By donorsearch

The Nimble Nonprofit: A Full Circle Strategy For Mission Growth

This blog was adapted from the recent Flash Class by NeonCRM and Nonprofit Garden, partners of DonorSearch. One of the more frustrating situations that can occur when rolling out a major campaign is having different departments articulate different messages to donors. The marketing team may be focusing on highlighting stories about a specific program while your major gift officers are reaching out and telling a story around an unrelated capital campaign. Being able to create a cohesive end to end campaign is the key to success to long term growth and sustainability, since it ensures not only are all stakeholders working towards a common goal but also utilizing the same messaging to create a powerful unified conversation with your donors. Yet how does one go about creating a full circle strategy that envelopes all stakeholders? Let’s take the time and present a few key strategies when it comes to operating as a nimble nonprofit. As a starting point, we’ll tackle traditional fundraising, web design, and social media coordination to create a cohesive campaign for any size organization.

Why is this important?

Across the industry, we are seeing donor retention rates plummet. 80% of gifts are lost between the first and second gifts and overall retention has dropped to as low as 28% in 2017. Donors are making it known that nonprofits can no longer take them for granted, with some studies citing that 53% of lapsed donors cite poor communication as the primary reason they no longer support an organization’s mission. The answer to retention is to focus on better messaging that is centered on the donor, not the organization. Yet where does an organization start in order to tackle this problem?

How to organize your resources

Many nonprofits miss some critical steps when preparing for either an annual campaign or a major expansion of services that need to be funded through donations. There needs to be a solid foundation that is established before any revenue initiative is started and there’s six steps that we have identified on where to begin:
  • Set the foundation – review last year’s campaigns and use that data to set a benchmark
  • Create an action plan – identify key team members, budgets, and timelines that need to be involved through the entire campaign, not just the beginning and end
  • Put it into focus – create a donor focused theme that ties all messaging together
  • Know your audience – segment your lists, with giving data being used as a starting point
  • Craft the ask – dust off those mail merge skills and make it personal
  • Follow through – it isn’t just about obtaining the gift but about long term relationship building

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By donorsearch

3 Steps to Securing Major Gifts Sponsorship

Most people in the fundraising or nonprofit space are aware of the importance of major gifts. While these are not always the easiest to identify and secure, major gifts can be some of the most impactful donations to your organization each year. Like major gifts from your donors, sponsorship dollars donated for fundraising events can result in rapid growth for your event and can make a major difference in the amount that your fundraiser donates – and thus, the success of your event. Although major gifts and sponsorship for fundraising events are different in many ways, making both a part of your overall donation mix will result in a balanced “portfolio” and healthy fund for your nonprofit. Additionally, your success in securing either (or both) forms of these donations will vastly improve if you implement an effective process and strategy. In this post, we are going to walk you through strategies you can use to identify and secure major gifts and fundraising event sponsorship. You’ll see that the strategies have many similarities!

Step One: Identification

Whether you are focusing on major gifts or fundraising event sponsorship, your first step will be to identify potential targets who will be willing to donate to your cause or nonprofit. Identification is a crucial step in the process and will ultimately set you and your team up for success in pursuing either major gifts or fundraiser sponsorship.

Major Gifts

When considering major gifts, your identification process will be focused on your current donor base. Your current donors are a great place to start because they have previously shown interest in your nonprofit. In addition, you will already have some data on these donors as they have contributed to your organization in the past. To begin your opportunity identification process, we would suggest looking at two different factors:
  1. Donation Size – Those donors who have already contributed substantially to your organization are great candidates for major gifts as they may have the means and passion to support your cause. While looking at specific donor histories, look for donation patterns – has the donor’s contribution increased year over year? If so, you may be onto something!
  2. Donation Frequency – While donation size is a great sign to use to find potential major gift donors, so too is donation frequency. Looking at your list of donors, you should have the capability to see how often your donors are contributing to your nonprofit. Those donors who have come back time and time again to support you are showing both their loyalty and passion for your cause, and that makes them perfect potential candidates for major gift-giving!

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By donorsearch

Major Gift Fundraising: 13 Expert Tips (Nonprofit Tech Carnival)

jQuery(window).on("hashchange", function () { window.scrollTo(window.scrollX, window.scrollY - 155); }); This month’s Fundraising Strategies & Nonprofit Tech Carnival is all about one thing: major gifts. At DonorSearch, we’ve written extensively about major gift fundraising and the various elements that go into the entire process, from prospect identification all the way through to post-gift stewardship and ongoing retention.  But, you can never learn too much about the major gift process; it is just that important. As we explain in our guide on the topic:

Studies have shown that, on average, over 88% of all funds come from just 12% of donors. That 12% constitutes the donations from your major gift contributors. Given their respective impact on your fundraising total, it’s clear to see why having a robust major giving program should be a priority.

So, we put out a call to the community of nonprofit experts looking for the best advice we could find to help nonprofits of all shapes and sizes improve their major gift efforts. And here’s what you had to say! Following the lead of the preceding carnival host, we’ve divided the contributions into categories to help direct you to the advice that is most relevant to your needs. Click on the links below to jump straight to the major gift tips and strategies you’re looking for: Scroll down to read about all of the included resources. (And don’t forget to subscribe to the carnival newsletter to find out how you can get involved!)

General Major Gift Fundraising Best Practices and Strategies

1. Major Gifts: 12+ Actionable (And Effective Strategies)

We’ve already linked to and quoted this guide earlier in the article, but for those who skipped right to the resource list, this guide explores major giving inside and out. It starts with the basics, moves on to how you can start a program yourself, and finishes with advice for improving your efforts. Click here to check out the DonorSearch resource on major gifts.

2. Nonprofit Fundraising: The Ultimate Guide

This Double the Donation resource features comprehensive coverage of the entire practice of fundraising, and it has a helpful section that highlights major giving. A particularly salient segment offers a great piece of advice for major-gift-seeking nonprofits:

Practice your pitch. You never want to go into a major gift meeting unprepared. In order to have the greatest success, you’ll need to practice your pitch and the different scenarios that could play out during the meeting.

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By DonorSearch

Turning Events Attendees and Volunteers into Major Donors: 8 Strategies

// In the first place, planning and pulling off a successful fundraising event is challenging for all nonprofits, regardless of size or status. But for those nonprofits who are looking to procure major gifts from their event attendees and volunteers, the process can be even more involved. That’s precisely why we’ve compiled 8 of the top strategies for identifying prospects and cultivating major gifts from your event attendees. If you’re curious about the specific tactics we’ll be exploring, you can go ahead and check out this short table of contents: #1. Segment Your Donor Database #2. Use Mobile to Collect New Data #3. Employ Fundraising Software #4. Conduct Prospect Research #5. Determine Giving Levels #6. Make the Ask! #7. Acknowledge Every Donor #8. Don’t Forget Donation Receipts

#1. Segment Your Donor Database

A critical piece of the major gift puzzle is having a clean and organized donor database. What this means for your organization depends on the current state of your existing database. If you’ve recently updated your contacts and segmented your database, then no need to worry. A database doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be functional and helpful. That being said, if you haven’t updated your contacts in a while, now may be the time to look into renewing your database. The process is actually quite simple. There are three primary steps:
  1. Segment your donors by giving frequency.
  2. Further segment them by average gift size.
  3. Identify prospects who have given consistently for 3 years or more.
Now that we’ve identified those three steps, let’s take a deeper dive into how to accomplish each one:

#1. Segment your donors by giving frequency.

The first step in cleaning your donor database is to sort your donors out by giving frequency. The more frequently a volunteer or event attendee has given, the more likely they are to give major gifts in the future. Feel free to eliminate donors who haven’t given in over 2 years.

#2. Further segment donors by average gift size.

Once you’ve narrowed your database down to your most frequent and involved contributors, you can start sorting by gift size. When you’re on the lookout for major gift donors, the greater the contribution, the better. Sort out smaller contributions, but don’t eliminate them from your database entirely.

#3. Identify prospects who have given for 3 years or longer.

Major gift donors will be most likely to have given over a longer period of time. Organize your database accordingly. Look for donors who have given for at least 3 years, as these prospects will be the most probable major gift candidates. Again, you won’t want to eliminate those who’ve given for fewer than 3 years, but for the purposes of this exercise, you can push them aside. With a fresh, squeaky clean donor database, your organization will have a clearer idea of the prospects you’ll need to focus your efforts on. Takeaway: You can narrow your organization’s list of major gift prospects by narrowing your candidate pool in 3 easy steps.

#2. Use Mobile to Collect New Data

Speaking of databases, did you know that mobile giving provides nonprofits with easily exportable data? It’s true! With industry-leading mobile fundraising technology, your nonprofit has access to a bevy of donor information, such as:
  • Name,
  • Phone number,
  • Address,
  • Email,
  • Donation amount,
  • Time of donation,
  • Donation frequency,
  • Donation type,
  • And more!
And it’s all automatically captured each time that a donor gives through one of your mobile giving avenues, from text-to-give to mobile email and more. How does this help you with converting volunteers and event attendees into major donors? It’s quite simple. Because it’s so easy to do, mobile giving increases the number of contributors to your nonprofit. Donors can give in just a few steps. Plus, there are many providers that offer other features that make the process even more intuitive. For instance, some providers have incorporated different forms of account verification so that no password is required for donors to access their accounts to donate. Essentially, donors can use their emails to verify their gifts when they give via text message, a mobile-friendly donation page, etc. Passwordless authentication helps make the donation process more seamless and secure, thus encouraging more of your volunteers and event attendees to contribute. Organizations can easily promote mobile giving at fundraising events and gain useful information on guests and volunteers. As a result, you can put that captured data to use by performing prospect research to whittle your list down to the top candidates. You may be thinking, “But don’t mobile donors typically only donate a few dollars?” True. The average text-to-give donation is $107, BUT that doesn’t mean that a donor who gave on the go wouldn’t be amenable to giving more. You just might be surprised to find out that your smaller gift donors are actually capable of so much more. Takeaway: Your nonprofit can use mobile fundraising technology to gather more data about your event participants to find out who among them is a possible major gift donor.

#3. Employ Fundraising Software

Fundraising software can help your nonprofit accomplish all sorts of goals, including (but certainly not limited to):
  • Learning more about your volunteers and donors.
  • Targeting major gift donors through their preferred communication channels.
  • Making donation processing easier, so donors can give however they’d like.
  • Tracking donor interactions to sharpen your nonprofit’s strategy.
  • Retaining contributors through expedient correspondence.
Of course, each organization will use fundraising software differently (and will likely use different types of fundraising software). Some organizations will choose to employ peer-to-peer fundraising software, which is perfect for widening your nonprofit’s reach and engaging with your donors on a meaningful level. Still, others will take a vested interest in online advocacy software. And just about every nonprofit should be using some kind of constituent management software. As we mentioned earlier, a clean and organized donor database is your organization’s best friend. When you’re looking to convert volunteers and event attendees into major gift donors, it’s vital to utilize fundraising software to the fullest. Make sure that you’ve explored all of the capabilities of your platform. You just might stumble upon a new way to target and engage with your volunteers and event participants in a way that encourages larger contributions. By inviting your volunteers to join a peer-to-peer campaign, you’re giving them another way to support your cause that doesn’t involve donating money. Since volunteers donate time to your cause already, donating more time to reach out to their peers and solicit donations isn’t a stretch. Additionally, you can encourage volunteers to participate by connecting your fundraiser to their interests and hobbies. You can use your donor database to learn more about your donors and what strengths they can bring to your peer-to-peer campaign. For instance, you might have a volunteer that writes a cooking blog. That volunteer might be the perfect person to spread the words about your fundraiser through her blog. Her blog comes plenty of viewers that might be interested in supporting a cause that she is passionate about. But if you don’t update your CRM to include that info or keep a record of your volunteers, you won’t know what they can bring to the table. Because, let’s be honest, your organization may have dozens of potential major gift prospects. What will convince those potential prospects that you’re worth investing in? Investing in them and knowing what makes them tick. To learn more about fundraising software and how it can take your nonprofit to the next level, check out this excellent guide: Takeaway: You can use all sorts of fundraising software to learn more about your volunteers and event attendees in order to better identify and target major gift donors.

#4. Conduct Prospect Research

Few tasks will give your organization more insight into its volunteers and event attendees than prospect research. A major gift donor, ripe and ready to contribute to your capital campaign, might be hiding right under your nose. Or, more likely, sitting in the center aisle at your last benefit concert. They have the passion for your cause, the wealth to spare, and they’ve given to other organizations in your field. By every measure, they are an ideal candidate to give a major gift to your nonprofit. But you would never know any of that unless you’d conducted a screening on your benefit concert’s attendees. That one participant might have remained nameless and gone on to contribute millions to the nonprofit next door. Don’t let that happen to your organization. Don’t lose out to another nonprofit whose staff has taken the time and care to screen their event attendees. If you do take this route and decide to conduct screenings, make sure that you’re looking at both factors that determine a solid major gift candidate: philanthropic indicators and wealth markers. Some examples of philanthropic indicators include:
  • Previous donations to your nonprofit.
  • Donations to other nonprofits.
  • Personal information, like volunteering habits.
  • Nonprofit involvement, like board membership.
Examples of typical wealth markers:
  • Real estate ownership.
  • Business affiliations.
  • Political giving.
  • SEC transactions (stock holdings and such).
Alone, these factors don’t mean much. But when you fit them all together, the puzzle becomes less puzzling, and you have a complete picture of a major gift donor–all from a little information you gleaned during a brief interaction! Takeaway: Conducting prospect research is a surefire way to discern who among your volunteers is an actual major gift candidate.

#5. Determine Giving Levels

Giving levels across your donors will naturally vary, from extremely substantial gifts to everyday contributions. But when you’re after major gifts in particular, you want to be sure that the giving levels that you’re seeking are within reason. To be fair, “major” will mean different things to every organization. Some nonprofits consider anything over $2,000 dollars to be a major gift. Others only count anything in the $100,000 and above range. Before you can move on, you must first decide, definitively, what a major gift looks like for your organization. It’s entirely possible you already know. But in case you don’t, make deciding what constitutes a major gift a priority. All of that being said, the true focus of this strategy is determining giving levels for potential major gift donors. Prospect research is one of the best ways to determine these levels. Within prospect research, you’ll be conducting wealth screenings, and those screenings will be able to give your organization greater insight into a volunteer’s capacity to donate. For instance, if you find out that a volunteer or event attendee owns over $2 million in real estate, you’ll know that they are 17 times more likely than their peers to donate a major gift. Combined with other factors, this knowledge can help you figure out just how much to ask for. You don’t want to make the mistake of asking for too much, thereby scaring off or offending a potential contributor. Then again, you don’t want to make the opposite mistake of asking for too little and missing out on thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars that your organization could use to help your cause. The key is to find that sweet spot: right where your potential donors feel comfortable, but where they’re also giving everything they’re capable of. Takeaway: Several factors go into determining how much to ask for when seeking a major gift. Make sure you’ve done your homework before you make the ask.

#6. Make the Ask!

Now that you’ve (hopefully) done your homework, you’re ready to make the all-important ask. Whether or not it’s your designated major gift officer doing the actual asking, the key to making this step of the process go as smoothly as possible is to be as prepared as you can be. The donor database cleaning, mobile donor info gathering, and prospect screening that you’ve done will have brought you to this point. And if you’ve followed these strategies to the letter, you should have absolutely no problem making the ask when the time comes. At this point, you’ve made the initial connection with your prospects; they’ve attended one of your nonprofit’s events, or they’ve spent their time volunteering with you. You’ve broken the ice. After the ice has been broken, you’ll need to warm that prospect up a little more. You can’t dive right into the ask. Because you’ll be asking for such a large sum, you’ll want to be as personal as possible with your cultivation approach. Court your potential donors in a way that makes them feel valued and important. There’s no set formula for cultivating and stewarding a major gift donor. You’ll have to try it out on a case-by-case basis to determine what works best for you. Over time, you’ll learn to streamline the process. You’ll discover what works well and what’s a waste of effort. Ultimately, the moment of truth will be when you make the ask. You can make it in person or over the phone. It’s entirely dependent on what you feel is appropriate for the situation. Although, truth be told, most major gifts should not be asked for over the phone. Regardless of the medium, you’ll want to go into your direct ask with a well-rehearsed script and a good sense of improvisation. Be prepared for any eventuality and know exactly how much you’re looking to walk away with. Takeaway: Making the ask is the most difficult part of any major gift strategy, but it’s made easier when you have a plan and you’ve done your due diligence.

#7. Acknowledge Every Donor

Not every prospect will end up being a major gift donor. And that’s okay. Even if you put in the effort and the time and the resources, some people just won’t be receptive to donating a large amount of money. But that doesn’t mean you’ve lost. It doesn’t even mean that you should give up on that prospect as a potential donor. They might not feel comfortable contributing that much at the moment. But maybe, beneath that cold “No” is a “Maybe next year.” That’s why it’s important to: A) Have a backup plan, and B) Acknowledge anyway. When a donor rejects your direct ask, it can be tempting to give up on them completely. It’s understandable. But in order to be successful in the long run, you can’t relent. Fall back on your backup plan. Ask your donors to get involved in other ways. If they’ve volunteered with you, provide them with more, unique opportunities to give back (that aren’t monetary). Seeing that you’re not solely after their money should convince them that you truly care. And getting more in-touch with the day-to-day work that you do for your cause will show them how instrumental their donations could be. Even if they still don’t end up giving, it’s important to acknowledge and thank them regardless. Their time is important, and they’ve given it freely to your organization. Plus, you never know when they might change their mind. Thank them in any case, just in case. Takeaway: Whether or not your major gift prospect ends up donating, it’s important to thank them, acknowledge their other contributions, and have a backup plan for encouraging future considerations.

#8. Don’t Forget Donation Receipts

In every instance where money is exchanged, receipts are crucial. They’re important for record-keeping purposes on your nonprofit’s end. But they’re also incredibly essential for your donors’ taxes. Any way you slice it, donation receipts are a necessary part of the major gift process. In fact, they’re legally required for any donation that’s over $250. But they’re especially significant when it comes to donations of a given level. The larger the donation, the greater the bearing that a receipt has on a donor’s decision to continue contributing. Not thanking your major gift donors is one thing, but it’s another thing entirely to forget to provide a receipt for a substantial contribution. So maybe you wouldn’t forget to provide a receipt. Maybe you’d just push off writing the receipt til a couple of weeks later. That’s just as ill-advised! Receipts and thank-yous need to be sent out no later than 48 hours after a donation has been made. Donors who have been properly stewarded–and that includes receiving an on-time receipt–are far more likely to give again than those who waited or never got them at all. If you’re looking for great concrete advice on donation receipts, take a look at Qgiv’s comprehensive guide on the subject

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By donorsearch

[Guest Post] Engaging Your Major Gifts Officer

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Casey Woodard of Casey Woodard Consulting. Please enjoy this post that covers six steps you can take to engage your major gifts officer.  And when you’re done reading this, don’t forget to check out our Major Gift Officer Survival Guide

Engaging Your Major Gifts Officer: 6 Steps to Optimized Performance

To sustain your agency’s programs long term, you need to go after major gifts, which typically account for 40% of funding. The Major Gifts Officer (MGO) directs this goal by raising the lion’s share of gift income and cultivating donors for continuous, decades-long giving. This means having a strong MGO who is committed to your mission and has good reasons to stay with your agency. A high-performing MGO is a major asset, but it takes an average of 24 months for him to reach his stride in a new organization. Most MGOs also stay only 16 months on the job, putting many agencies in a revolving talent deficit for this mission-critical role. Repeat MGO turnover can cost millions of dollars in replacement fees and lost opportunity.  For example, the average health care foundation spends $66,500 to find a new MGO and forgoes $2.7 million in major gifts during MGO replacement and ramp-up. That’s a loss of almost $2.8 million for failure to retain a high-performing MGO. MGOs rarely jump ship because of salary. Rather, they seek a new company whose supervisors better understand what it takes to do the major gifts job, and where energizing programs, tools, and support are in place to motivate a good MGO to become even greater. Grooming and retaining a top MGO takes total engagement — a six-step, systematic approach that the best philanthropic managers follow to motivate and retain their direct reports. If you commit to these steps, you can help your MGO stay keen to your agency and quickly rank among the top 75% fundraisers in the country.

1. Plan for long-term career growth, from Day 1

Optimizing talent is a journey not an event, and smart managers match career planning personality. The best MGOs are self starting, go-getter types who love a mission, a challenge, a lot of variety, and an opportunity to make a difference in something important. Set an evolutionary path for your MGO for her first two weeks, the next six months, 24 months in, and so on. Review the plan and her progress regularly and adjust as her interests and skills grow. If your MGO has been onboard awhile, first fill in any gaps from her first months on the job, then move forward with a career path from there.
  • Outcomes: Encourages long-term MGO commitment; keeps her continuously engaged; supports her way of interacting with her work.

2. Focus on the right tasks, with measurable goals

Top-notch managers of top-notch MGOs know that success is about relationships and trust. They set clear, specific expectations that stretch the MGO just enough, and they have consistent evaluation standards and methods to reward the stretch. This means forming measurable daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly objectives that create accountability and feed off of your MGO’s natural drive to excel. “Bring in more money” isn’t measurable or motivating. “Add fifty new $25,000 donors by end of Q4” and “Always have one third of your portfolio ready to be asked for a gift, one-third being stewarded for a future gift, and one-third being thanked for a recent gift” are concrete and actionable. Have follow-through that dials in on specific metrics questions. Don’t just ask, “How are things going?” Delve instead: “Did you make 25 portfolio prospect contacts a week? Did you convert at least half of them for future appointments? Is 10% of your portfolio still at the A level?” If your answer to these questions is “I don’t know,” you’re not engaging enough with your MGO’s goals, process, and success.
  • Outcomes: Builds trust in your ability to support your MGO; helps you understand the activities and responsibilities; motivates him toward ever-higher standards.

3. Provide meaningful, exciting options for the MGO to present to donors

Unless your MGO is emotionally connected to her goals, she will leave after six months. Your job is to create meaningful value propositions that engage her and your donors, making it easy for them to “connect the dots” between your program’s need and the donor’s ability to support it.  Give the MGO the best, most compelling projects, with some degree of urgency and momentum for fundraising. Develop a menu of projects that has something for every kind major gift donor. Demonstrate how each program connects to your mission and how the money will be spent, so donors can seize its value: “If I give $100 to this program, I’m helping this group provide free exams to 25 at-risk, low-income women.” MGOs are not magicians or miracle workers — they need the best programs you can provide to draw in the biggest funders.
  • Outcomes: Improves MGO longevity and personal buy-in; establishes vital system support so she can pitch your cause with concrete data and value-add.

4. Be available to your MGO at “hot points” of the prospect cycle

The top performer is always the one who knows his boss “has his back.” You can do that for your MGO by leaving (and telling your MGO about) five or six openings on your calendar a month that he can automatically use to plug you into a meeting with a potential donor at a moment’s notice. Sometimes all that’s needed to swing a top prospect over is a concerted approach to the value proposition.
  • Outcomes: Reinforces mutual trust and alignment; displays your organization’s high level of commitment to donors.

5. Let the MGO work the way she thinks is best

Micro-managing destroys high performance: your task is to provide guidelines and target outcomes, not instructions. Let your MGO spend the budget you set, and don’t nickel and dime, on a meals and entertainment budget, on a path to achieve a $500,000 gift. Major gifts are a marathon, not a sprint.  Payback is not immediate, and at times the expense is not commensurate with income as your MGO builds her major gifts pipeline. The long-term returns, however, can be tremendous once the “turbo” kicks in. Give your MGO the budget, the tools, and the freedom to operate within the framework of what she must do.
  • Outcomes: Motivates your MGO to do her job well; establishes mutual trust (rather than antagonism); gives her the time and resources to land the best prospects and largest gifts.

6. Support the Major Gifts Office with a “core of champions”

Top-ranked MGOs spend nearly 80% of their time leveraging the time and energy of core program champions on behalf major gifts. Core champions can be:
  • An entire board of directors.
  • An individual board member.
  • Your company president.
  • A successful client.
  • An advocate.
  • A volunteer.
  • Anyone else closely involved in your program.
Champions can support your MGO by accompanying him on a donor call, contacting donors, providing a referral for the MGO, writing letters to prospects, and so on.
  • Outcomes: Motivates your MGO through unanimous excitement for his plans; engages key players in major gifts; shows donors your organization’s depth and breadth of commitment.

Pulling it all together

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By DonorSearch

[Guest Post] Using Research to Jumpstart your Major Gift Program

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. With that said, join me in welcoming Chad Peddicord, the Executive Vice President at Averill Fundraising Solutions. Please enjoy his post on research and major gift programs.

Using Research to Jumpstart your Major Gift Program

It’s no secret that a successful, cost-effective fundraising program is built on a foundation of major gifts.  But what are the elements of an effective major gift program?  At its core, the keys to major gift success are the right people, asking the best prospects for the right amount, for the right project, at the appropriate time, often enough to generate sufficient activity that results in gifts to meet the identified needs.  But if someone gave me that as an answer, I would ask for some specific action steps.  Following are seven results-proven strategies for using research to jumpstart your major gift program:

1. Prioritize donors in the database

The first step for an efficient major gift program is segmenting and prioritizing the donors in the database. Previous major gift donors are obvious – keep them on the priority list.  But do a little digging and look for donors that have been consistent over the past 5 years and have increased their giving.  This is a signal they believe in what you are doing and might have more capacity.  Is there an individual in the database that has made at least one gift annually during the past 5 years and started at $50 and is now at $500?  Or maybe their first gift was $500 and now they give $2,500 annually?  That’s a clue, and they should be marked as a potential major gift prospect because of their increasing affinity.

2. Find the capacity

Affinity alone is not enough to prioritize efficiently. Discovering which donors or prospects have the capacity for a major gift is important.  The simplest and most effective way to determine that is through an electronic screening.  If done right, the screening will create more work, but it will also narrow the field of donors and prospects that you have to include to create an efficient major gift portfolio.  Focus on philanthropic behavior and political giving – data shows these two indicators most accurately reveal major gift capacity and willingness.

3. Do the research and develop a strategy

Once donors and prospects with major gift capacity have been identified through screening, the real work begins. The screening helps to narrow the field, but now research is required to confirm that the screening information matches the person in your database. (If you have very clean data and several components of personal information on each individual prior to the screening – you will save a tremendous amount of time in research and get much better results from the screening.)  With more information from research, narrow the major gift pool further and begin to develop individual cultivation and solicitation strategies for each prospect that can then be implemented.  The strategy step is where the right people, the right project, the right ask amount, and the appropriate request timing need to be discussed.

4. Don’t work in a vacuum – talk to people

The real research begins as you have conversations with individuals about exciting projects. Invite potential donors for a tour, or talk to them about the strategic plan, or get their advice on a new idea.  This opens the door for discussions on how to accomplish the important mission at hand and the gifts required for success.  Nothing can replace the “shoe leather” research and the most helpful information always comes from asking questions and dialogue.  These personal conversations then inform the strategy moving forward and determine how to ask for a major gift.

5. Add prospects to the list

In addition to your current donors and prospects, take this opportunity to add new prospects to the list. There is a plethora of ways to find individuals that might be prospects for your organization and this process could be its own blog post.  But an easy way is to use a database that catalogues charitable gifts to not-for-profits and will allow a search to find individuals with philanthropic interest and demonstrated giving to “relevant” organizations to your mission.

6. Assign the donors and prospects

Now that the major gift prospect pipeline is narrowed, each must be assigned to “someone” to manage the relationship. I say “someone” because depending on the size of your professional fundraising staff – “someone” could mean many things.  For example, with a small staff, major gift prospects might be assigned to board members or volunteers.  And while the professional fundraiser will play a role in the process, the board member might be doing all of the outreach to the prospect and building the relationship.  The data is clear, in order to successfully cultivate and solicit a major gift – the prospect has to be managed by someone.

7. Ask for the gift

The last piece to an effective major gift program is as simple as asking for the gift. If all the above steps have been accomplished, there is nothing left but to ask.  Capitalizing on all of the work done to prepare for soliciting major gifts requires creating some activity benchmarks that drive the program.  The benchmarks are different for every organization, but they always involve personal visits and requests.  Track the activity against your goals and the major gifts will follow. For more information, read our other resources on major gifts

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By DonorSearch

14-Step Guide for Getting Started with a Capital Campaign

So, your organization needs to raise a significant amount of money for a particular project. This might be a long-awaited renovation for your organization’s headquarters or perhaps another big-ticket project that can’t be covered by your annual fundraising efforts alone. After examining all fundraising routes, you’ve determined that a capital campaign is the right way to go. Before you dive straight into fundraising, there are a number of steps that you have to take to properly plan your capital campaign. To get your capital campaign off the ground, you should: Assemble a capital campaign committee.

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