gift officers or people working with major gifts, with 450 or 500 donors in their portfolio or caseload. It’s just way too much that it’s impossible to be able to cultivate and steward that many donors that well.

The right number of donors that one full-time person, full-time, can work on is roughly 150, and to get to that 150 you really have to start with about 450 people to get down to 150 because not everyone wants to be part of a major gift caseload. In other words, just because someone hits a dollar figure that you would say, “Hey, that’s a major donor,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a major donor.

They may not want to have a deeper relationship with you. We’ve got to find that out. That’s our job is to qualify these donors, okay. So you start with a caseload pool of 450. You get down to 150, and then from there we want to tier those donors A, B and C, and in this case you might have 25 donors who are in A, 50 in B and the rest in the C level, and that’s because your A level folks typically will give you about 40-50% of your total revenue of that portfolio and that’s where you’re going to spend your time, just to be honest.

You’ve got to be able to allocate your time well and by tiering your donor portfolio, that will help you focus on the right people and the right amount of time. So start with 450. You get down to 150 and from there you tier that A, B and C levels.

So you can see here in this slide, in this case we’ve got 21 A, 64 B, 65 Cs. You see how it breaks out revenue-wise and you could see 48% of the total revenue comes from the A-level donor. This is where you’re going to spend most of your time.

So you’ve got to have the right donor, have to have qualified donors, not just someone who hits a dollar figure. You can see over time what we’re trying to do is build the quality of that caseload, okay.

So in year one, in this case we’ve got 150 donors. Those 150 donors have a value of $1.4 million and over time we’re trying to build the value but also the quality of the donors so that by year four you can see 25 donors are bringing $600,000, and then you’ve got B level and C level with a total of $2.13 million. So over time we’re trying to build the total value but also quality of that caseload.

All right, so that’s pillar number one, you’ve got to talk to the right donors. Pillar number two, we’ve got to create goals, a revenue goal for every donor in your portfolio. Every donor has to have a revenue goal, and you might say, “Well how do I do that if I don’t know these donors?”

Well, you have a donor history, hopefully, of how they’ve given to you in the past, that’s one way to be able to do that is looking at how much have they given in their past and what do we know about their capacity, and then you start in that first year to make an educated guess.

Then year-after-year that goal setting becomes easier and easier. Now why do we do goals? We don’t do goals or a punishment system. Goals are meant so that you have something to attain to, as something to achieve. It also then is based on real numbers so it helps you in your budgeting. It helps your boss or manager or CEO to understand how you’re going to make your revenue.

So goals are really important and also you should know year-over-year, some donors your goal might be less one year for some circumstances. Maybe their business went bad. Maybe they got a windfall last year and this year they’re not going to. This is all about trying to know your donors and be able to create goals that are realistic. So number two is creating goals.

Number three, you need to then have a plan for every donor. So you’ve got a goal. The plan is, how am I going to achieve the goal? We want to see at least one touch per month for every donor, and just so you know, you can go on our website and I’ll tell you this later but you can go on our website and we have a white paper that tells you exactly how to do this step-by-step. So I won’t go on to all details, but I will tell you that everyone has to have a specific plan, touch points, reporting back, thanking and then when are we going to solicit that donor.

A strong plan includes knowing every passion and interest of the donor. We want to know their communication preferences, how does the donor like to be talked to, face-to-face, by the phone, email. They have their goals and then their frequent touches. So that’s included in every plan. We have to know that.

Here is a little slide that talks about how this actually works with moves management. So on the outside ring you’re identifying interest and passion and building the relationship with the donor. You’re identifying a problem and then you’re inviting the donor to address that problem, and then you’re asking.

Then you’re going to ask. You get the gift and then you’re thanking them and you’re telling them how those gifts made a difference, and then you see in the inside, at the same time that you’re doing those things, you’re also sending them a touch point that shows them why that means you made a difference. Are their gifts making a difference?

A touch point could be a thank you. It could be a special note, a handwritten note. It could be a phone call out of the blue that says, “Hey, I really thank you for your support. You’ve been a great donor.” It could be a survey that you send the donor. So you’re doing all of these things during the course of the year and at the same time you’re looking for areas for that donor to fund.

So this is what moves management looks like, both from the outer side and inside as far as the constant touch points and then identifying problems and then soliciting the donor.

Another part of planning for every donor is making sure you actually have fundable projects for the donor to give to. This is often a huge problem that we run into with major gift officers. We’ll sit around the table and they’ll say, “Well, this is great but we don’t really have any projects to bring to our donors to fund,” and I look around the room and I go, “You’ve got to be kidding me, of course you do.”

Once we peel things back, we realize yeah, actually we do have a lot of fundable projects. You’ve got a budget for what you do. Now what you do within that budget. What are all the projects and programs and let’s put a dollar figure to those so that we can actually bring those to donors at different dollar levels.

You have a $100,000 project, a $1 million project, a $5,000 project or even a thousand dollar project. It’s in your budget. It’s your job to help unpack that and figure out what are those projects and programs and how much do they cost, and it’s extremely important that you’re able to look at work with your program people so that you can work hand-in-glove with them to be able to identify those projects and programs and then be able to have dollar figures for them.

Included into those projects and programs, you have to have your overhead packaged in that. So that’s why you need to work with program people and the finance people so that overhead and the actual project costs are involved in that.

The three elements of a really good offer is, one, you have to have a compelling need, a believable solution of course, and then a donor adoption of that. Those are the three elements of a great offer. You probably need a believable solution and then donors who want to take that on.

All right, so that’s the first three pillars. Let’s take a question first. People ask what a why mat is that I’m looking at? A why mat is you’ve made a difference piece. So it’s reporting back to the donor, and we’ll talk about this in one of the other pillars, but a why mat is you made a difference.

Through the course of the year, I like for our clients to send three to four “You made a difference” pieces out there so that you’re reporting back on exactly what did those donors do, okay.

Let’s see if there’s another question out there. All right, I think that was one, goes big there. We’ll go on to the pillar number four. Okay, pillar number four is actually asking for support.

So to ask for support you, one, have to know the donor, and two, you have to make the ask. Now you would think, “Well, why is this actually a pillar? Isn’t this just obvious that you have to ask a donor?”

We put this in here because over the years, we have met dozens and dozens of major gift officers, CEOs and development directors who have actually never asked a donor for a gift. They’re in major gifts but they haven’t asked them for a direct gift, and you’re like, “How could they actually do that?”

What they’ve done is they’ve created a system of stewardship of thanking and doing all kinds of nice little things, sending gifts, but never actually sitting across the table, looking the donor in the eye and saying, “Would you consider a gift of for this project?” It’s amazing how many people who are working major gifts have never done that.

There’s all kinds of reasons we know. There’s all kinds of reasons why they’re not doing it but the absolute pillar for major gifts is that you have to be able to sit across the table or wherever you are, and look the donor in the eye and ask for that gift.

Donors want to be asked and we’ve got a whole lot of . . . we’ve got white papers on our website that talks about this whole process as well, exactly from how do you do it? How do you practice for it? Why donors want to be asked? Why you’re bringing joy to a donor, because you’re asking them to give a gift? There are so many good things out there about asking, but the point is, you have to be able to sit across the table and ask a donor for a gift, absolutely essential.

Here are some mistakes people commonly make about the ask. Number one, you don’t match the donor’s passion and interest with the project or program you’re asking them to manage. I knew this one major gift officer who told me the story where he was working at a hospital and they had this new project wing come up for this elder care part and they were building a new building.

All the major donor did was in his research was look up their top donors and he saw one of their top donors, got that information, called the donor and said, “Hey, we want to have a meeting with you.” Set up a meeting with the CEO of the hospital and they sat down with this donor and they did the whole thing like this great new wing for the elderly, here’s what it’s going to do and all of this, and the donor looked at them and said, “You know what, this is a great thing that you’re doing but my heart is with children and you know that, if you look back at everything I’ve done, all of my gifts have been for children and babies and that is what my passion is about.”

The CEO was totally embarrassed, the MGO did not do his homework. He just looked at how much they gave, didn’t really delve into all the things they gave to. So that’s a clear example of one person who did not match a donor’s passion but that is absolutely essential to get that right.

Another one is relationship of trust was not built. The donor has to be able to trust you. Not enough feedback given prior to giving. You haven’t really asked the donor to engage with you in the past. Ask. Now put into the context of a larger vision.

The donors want to be part of the big vision, especially a major donor. If you can’t put that ask or that project into the bigger vision of what you’re trying to do with the organization, the major donor may not want to get to something like that. The MGO gets more interested in getting the money than fulfilling the donor interest. That goes also to that story that I just talked about. He was really interested in getting any donor who could give big money, not necessarily thinking about what do the donors actually love to do.

Sometimes the ask can be too low. I’ve heard stories where we had a major gift officer go out and see a donor in San Francisco and they had a million dollar ask put in front of them, and the donor said, “Well, I love the project but until you have something bigger, I don’t want to even look at it. So come back to me with something in the $10-15 million range.”

So sometimes you’ll get that wrong as well, the ask can be too low. The MGO is not prepared to offer terms. So sometimes you want to ask for $500,000, the donor might say, “Well could I do that over three year or five years?” The ask is packaged too intellectually and philosophically and it doesn’t have emotion or passion.

Here’s the thing, a lot of people believe that, okay, $25 donors or $10 donors, you’ve got to have that emotion. You see the visuals. You look at a direct mail piece or something online. It’s very emotional and that once donors start giving bigger gifts, all of a sudden they don’t need the emotion. That is absolutely not true.

You need to, yes, have the budget there and the intellectual side of it but donors, no matter how much they’re giving, still giving out of their emotion and they want their hearts broken and they want to know that they can actually make a difference, and that’s an emotional thing. Never forget that. I don’t care how much you’re asking, there’s got to be emotion involved in that.

Then the final one is the MGO is not prepared to handle the objections of a donor. When you go into a donor meeting, you need to be prepared for if the donor says, “Well, what about this or what about that, or how come this or that?” and be prepared for every potential objection the donor might have. Many times the MGO is not prepared. They make the program’s so great, why would someone have a question about it? So those are some common mistakes about asking.

All right, number five. This is a big one. Thanking donors. Now you think, of course, you’ve got to think the donor, especially somebody who gives a large gift. Yes, and I think most of you probably thank your donor. They get a receipt or a letter that says, “Hey, thank you for that gift,” but what I’m saying is, have you thanked them appropriately?

Now I’ll just give you an example, that just happened to me the other day. I was talking to a development director who was basically saying, “Hey, over the holiday period we received 350 new donors.” I’m like, “That’s great.” Those 350 donors gave almost $400,000 dollars. I’m like, “Wow! That’s a great average gift from these donors,” and I said, “So how many have you called and thanked them personally, or how many of the CEO, how many of the donors have the CEO called?”

He was like, “Uh, none.” I’m like, “Let me stay with you on the phone call here.” I was with them. I said, “Go look in your donor database right now, those 350 donors, and do a quick donor pyramid. I want to know how they came out.”

So I stayed with him for like 10 minutes on the phone. He said, “Oh boy!” I’m like, “Tell me what it was.” He had two donors that gave over $10,000, a number of donors that gave $7,500, a ton of donors who gave $5,000 and then a bunch who gave $1,000.

I said, “These are all new donors and none of them got a call? None?” I said, “I want you right now to go and make sure every one of those donors get a phone call and a personal thanks from either you or the CEO because these donors made a huge gift to you.”

He had no idea. So obviously the organization had no protocol for that. The organizations we work with, especially on the major gifts, we want to make sure they have a protocol for these gifts. So what happens when a gift of $100 comes in? What happens when a gift of $1,000, or $5,000 or $10,000? Do you know what to do with them?

Donors expect to be thanked. What they don’t expect is beyond that, that special call, that special handwritten note. They don’t expect that. They do expect that thank you letter to have for the IRS stuff. So it’s no big deal to thank a donor anymore. It’s how are you going to thank them that is a big deal, that shows that you’re donor-centered or that you’re customer-focused.

All right, this one is a big one. Pillar number six, reporting back, and we talked about this when I went back to the you made a difference pieces and how we’re constantly trying to report back to the donor but specifically if a donor is giving to some project or program, not only do you want to report back on what’s happening in the organization, but you want to report back to that specific gift what they’re doing.

Now I’m going to tell you a story that happened a couple of years ago with an executive director that we were working with. He was very nice to tell me this story because it didn’t make him look very good. But one day, this executive director is out for breakfast with a donor and he is at this diner and as he is leaving, he saw another one of his donors there with somebody else.

So he walks over to that donor and says, “Hey, how are you? It’s been good. I haven’t seen you in a while,” and he kind of felt like this coolness from that donor. He comes and says, “Hey, George, is something wrong, something bothering you?” George, he felt like a little cheap-ist to talk about it right there but he said, “Well Bob, I gave you guys a pretty significant gift about six months ago. I never heard anything about it.”

He is like, “You did? Huh, I have no idea.” So that was the first problem. He said, “I’m going to go back to the office and find out about this.” So this organization is about a $5 million organization overall. So any gift of $1,000 or more is a big deal for this organization.

So Bob goes back to the office and said, “Hey, I was out for breakfast and I ran into George and George said he gave this really significant gift and he said he got a receipt but we never told him anything about his gift.” They’re looking back in the records and like, “Oh yeah, found it. Well, yeah, he did. He gave a $25,000 gift.” They’re like, “Oh my gosh!”

It was one of those things, they’re in a busy period, someone didn’t alert him that we’ve got this gift. They just received it and then they kind of just forgot about it. It got lost in the paper shuffle and so Bob was like, “Oh my goodness, this is not good.”

But being a good executive director, he obviously called George back and said, “George, I really need to apologize. We found that you gave a gift of $25,000 and we just lost it and I should have acknowledged that and we didn’t, and I’m very sorry. I feel really bad about this.”

The donor said, “You know what, Bob? I don’t want you to feel too bad about that because that time when I gave you $25,000 I also gave eight other organizations $25,000 at that time and only one organization came back to me and told me how that gift made a difference.” One, and it happened to be this little food pantry in West Virginia run by this one woman who was 80-years-old and she wrote him an eight-page handwritten letter on exactly what his $25,000 did.

So you know what, that donor did the next year? He gave all $200,000 to that food pantry. But that is just one story but I’ve heard so many other stories on organization gets the gift and they’re great. You get the gift and you process that gift and it’s in the bank in a nanosecond but how long does it take to thank and then report back how that gift made a difference?

It’s like once the money is in the bank, we forget about the donor. So it’s really absolutely essential. In fact, the number one reason why donors don’t gift to an organization for the second time is because they never heard back what happened to their gift the first time. So this is absolutely essential and a pillar of major gifts.

I want to look at, this is basically how it works. “You asked me to help and said it would make a difference.” This is what the donor is saying. “So I believed you and I gave what I could. You told me my gift did make a difference, so I want to help again, and then you made me aware,” and it’s the cycle where you make the donor aware of something. You ask. They give. You tell them how great it was or what it did, and then the problem is at this point, you can see that arrow pointing up, when they did give a gift and you didn’t tell them it would make a difference, if you didn’t tell them that they actually made the difference, they’ll go somewhere else, and that is key.

All right, we’re now at the last pillar but also a very important pillar, and that is you need to love accountability. If you’re working in major gifts and you have a portfolio of donors that you’re stewarding and cultivating, you have to accept accountability as part of the job.

For some people, that’s really difficult. In fact, with our clients, when we first work with clients, some of the major gift officers or the executive directors, they really put up a front not to want to be managed or held accountable or have someone on a weekly basis asking them if they actually did what they said they were going to do.

But in major gifts, it’s absolutely essential because you’re working a plan with 150 people and it’s very easy to get off track. It really is. Believe me, we know major gift officers, all of a sudden they get sucked into the annual gala and now they’re working in the gala, and that’s a lot more fun than actually working with your donors on a constant basis and they get sidetracked.

It’s absolutely essential to be able to take accountability and accept that and to work with that, and I’ll tell you, every client that we have worked with who first said, “Oh we don’t like this accountability thing,” over time they realized how amazing it is for them, that there’s someone there that’s giving them the structure and to basically say, “Hey, did you do what you said you were going to do?” and they keep on track because they see the results at the end of the day, and they know that someone’s there holding accountable not to be a punishment but someone to encourage them to keep going and to stay focused. It’s absolutely essential and it’s a huge thing of what we do at Veritus.

We have to be smart too. If you look at this chart, look at MGO number three there. In FY11, they were bringing in $701,000. Then they’re starting to build it. They’re almost at $800,000, and then look at FY13. They’re at $2.6 million and they’re like, “Hey,” and in fact this actually happened. This happened half way through the year.

The major gift officer was able to get a donor to get one $2 million gift. So it put him way over his goal. I mean, it made him look incredible and he is like, “Hey, I can kind of take it easy now. I don’t have to be so aggressive. I don’t have to work my plan as much.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me? You have all these other donors who are giving and need to give each year.” So, one gift can hide a whole bunch of problems. We look at this all the time.

So this is part of accountability. I want to look at these two scenarios here and this is how organizations can sometimes look at a major gift program and think everything is going fine. If you look at scenario number one, FY12 there, $15.5 million, almost $15.6 million came in major gift revenue.

The next year $18.8, 21% increase. So if you just looked at scenario one, you’d say, “Oh my gosh, this is great, 20% increase year-over-year, pop the champagne, right?”

But look at scenario two. This is what actually happened. So FY12 those donors gave $15.56 million. Those same donors only gave $7.7 million the next year. They lost 50% of their value. The only reason that program grew is because new donors who came into the program gave $11.1 million to help grow the overall program.

This is what we unlock when we look at donor files, this year-over-year attrition, and this is where new money can cover the loss of the old donors. What’s happening there in this scenario is that these donors are not being properly cultivated and stewarded and we lost a ton of money year-over-year.

So that was the seven pillars. We’re going to get to some questions. I want you to know about some of the resources we have available at Veritus. If you go on our website at, we have over 16 white papers that you can request for free. They talk everything about major gifts.

We have a book out and you can get it on Amazon, It’s Not Just About the Money. If you were to start a major gift program and if you’ve read that book, it tells you step-by-step exactly what to do. You can download a marketing impact chart and also learn about the program support portfolio, which is where we’re talking about how to give your programs into fundable projects.

Then finally, another resource that’s coming this spring is, because of so many different people wanting this, we’re going to start a major gift academy online. It’s going to be an eight-week program. You can sign up to get more information but it starts up in spring and we’re going to let you know along the way when it’s coming out, what the cost will be all of those kind of things.

So there’s all kinds of resource for you. We also have our blog. If you go to our website, there’s a blog tab. Sign up for that. We write three times a week on everything about major gifts. We’ve been going on for almost four years and people all around the world are reading that and we’re getting such great feedback from it, but it’s been really cool to be able to talk about major gifts in a different way and it’s been a lot of fun.

Now, I’d love to take some questions and maybe Steven will help me with some of this where we’re at some of the questions.

Steven: Yeah, I was thinking as I was listening, Jeff, we’ve done about a hundred of these webinars and I cannot remember more questions being asked. So this is great. Thanks so much everyone who has chimed in. You’ve got some people’s wheels turning for sure, Jeff, and I know we only have about 10 minutes. I don’t think we can get quite to all of the questions. We’re hanging out as long as we can but, Jeff, before we begin, it is safe to say you’ll take some questions via email or Twitter and all that good stuff?

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, email me. I will take your questions. We want to really try to give as much good information about major gifts out there as we can.

Steven: Now Jeff, we’ve got a number of people . . . yeah, there’s kind of a repeating question. I’m going to kind of lump a bunch of questions into one. A bunch of people say that they are either a one-person show or they’re just getting started, some new organizations, what advice would you have for those folks who are just kind of getting started and they can only rely on themselves to do all this stuff that you suggested?

Jeff: Sure. So first thing I would say is for sure you want to start a major gift program, even if you are the only person. Then you need to decide how much time you can allocate towards it. So let’s just say you can allocate 25% of your time. That’s great. At least you’re doing a start, even if it’s 10%.

But remember, when I said a full-time person can cultivate 150 people, so someone at 25% really is only going to be able to handle 40 people, 35 people, 10% of your time, you could only handle 15 people. So you’ve got to use that as your gauge but you can start it no matter what, but you have to allocate some of that time and then stick with that time and have someone hold you accountable to making sure you stay at that 10% or 25%. But you absolutely should be starting a program because this is where your net revenue is going to come from.

Steven: This one from Jody, Jeff. This came up when you were talking about case loads. Do you think that executive directors should have their own caseload?

Jeff: Yes, I do.

Steven: How much should fall to the ED? Yeah, what’s your thoughts on that?

Jeff: Yeah definitely. So most major donors, whether we like it or not, want to talk to the top person. They want to have some type of relationship with them, not all of them, but many do. What we typically do is, again, ask this CEO or the executive director, how much time are you going to allocate towards major gifts? And they say, “Well, I only have 25%,” and some people say, “I have 50%,” which is great but then we tailor that to some of the top 25 donors, let’s say. But then your job as the development director or major gift officer is to manage the day-to-day part of that for that executive director.

So in other words, you’re essentially the assistant, that you’re managing up to the executive director saying, “Okay, you’re sitting on every week with that executive director. Here are the moves we need to make with each of these donors. Here’s the phone calls you’ve got to make. Here’s the phone number. Here’s what you need to talk about,” and then you’re setting up meetings with them face-to-face and then you’re saying, “Okay, you’re going to have lunch with this donor. Here are the points that you want to make. Here’s the solicitation that you will ask.”

All those kind of things. You’re helping tee it up for the executive director to actually make those asks but it’s very important that your executive director has their own small caseload of donors that they’re working on.

Steven: Makes sense. Kathy here is wondering how does direct mail play into this? I know you’ve spoken at the direct marketing association events. What role does direct mail play, if any?

Jeff: Yeah. Well, I would say this, if you’re currently cultivating major donors with direct mail, you should continue to keep doing that along with what you’re starting to do on personal one-to-one type marketing techniques.

The big mistake a lot of non-profits do is, oh, they hit a dollar figure, they’re now a major gift donor and we’re going to take them out of the mail because that’s what we give our $25 donors. That’s a huge mistake and some organizations, I’ve seen them lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because they took them out of the mail stream too early.

The only way we would advocate not mailing to them if you’re already currently marketing to them that way, is if you have a total one-to-one relationship with them where the only way they now are going to give is when you sit across the table and you ask for that gift. Until that relationship is built to that level, I would continue mailing to them.

A lot of major gift donors, not only do they give when you ask them that face-to-face solicitation but they will give through a letter or a newsletter. It’s amazing and we don’t want to lose that opportunity.

Steven: What about board members? A lot of people have asked about getting their board members involved, maybe even soliciting gifts from their board members. What role do you see those folks playing in this process?

Jeff: Yeah. Well, I’m a strong advocate that board members take an active role in major gift solicitation. But they’ve got to be at a place where they’re comfortable doing that and that they realize it’s a good thing. A lot of times we see development directors having to strong arm board members into doing major gift solicitation and that’s just not good. You don’t want to have to do that.

We really want to work, and many times you can use the board to at least bring the potential donor to the table and then allow you to do the solicitation or the CEO to do the solicitation. But a board member has to be able to feel comfortable doing major gifts.

Then if they are, I would hold that board member accountable just like your CEO. So in other words, if you have a board member who loves to cultivate donors and ask donors for gifts, give them a caseload, 5 or 10 people, but manage it the same way you would your CEO and hold the board member accountable.

A lot of times board members are like, “Oh yeah, I’ll take 10 people,” and then they may never do anything. Your job is to make sure that they do, and the board member needs to know right upfront that you are going to manage them and they’ve got to feel comfortable with that. It’s really important.

Steven: Jeff, we’ve had some people ask about in-person visits, going out and meeting people where they are, going to get coffee at mutual locations and Michael just asked about inviting people to your actual space to learn more about you. What’s the best thing to do there? How do you approach those in-person visits? Do you want to do that for all of your prospects, your entire caseload or pick and choose?

Jeff: I think you let your donors tell you basically. You over time will know what is best for your donor. I always think trying to get your donor to where you are and see the need is one of the best things you can do because if your donor can see the need first hand and you can break their hearts, that’s just gold. Donors want that and they’re seeing your mission work first hand. So to be able to invite them to work what you’re doing every day, that’s amazing.

But some donors don’t want to do that. Some donors, they would rather meet for coffee at a neutral place. It’s whatever the donor wants to do. Some donors would love to have you over at their home. I know some MGOs who every year, in February, go to Florida because a lot of their donors are in Florida and the donors invite them to their vacation homes. So they do a whole trip down to Florida and visit 5 to 10 of their donors down there. Why? Because that’s where the donors want to talk to them and so that’s where you go.

Steven: Well, Jeff, we’ve talked a lot about soliciting the gift and cultivating the gift and maybe a good way to end it, since we’re running out of time is thanking donors. Have you seen any creative ways that donors have been thanked, maybe some of your clients or just things that you’ve observed? How do you acknowledge these gifts – throw a party, name a building after people? What are some creative ways?

Jeff: Yeah. There’s been those kind of things. A lot of donors don’t want that bigger recognition. Some do. That’s a motivation. That’s another way of do you really know your donor. But you know what’s interesting, about a year ago or so, I saw this thing on movie Mondays, and by the way, if anyone’s out there, Google it if you don’t get that every Monday get a new video in your inbox about fundraising.

Jeff: Yeah, but in one of those, they actually asked three major donors, what was the best thank you, you’ve ever gotten and it was so simple. All three of them had the same answer at once. It was a personal note. Someone took the time and wrote a handwritten thank you and put it in an envelope, licked it, put a stamp on it and put it in the mail and they got a very heartfelt handwritten note from a donor.

Each of them said the same thing. It was so simple. It wasn’t some big recognition or anything. It was a handwritten note. I cannot tell you in today’s world, how important handwritten notes are for donors. Think about it yourself. You get in a mailbox, what’s the first thing you would open? Something that’s hand addressed to you.

You know, because today, it’s like all the direct mail and all the other flyers you get, to get a handwritten note is something very special today. Don’t forget the power of that.

Steven: I love it. Maybe we’ll end it there. Jeff, we’re just about hitting 2 o’clock. I don’t want to have people to keep them with too much longer especially they haven’t eaten lunch but I’m flashing out your contact information here. We didn’t get through nearly all of the questions I know.

Jeff: Yeah, you definitely can and I’d love to talk and talk more. I love talking about major gifts. It’s so much fun. I could do this for two more hours just sitting here. Yeah. Maybe we’ll do this again and then we’ll have other, do more, do a question and answer session.

Steven: We have to have you back. Yeah this was great and I do want to encourage people to reach out to Jeff for sure. Stay tuned. You’ll get an email from me a little later on this afternoon with the slides and the recording. So look for that later on from me. You’ll be able to share all these great resources, relive it if you want to watch it again. We’ve got a lot of great resources on our website as well.

We, of course, have our video podcast, our daily blog. We have some great analyticals. It’s got a new e-book we released just yesterday. You can check out. We’re going to keep this webinar series rolling one week from today, February 4th, same time 1:00 pm Eastern.

We’ve got Leah Eustace joining us. She kind of talks about behaviorial economics. It’s going to be a pretty cool conversation, something that I don’t think anyone has ever seen before. It’s totally new, pretty interesting topic, way of looking at fundraising. Leak is one of my favorite Canadians. Don’t miss it. It’s going to be a good one. One week from today.

We’ve got some other great webinars scheduled throughout the rest of the year actually. We’ve got some ones you can register for coming up in the next couple of months, so you may see a topic that’s interesting to you. We’d love to see you again. Please be registered. They’re totally free, totally educational. I’d love to talk to you again next week.

So Jeff, final thank you. This was really great. Really loved having you on. Thank you my friend.

Jeff: Yeah, it was lot of fun. Thank you so much, Steven, for having me. I appreciate it.

Steven: Thanks to all of you for taking an hour throughout your day. You’ll get a little survey when we close at the webinar. Please do share your thoughts. We’d love to hear your feedback. You won’t hurt my feelings but I’ll think you’ll hurt Jeff’s for sure. So that is what we thought and hopefully we will see you again soon. So have a great rest of your day and a great weekend. We’ll talk to you again soon.

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.