Keeping Major Gifts Up in a Down Economy
As nonprofits of every stripe delve into bigger and better campaigns, they rely more heavily on major gifts to meet their fundraising goals. Even in down economic times, organizations must keep their major-gifts campaigns healthy.
The key, no matter what the economy, is a simple return to basics.
Some points to remember:
1. KEEP UP YOUR ANNUAL FUND. Studies show that a vast majority of nonprofits with successful major-gifts programs also have strong annual-giving efforts. After all, major-gifts donors usually have a long history of annual giving before they move up.
2. DON’T OVERLOOK MID-LEVEL MAJOR GIFTS. Donors start to think of themselves as major givers when they’re writing checks for $500 to $1,000. It’s rare for donors to make the leap from substantial annual-fund gifts directly to the $5,000 or $10,000 level that many organizations now define as major gifts. So donors who feel they’re making sacrificial gifts often aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Single out your top-level annual-fund givers for special attention with volunteer opportunities and event invitations, and set your major-gift threshold at the point where experience shows that your donors need cultivation to move up to the next step.
3. DON’T PIGEONHOLE PROSPECTS AS MAJOR-GIFT DONORS. Some prospects, even those with substantial wealth, might not be comfortable writing big checks for immediate gifts. Major-gift donors are more likely to be conspicuous consumers, while fiscally conservative spenders are better prospects for planning giving. If all you ask for is major gifts, you’ll rule out valuable giving vehicles such as gift annuities, charitable remainder trusts and bequests.
4. BROADEN YOUR RESEARCH BEYOND WEALTH SCREENING. Beyond financial numbers, an analytical screening should uncover patterns of giving behavior that will separate major-gifts prospects from potential planned-giving donors. Donors who have repeatedly raised their giving level should be cultivated to move into the major-gift ranks; donors who maintain a consistent level well below their potential are more likely to respond to planned-giving opportunities.
5. DON’T FALL VICTIM TO ANALYSIS PARALYSIS. Research is powerful, and data collection is a science. But fundraising will always be an art, as well as an exercise in building personal relationships.
6. AFTER YOU LISTEN, RECORD WHAT YOU’VE HEARD. Future fundraisers must have access to all the information gathered by prospect researchers and major-gifts officers, especially since staff turnover is rampant in the development office. “Did you do your call reports?” should be a standard question in every staff evaluation.
7. TUNE UP YOUR COMMUNICATIONS. When the economy turns down, organizations tend to mail more solicitations. But rather than deluging possible supporters with solicitations, share your current progress and future plans with your prospects via newsletters, Web sites and e-mails. Talk about your efforts to contain costs and become better stewards of the gifts you receive.
Lawrence Henze is managing director of Blackbaud Analytics and can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. For more information, visit http://www.blackbaud.com.