Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Do you know what makes successful major gift fundraisers?

A question posted on a Linkedin discussion board recently asked what are the characteristics of successful major gift fundraisers. At last count over 20 people had offered their lists "successful" characteristics. The suggested characteristics offered have a predictable repetitiveness yet with a range of "outliers."

Passion for the mission is the characteristic most often dubbed the most important. I'll say it's overrated and among the least important characteristics for successfully garnering major gifts. More on this later. 

Many of the suggested characteristics are collectively called "soft skills." Soft skills are personal attributes characterizing relationships with people. The characteristics offered included:
     Integrity             Patience
     Good listener      Positive
     Sincerity            Good with people 

Some of the suggested characteristics fall in to the hard skill category. Hard skills are about a persons ability to accomplish a certain task - in this case closing major gifts. Suggested hard skills included:

     Self-motivation         Strategic
     Creative                   Good writer
     Organized                 Positive

Will finding all of the characteristics in one person equal a successful fundraiser?  Maybe. Maybe not. There are few, if any, that possess all of the soft/hard skills. Some combination, greater or lesser, is the reality.

The problem with lists is it provides convenient excuses for NOT raising money. If you lack a skill or two you can't raise money.

  • I can't raise money because I'm not good with people.
  • I don't have the patience to raise money.
  • I'm not good at raising money because I'm not creative.
  • I'm not organized enough to raise money.

It goes on and on and on. You've heard them. Heck, you may have even used them! 

There are literally thousands and thousands of people that will bleed for their mission and can't or won't raise a dime for the cause they profess such great passion for.  You've seen it. You know it is true. This is why "passion for the mission" is highly overrated.

Given that a person is not socially inept or against the cause, there are two essential characteristics that are absolutely necessary for successful major gift fundraising - along with one tool. The two characteristics are:

  1. The desire to raise major gifts.
  2. The ability/discipline to use the tool. 

I don't wish to minimize the soft/hard skill list. Certainly, adding more from the soft/hard list to the essential characteristics will enhance the major gift outcomes. The more the merrier! But, without the desire to raise major gifts - success is unlikely.

The tool that is essential to major gift fundraising is a proven major gift process. It's an equalizer. Those who rely only on "being good with people" etc. will close fewer gifts. Those that use a major gift process, yet lack some soft/hard skills will close more gifts. 

Widely known as moves management, a major gift process levels the playing field. It allows the majority of us, with fewer of the soft/hard skills, to be more successful than those who are blessed with the skills but don't use the tool. Using a set, sequence (process) to guide the qualifying, cultivating/ stewarding, soliciting, and closing of major gifts can mitigate the lack of soft/hard skills. 

If you haven't heard the phrase moves management or you're not sure what the phrase means you can access a free, easy to understand, ebook titled De-Mystifying Moves Management by following this link.

It's not rocket science. 

  1. Find someone that wants to do it
  2. Provide the tool and the guidance to use it.

It's an equalizer. More major gifts will be closed. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Survey says fundraising problems are extensive and entrenched!

What nonprofit executives are saying about development directors;
  • 30% are less than satisfied with their development director
  • 25% of their previous development directors were fired
  • 24% of their development directors have no experience/novices at securing gifts
All of the above and much, much more can be found in "UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising" a new national study released January 14, 2013.

“This study shows that the fundraising problems facing
 nonprofit organizations are more extensive and more 
entrenched than anyone imagined,” 
said Jeanne Bell, CEO of CompassPoint and coauthor of the study.
 “As a sector, we need to elevate the importance of fund development 
as a leadership issue, invest in a stronger talent pool, 
and strengthen the ability of nonprofits to develop 
the systems that enable fundraising success.”

I was struck by two words in Jeanne Bell's comment. Specifically extensive and entrenched"Extensive" is very worrisome to me but, it doesn't scare me. "Entrenched" defined by is "to place in a position of strength; establish firmly or solidly," - really scares me

No, I don't think that anyone purposely "entrenched" a problem. As the leadership of organizations, boards and npo executives must shoulder the lion's share of the blame for fundraising problems, consequently they must lead the charge on solving the fundraising problems. What scares me, are the ones that have contributed to the problem and don't recognize it in themselves! If you don't see it - you don't know to fix it.

The "UnderDeveloped" report sounds alarms in many directions. The "calls to action" prescribing specific directions to begin solving the problems outlined in the report are spot on. It is a good document and you can read it by following the link in the report title near the beginning of this blog.

Strengthening the talent pool is one action point. The report points out that when seeking to hire a development director many of the positions go unfilled for 12 months or more and that 53% of the candidate pools don't contain candidates with sufficient skills. Leading one executive director to say: 

"I think some kind of self-perpetuating cycle is going on 
where, on one hand, the jobs are really hard and 
not that many people are successful at them, and then
 there is the issue of salaries, they just keep going
 higher and higher and higher. So development directors 
who are good can write their own tickets and command 
 what they want. And the larger institutions pick off 
the best. And so then there’s scarcity, so all of us
 have to pay more for a shrinking pool of people." 

Along the same line, I recently came across this in the biography of a newly hired development director on the organizations website; "...... she brings with her 18 years of customer service experience in the sheet metal industry." Hiring someone for a position that has never done the job - especially if the candidate pool is dreadfully thin - is not ideal but may be understandable. 

Some how you have to convert the experience in the sheet metal industry into the successful tools for fundraising industry!

With talent in short supply, for my two cents, too little emphasis was placed on one key tool in addressing the problem. When skills are lacking they can be acquired in two ways; hire the skills or acquire the skills through training. Yet, training without follow-up action that includes quality supervision and leadership is rarely enough.

"UnderDeveloped" points to changes and areas of emphasis that can only be done my an organizations leadership. The tone and tenor must come from the top. The support to solve the fundraising problem must come in words, actions and deeds. Including actions and deeds that spend dollars where and when it is appropriate.

So, what's it going to be? Get busy on the fundraising problem, or "they're not talking about us. We are doing just fine."

We'll have to wait and see!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Communication that is seen - read - heard

Communicating with constituents and donors is considered a "must do" and rightly so. There is no substitute for keeping your constituents and supporters well informed. Effective communication is a tie that binds.

Because of rising postal costs many organizations are taking a fresh look at the effectiveness and "return on investment" of the printed newsletter and magazine-type mailing pieces. The rush to gather email addresses is underway to take advantage of the more economical email versions of newsletter. 

The question is how to communicate in a way that is cost effective - and gets read! 

You might investigate Constant Contact, Mail Chimp or Vertical Response  to mention a few. You can use each of these to reach out to constituents via standard text email. Using these same vendors you can also easily create attractive HTML newsletter formats - I don't know about you, but I'd rather get information that is pleasing to the eye, with pictures than a standard, run of the mill email.

Simplebooklet makes it easy to create a basic "page turning" effect and even provide a link that you can post in emails or add the HTML code to your website or blog! Still others use various forms of "home grown" solutions. 

The point is, creating visually appealing email messages can be done quickly, cheaply, easily, and often. Anybody can do it! If you are not using these or similar products - get on the stick. If you are using them great! Now get ready to take another step.

Now you can give supporters voices - your voice - the voice of a board member - a message delivered by a grateful recipient.   A familiar voice! A thankful voice!  Imagine the impact that voice and video can have on how your supporters know and understand your organization.

Thanks to the availability of internet technologies you can communicate in ways that are meaningful, cost effective, gets read and now - HEARD!  A collection of words, colorful visuals and audio - a winning combination.

YouTube ,, and Movenote and others can allow you to use video with audio, some use split screens allowing live narration of a slide presentation or other visual aids. To talk to your donors in a more personal, meaningful way invest a few minutes in a Google search for free video and audio postings and you will find solutions - most require very little or no technical skill. Free and no technical skill is a winning combination.

Share the steps have you taken to better communicate with your constituents below.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Biggest gifts are under the brown stones

Early in my career during a conversation about seeking major gifts a veteran fundraiser once told me “picture a rocky riverbed filled with softball size river stones as far as you can see.” 
Each stone represents a gift prospect," he continued. "And all you have to do is go to a stone, pick it up and turn it over. If there is money under it great – if not, then put it down and pick up the next one.  You never know what you will find under a rock until you turn it over. Just keep turning over rocks. It really is pretty simple.”
That example has stuck with me over the years for several reasons. It serves as a reminder of two important and often overlooked facts;
  • Successfully seeking big gifts is not rocket science
  • Seeking big gifts, in its basic form, is a systematic process.
Surveying the many stones in the riverbed - they all look the same. So many stones. Where to begin. Which stones to turn over first. Do you work back and forth across the bed of rocks or up and down? The sheer number of stones that must be turned over can be overwhelming.
If through trial and error you discovered that the brown stones have more money under them than the red ones, the red ones more money than the tan ones and the grey ones have no money at all, then the task would be fairly straightforward. Turn over all the brown stones first!  Then the red ones and save the tan stones for last and don't waste time with the grey ones.  But, how do you discover the color code in the first place?

" I don't know who to ask" or "I don't know what to ask for" these and similar phrases are common in organizations that don't have major gift programs. Information that you need and don't have doesn't suddenly become known because we want or need it.

The process of sorting out "who" and "how much" is commonly known as "screening and rating" of donors. 
You need a conscious and thoughtful screening and rating plan to identify which "stones" are most likely to produce big gifts and the gift size.
Generally speaking there are three methods of screening and rating donors. Broadly speaking these methods are:
  • Internal Screening & Rating
  • Electronic Screens/Prospect Research
  • Peer Screening & Rating
Screening & rating based on your internal information that normally includes;
  • Giving History
  • Call reports/Anecdotal information
  • Personal Knowledge
Using this internal screening and rating information your organization can draw certain conclusions from the information that you have on hand. Most everyone in the community knows or thinks they know who are the more wealthy members of the community. However, the fact remains: " You don't know what you don't know."

To go beyond internal screening and rating based on information that you already have you may consider "electronic screening" or individual prospect research for addition information. It is absolutely amazing what these services can discover. 

Visit The Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement website here to learn about the wide variety of professional services offered from prospect researchers. Personally I have used the electronic screening company WealthEngine in the past and found them to be helpful.

If professional services are beyond your reach then consider Peer Screening and Rating.

Gather a small representative group of your constituents (6-8) for the systematic examining of each potential donor and the goal is to gain consensus on the estimated donor value to your organization. Each donor will be evaluated in 2 ways;

  1. Likelihood to give to your organization
  2. How much they are able to give

Key to the process is a clear understanding of and the difference between screening and rating:

  • A prospect is screened according to their propensity (an innate inclination; a tendency) to give to your organization.
  • A prospect is rated according to their capacity (the maximum or optimum amount that can be given) to give to your organization. 
Create a screening scale similar to the one pictured below.

Use a rating scale like the one below. Plug in appropriate dollar amounts for your organization.

Using these scales your representative constituent group process will yield screening and rating results that will look something like below for each donor prospect.

Definite gift/ $2500
Very likely gift/$500
Very likely gift/$2500
Definite gift/$10,000+
Likely gift/$1000
Likely gift/$1000
Not likely to give /$10,000+

With these screening and rating results your work can be ordered in such away to yield the greatest results first. For example you may choose to begin with the A-1&2"s first then the B-1&2's, then C-1&2's, then A-3&4's etc. Eventually working with all of your potential donors in an orderly way.

P.S.  When you create representative constituent groups you have also created cultivation points, face time, and donor involvement! So much in our business have overlapping benefits. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

6 Steps can lead to more major gifts in 2013

“I have another $1.6 million in other places” he said.
My heart leapt at his words. Quick mental math told me this could be a gift worth more than $3 million!  
We have all heard of really big gifts that come “over the transom,” out of nowhere. I even have a couple of stories myself.  However, the truth is, really big gifts from “over the transom” are too few and too far between to hang your hat on or even worse – your budget.
Really big gifts don’t happen every day.  But, big gifts can happen more often than you may think. The steps leading to big gifts include;
  1. Identifying prospects
  2. Qualifying the donor
  3. Donor cultivation
  4. Making the “ask”
  5. Gift design 
  6. Stewarding the gift 
Circumstances of time and place can make the specifics of each step vary, but make no mistake about it big gifts are the result of intentional actions, keen listening and good fortune (No pun intended).
What is intentional action? Specific actions designed to accomplish each of the 6 steps listed above in a organized, managed process. Consider that about 85% of all philanthropy in the USA comes from private individuals - NOT corporations like many people believe. It is clear that big gifts should be on the radar screen of all donor supported nonprofit organizations.

Intentional action, some call it "moves management,"  is the proven path to "big gifts." Regardless of the name, when more than 80% of charitable giving comes from 20% of the donors or less - asking for major gifts is the way to go. An anonymous survey respondent to the Nonprofit Research Collaborative, Summer/Early Fall 2011 may have said it best: 
"I used to have four people working for me and all of them have been laid-off. This means that our board has had to take on greater responsibility in fundraising. We have limited resources for fundraising so asking for major gifts is the most time-efficient way to do fundraising."
Common barriers to establishing major gift programs involve "I don't know ...... who to ask, how to ask, when to ask, how much to ask forand on and on and on...." 
Learning from your peers is a great way to go. 
==> By joining your local AFP chapter, low cost or no cost training may be available.  
==> Another more focused approach for your organization to establish a major gift program can include seeking the specific training, knowledge, and guidance designed for your organization that a consultant can offer.

Whichever way you decide to go - an organized, managed, major gift program and the significant funding it can provide can transform your organization forever!  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The benefits of making it easy.

Non-profits should consider being Square (or something like it.) Here's why?

About 8 years ago while boarding a flight from Oklahoma City to Tucson I found myself standing next to an Executive Vice President from Sonic, the drive-in fast food company. Knowing that Sonic was among the first fast food outlets to test using credit cards I took the opportunity to ask how that had worked in a notoriously profit thin industry. 
Smiling, he said. ”Our average ticket went from a little less than $3.00 per ticket to almost $8.00 per ticket!” 
Remarkable evidence of 2 key points:
  •  More and more people are carrying less and less cash 
  • A striking example of the business axiom: Make it easy for your customers to give you money! 
What does this have to do with Why Nonprofits being Square? 
Square is a postage stamp sized adaptor that plugs into a smart phone and allows you to accept credit card payments on the spot! 
I saw this nifty little device in action recently in a local park. The Lupus Foundation of Southern Arizona was holding their annual “Loop the Loop for Lupus” walk and selling raffle tickets for a new car. The car raffle tickets cost was $25 each. More cash than many people carry - especially at a walk! 
More than 75% of the raffle tickets sold was via credit card avoiding lost sales because of a lack of cash. Now with the swipe of a credit card, approval code, an approval signature written by finger tip, and a receipt sent to the buyer’s smart phone - all at internet speed. 
While visiting I learned that simply by signing up Square will send you the postage stamp sized card scanner AND the software application all absolutely free. The cost per transaction is nominal considering the portability and the opportunity to increase ticket/event sales in remote locations. 
Nonprofit organizations be Square(or something like it) and make it easy for your donors to give you money!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Looking back at 2011.... How have you changed?

Reading "The Nonprofit Research Collaborative" from September 2011 the following quote forecast the need to adapt to a "new reality":

“While the survey numbers may seem okay at first, the reality is that giving levels were
much higher in 2007 before the recession. With many economists predicting a flat
economy for several more years, charities face a very challenging environment in the
near future, with fewer funds available while the demand for services and programs
remains quite high. This is the new reality charities will have to address.”
Andrew Watt, FInstF
President and CEO
Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP)

To deal effectively with this "new reality" charitable organizations must re-examine and make improvements aimed at greater results by; 
  • Improving communication
  • Refining skills in fundraising
  • Improving program deliver and organizational effectiveness across the board
self re-examination and assessment takes an investment. The investment can take a variety of forms including optimizing time (staff & volunteer), sharpening skills and acquiring new ones (again, staff & volunteers), and at times seeking outside advice

Some investments require only time others require time and moneyBoth of which are in short supply in most nonprofits. Take advantage of "free" whenever you can. That means this is a good place to visit! It also means join your local AFP chapter or any other organization where you can learn from your peers at little or no cost.

From what I have observed many have not yet taken that "self re-examination and assessment" or have made few significant changes in there procedures in the last 2 years. 

If your organization has re-examined / re-assessed what important changes have you made?

  • Make a comment below and share what changes you have made.
  • If you have not, share why you have not.
I'm interested to know.

The Empty Handed Giving blog is dedicated to sharing ideas that work. You can get good ideas here by visiting, reading, and implementing. If you don't understand something simply ask here - remember conversations are always free.