Whether in a campaign or not, the heart of our work in Major Gifts fundraising lies in our ability to put together the right solicitor with the right prospective donor at the right time with the right ask and the right project.
A clear understanding of the giving potential of your constituents; and
Strategies that move individual constituents toward solicitation results that maximize their giving.
Effective execution depends on competent, timely and objective action and activity.
THE RIGHT ASK STARTS WITH GIFT RATINGS
I believe in the importance of using Gift Capacity Ratings as the first step of prospect identification. These capacity ratings project the maximum gift that a donor could make to all charities over a five-year period. A variety of wealth-screening applications is available and provides an effective beginning point for this process. Volunteer rating and screening sessions are a useful way of refining these computerized rankings and also educating those volunteers who might become solicitors. It is important to keep these ratings high, based on capacity solely and not on inclination or "best guess;" the capacity rating sets the goal for future activity and strategizing, and keeps us constantly reminded of the need to cultivate those potential donors who could (perhaps one day, if properly engaged) make a transformational gift to your institution.
Reaching gift capacity depends also on a second layer of prospect rating denoting connectivity. These connectivity ratings reflect the perceived degree of engagement by the prospect with your institution. Typically, these fall into three categories:
highly connected for Trustees, current Major Gifts donors and active volunteers;
connected for other current contributors, including alumni, parents, staff, former trustees; and
modestly connected for all lapsed donors and other non-donors in the database.
These connectivity ratings are also proxies for readiness and can be used to divide your prospects into those that are most immediately ready for solicitation and those who need further cultivation. Reaching your fundraising potential is optimized by focusing on the most highly connected prospects first.
Above all, avoid using your gift ratings as "best guesses" about what level of gift your prospect will likely make. While such "guesses" may make you feel superior when they prove correct, they are also a way of lowering expectations and ultimately depressing revenue from gifts or campaigns. A better way is to rate on capacity, prioritize on connectivity and use yield ratios that temper capacity with time and realistic expectation.
GOOD STRATEGY INSPIRES DONORS TOWARD GIFT CAPACITY
The art and science of fundraising fuse in the solicitation strategy and the series of steps which the Major Gifts Officer designs to move a prospective donor through cultivation, toward deeper engagement (connectivity), solicitation and gift.
The art of fundraising is the ability of the fundraiser to create a strategy that inspires a donor to reach his full gift capacity for your institution. This requires skills in storytelling, listening, and relationship-building, all of which help to deepen the emotional connection between the donor and the institution. Often the Major Gift fundraiser is not present at key meetings between the prospective donor and the Chief Executive Officer, Trustee or other key volunteer; this puts additional burden on the successful Major Gifts Officer to be adept at translating the strategy to the CEO and volunteers and to be tenacious is obtaining timely and complete briefings on each meeting so that any cues offered by the prospect can be incorporated into the strategy.
The science of fundraising is exemplified in "Moves Management," the process of managing a prospect through a series of cultivation events toward an ultimate successful solicitation. Combined with a comprehensive system of gift ratings, Moves Management focuses the activity of the Major Gift fundraiser on the prospects with greatest potential for success. The key to each "move" is that it is part of an overall plan, that each event brings the prospect to greater involvement with and commitment to the institution, and that each opportunity provides the fundraiser with more information about the prospect and his interests.
Effective moves management requires that the Major Gift officer have a plan for the solicitation of each major gift prospect. This plan starts with a goal: the goal is a gift target that is informed by the gift capacity rating but need not be identical, depending on the degree of connectivity of the prospect to the institution, the scope of the project or campaign, and the past giving history of the donor. The "moves" are cultivation opportunities that are designed to strengthen the tie between the prospect and the institution. Examples of cultivation "moves" are tours and events, invitations to meals with the CEO, visits by key Trustees, invitations to give feedback on key plans by the institution or invitations to serve on a committee. Tracking your moves and progress is an important element of a moves management process and many development databases now contain prospect tracking components.
Choosing the right solicitation team is another important factor in strategizing Major Gifts solicitations. Selecting the right team is also part of the fundraising "art" in that it requires that the fundraiser have a sense of how the prospective donor relates to others within the institution. In this regard, the Major Gifts officer acts as a broker, putting together the most effective team and the one with the greatest possibility of leveraging the gift. At many day schools, where parents form a cohesive donor community, peer solicitors are widely used and are quite effective. Staff and administrators are often used as solicitors at boarding schools and colleges and universities that depend on a geographically-dispersed alumni body for the majority of their institutional philanthropy. In most cases, the largest major gifts solicitations require the attention and presence of the Chief Executive Officer of the institution.
THE WASHINGTON WALDORF SCHOOL
completed its three-year Capital Campaign last summer by raising $4.8 million (10 percent over goal) and has now renovated its Sangamore Road home in Bethesda. Congratulations!
THE LAB SCHOOL OF WASHINGTON
has only 90 days left to raise the final $1 million to reach success in its $12 Million Capital Campaign to redesign the Reservoir Road campus. Good luck, Dragons!