Small Nonprofits Can Have a Major Gift Program, Too!
Being a small nonprofit is never an excuse to not have a major gift program.
Lately, I’ve been talking to a great number of executive directors and development directors from small nonprofits. Bottom line: Everyone is overworked and doing multiple jobs.
It’s not that I don’t have empathy. I really do. I’ve walked in your shoes. I was a development director for two small nonprofits over a course of eight years. I had a staff of just me with my first nonprofit and a staff of me and one other person in my other job.
I know what it’s like to be pulled in a million different ways and be expected to be good at all of them.
But in both of those experiences, I learned that I had to carve out time for major gifts. Why? Because that is where the net revenue came from. I remember very clearly how I came to realize this.
I was spending a ton of time writing, printing and actually stuffing envelopes to get a mailing out one day. My boss comes in and says:
“Why are you spending so much time of your week doing this kind of work when you should be out there talking to this donor and that donor that could bring in 10 times the amount that this mailing is going to bring in? Get a volunteer to get this mailing out.”
That hit me like a ton of bricks. Of course she was right. I was so down in the weeds of getting a mailing out, I didn’t step back to think about what would be a more effective use of my time.
From that day on I prioritized my work as a small shop development director. Here is how it broke down:
- Major gifts
- Planned gifts
- Direct response program (appeal letters, we didn’t have the Internet back then)
- Donor response (thanking, newsletters, etc.)
- Events (very limited)
I allocated about 40 percent of my time just on major gifts. That meant I used other people (and volunteers) to help me in all the other areas. But in major gifts, I implemented myself, along with managing my executive director.
The result was that I dramatically helped bring in more overall revenue (and thus net revenue) for the organization than previously—like about 50 percent more revenue!
When I started my second development director position, I implemented this immediately and saw the same results. So much so that the organization hired me an assistant, so I could spend even more time on major gift work. That investment of $30,000 at that time yielded an added $150,000 more in revenue than the previous year.
I remember this because I presented it to the board after the first year to prove that this investment was worth it.
So, if you are either an executive director or a development director of a small organization, here is what you can do immediately to focus more of your time on major gifts and start caring for your donors:
- Re-prioritize your work. Take the position that you are going to spend 30 to 40 percent of your time on major gifts.
- Set up systems (automated, volunteers, other staff) to take on your direct-response strategies. You remain the strategic person behind it; allow others to implement it.
- If you allocate 30 to 40 percent of your work to major gifts, then you can safely cultivate and steward around 50 major donors. That’s it.
- With that portfolio of 50 donors, you have to tier them A-C. This allows you to focus your major gift time correctly.
- Create goals and a yearlong strategic plan for every donor in your portfolio. This gives you a destination and the roadmap to get there. And quite frankly, it will be keep you sane and allow you to sleep at night.
- Get someone to hold you accountable. Whether it’s the executive director, a board member or your significant other, someone has to walk with you on this and keep you focused. Otherwise, I guarantee you, you will lose your way and allow the busy (ness) and the urgency drive what you do every day.
Look, before I re-prioritized my work, I didn’t think this was possible… until I actually did it. And as I’ve told you, it had a dramatic affect on our revenue. That one moment of clarity that my boss helped bring me changed the course of my career because I started working smarter.
You can’t use the excuse of not starting a major gift program because you’re just too busy. I can’t let you do that. It’s too important to your donors who are waiting for you to talk to them, and it’s too important for your organization that needs the net revenue to do more of the great things you do.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.