Conference Roundup: Major-Gift Fundraising for Anyone
Major-gifts fundraising is as much a mind-set as it is a set of strategies and techniques, says Marshall Ginn, principal and founder of Viriginia-based consultancy Capital Development Strategies. As such, it’s an attainable goal for nonprofits of all sizes.
“Many steps require little to no financial cost — just an investment of time,” Ginn said during the session “Holistic Approach to Major Gifts” at the 2008 Bridge Conference held last week in Washington, D.C.
When it comes to major-gifts fundraising, it’s important to remember that everyone in the organization should play a role, and that you don’t need to have a major-gifts officer to make it happen.
But fundraisers do need to stop approaching major giving like it’s just about getting donors to upgrade.
“Major gifts encompasses more than just the solicitations,” Ginn said. “It’s a way of interacting with your best donors and those you’d like to be your best donors.”
And it’s a way to bring donors “along a path that leads to lifelong giving” to your organization.
Though any organization can have a major-gifts program, there are some realities to be considered, Ginn said, adding, “Major gifts don’t happen by [themselves. They take] scheduling and discipline.”
An organization’s major-gifts schedule should look something like this, he explained: 18 to 24 months from first contact to gift; seven to eight contacts per donor; and one major gift for every three to four prospects. Small steps are key to getting a major-gifts program started, Ginn said, suggesting that organizations:
* get new donors thinking about larger gifts by sending out welcome packets that include client stories, “ways to give” sheets, a business card, a recent newsletter, and a small token like a bookmark, photo or postcard;
* designate someone to thank major donors by phone the day their checks arrive; and
* send thank-you letters within a week.
Ginn also urges organizations to host at least one major-donor event each year. And the donors should know that the celebration is specifically for them.
“Let them know it’s not an ask but a thank-you party,” he said, also advising organizations to never underestimate the power of the personal touch and to connect with major donors by sending them copies of interesting publications with a personal note.
“Remember, your organization is building a relationship with these folks,” he said.
One of the most important strategies, however, is to make every organization staff member a part of the effort. Development staff should invite non-development colleagues to major-gift solicitations, for example.
“Share the fun and responsibility,” Ginn said. “Have brown-bag lunches so development can teach (other staff members) about fundraising. Make sure you coach your colleagues before a visit or a call.”
Fundraisers also should circulate a list of their top donors with senior staff members and the receptionist, Ginn said, explaining, “The names of your highest donors should be familiar to your whole team. Imagine the impact if your donors got thanked by more than one person.”
He said every employee on staff should be able to do three things:
1. relay two or three facts about your organization;
2. relay two or three meaningful stories; and
3. link funding to what they do.
To make major-gifts strategies work, Ginn said, organizations must align staff through training and creating a culture where major-gifts development is important, as well as align budget priorities and fundraising goals to include major gifts.
“Major gifts are what you define them to be, and they can be a part of every successful fundraising program,” Ginn said.
Finally, he offered these quick dos and don’ts for closing a major-gift solicitation.
* summarize the conversation highlights and points of agreement;
* assume the commitment and then convince the prospect that he/she is making the right decision;
* time your close so that it is natural;
* tailor each close to a specific opportunity;
* close at the prospect’s pace, but avoid getting caught up by any potential stalling tactics;
* seek areas of agreement to launch the close;
* underscore emotions, as they are very important; and
* leave on an optimistic note.
* give up;
* argue with the prospect;
* be apologetic about your request;
* make promises you can’t keep; or
* knock other organizations or campaigns.