Younger donors don’t give as much. You can chase the Millennials and the generation whatever’s, but if you don’t take into consideration the family life cycle, then you are misdirecting your energies.
What is the family life cycle I hear you ask?
Wills and Gubar (1966) identified nine distinct life cycle stages of a family. 1966 – and this information is still relevant! They believed that that the age and composition of the family unit has a direct impact on the buying patterns of families. And, as the family moves through the life cycles, these stages change as well.
For instance, at certain points, giving decisions are made jointly with spouses, starting a new family impacts discretionary spending patterns, and levels of disposable income vary over the lifetime of a family. That is why you see younger people not giving as much – while raising a family, they have less disposable income to give away, saving for their child’s education, and their retirement. As folks age and their children grow up, these same folks have an improved financial position with more disposable income and fewer demands on the future and tend to give more.
Since 1966, there have been changes in the family unit that bring to mind some questions – what about single parent households, families having children later in life, and other family units? How do those impact philanthropic giving patterns?
However, overall, I think it is fair to say that looking at where a family is in their particular life cycle stage is an important indicator of their propensity to give, and why I believe that younger folks, while wanting to be, just cannot be as generous as their parents.
We are all so very guilty of appearing to listen to someone, but yet already forming a reply in our head..
You know, you are sitting with a donor and rather than listening, you are rehearsing what your response may be.
Are you missing some critical information when you don’t listen intently? Sure!
It is so critical to listen intently, without an already pre-conceived agenda in our mind.
You may miss key donor motivations in that pre-thinking. Here is an excellent case as an example.
I was once meeting with a donor who I thought may be interested in supporting a particular project – Rosary distribution. However, it was when I was meeting with that individual donor and asking deep, probing questions, that I learned that their interest was not in fact with what I thought it may be, but in fact with an overseas ministry in France. If I didn’t spend the time to ask questions, probe deeper, and listen, I may have missed the relevant cues that would direct me to share the ministry of importance to that donor. That donor later went on to make a significant gift to support this ministry in France. A gift towards Rosary distribution may have been certain, but probably would not be at the same gift level.
It is so critical to put aside personal and professional agendas and spend the time to listen to our donors and to understand their motivations for possibly making a gift.
I argue that time is the most important element when doing major gifts. One needs to take the time to listen and explore to know the donor better. Time and deep listening are the glue between the donor and the organization. Time and deep listening are what leads to long-term relationships.
We need to push our organizations to remove those expectations that keep us limited in the time we spend with our donors. Each donor is different, and we should not pen the relationship into key metrics. Rarely does a relationship fit into expectations and measurement. Relationships are organic and dynamic. And, most importantly relations are about deep probing, and intently listening.
Very rarely does a major gift fit into an official timeline.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the number of people dying in the United States will double in the next forty years. WOW!
Hard to read, but surely reality. And, sometimes reality is stark.
The Baby Boomers will soon be facing retirement, old age, and eventually death. And, Baby Boomers will have more wealth to leave behind – significantly more than previous generations.
Researchers have been hard at work calculating the details behind this transfer of wealth. Their findings? They estimate that approximately $41 trillion will transfer between 1998 and 2052 from a predicted eighty-eight million estates. Of that $41 trillion, it is estimated that $6 trillion will transfer to charity.
However, as large as these statistics are, only around 18% of the nation’s wealthiest individuals presently leave a gift to charity in their will. While data is insufficient, it is estimated that a small percentage leave a gift in their will.
So, are nonprofits so focused on their annual operating support that they are failing to include planned giving as part of their fundraising strategy? Are we just not asking enough? I would garner to say this is very accurate. Most of the organizations that I work with are so focused on meeting the day-to-day operational needs of the organization that they cannot even think beyond into the future. Or if they can think about the future, they just don’t want to talk about death. Or they fear that they will take away from their annual support. Or they are just impatient, and can’t wait for planned gifts to mature because the income won’t be forthcoming for many years. Or perhaps they have such high expectations within their departments to produce that their focus is more on immediate returns and not for the long haul.
We keep talking about this enormous transfer of wealth, but what are we doing as fundraisers to begin the conversations. Conversations in our organizations that confront current expectations by our superiors to raise money for today. Or how we as fundraisers don’t want to grapple with sensitive topics as death with our donors. Or because we as organizations need the money today to keep the doors open for tomorrow. Or maybe because we don’t have enough knowledge about planned giving and what it is, so we just don’t want to bring up the subject.
All organizations both large and small absolutely must begin thinking about legacy giving.
I know one thing for certain, these statistics point to us as fundraisers to do a better job. And, so the question is, what are you doing to do that better job?
This week, I read a post by the very insightful Veritus Group. In the post, they asked,”When you think of your donor, do you first think of them as a source of cash – as a way to reach the goals you have set?”
This question indeed touched a cord in me. How many organization believe that donors are ATMs. We go to them; we ask them for a certain amount of money, we get the gift, and we get a receipt.
I have worked for organizations that think donors are partners. How refreshing. And, then I have worked for organizations, that think donors are money as in the “We need money now!” donor.
I have a difficult time hearing donors referred to in this way. I can’t conceivably fathom such talk about another human being, mainly relating to them as if they were a transaction and not a living, breathing person with feelings, and beliefs, and values.
Over my career, donors have personally “cared” for me and my well-being. When I have been traveling, they have provided me with dinner. We I was in a new town, they ensured that I got home safely. When I was sick, they called. We built relationships. We were people connecting for a higher purpose. The “Show me the money attitude” just doesn’t work for me.
Do you view your donors as mere money machines? Do you love your donors just as much as they love your mission? Do you believe that donors should be treated with worth and dignity?
Ethically, I asked myself, would I as a donor want to be thought of or treated in such a transactional way? I couldn’t answer yes.
We are in a noble profession. We transform communities; ourselves, and the donor through the process of fund development. That is what I believe in about what I do.
And, ethically, I can’t operate otherwise.
Donors give to us because we have the highest ethical standards to do what is right. Trust is the basis of all we make possible.
Perhaps we need to revisit the “Donor Bill of Rights” and ensure that there is a clause in there about “to be treated as I would want to be treated by another, not as a machine, but as a person who has beliefs in and the capacity to support a mission.”
As a fundraiser, what I want remembrance for is my success on the job, both monetarily and ethically.
For many donors who hold great wealth, they sometimes want to do more than just give. In fact, they want to shape directly rather than just support a charitable cause. This term is often called, “hyperagency.”
In most cases, that is fine. In fact, it is very welcomed. Paul Shervish, Director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, noted that hyperagency is “a distinctive characteristic of major giving because such donors are capable of establishing the institutional framework in which they and others live.” They want to produce rather than support.
Not often, but in some cases, the donor upon giving an enormous gift expects the organization to do what he or she wishes, changing the whole agenda of the organization. They want to determine what happens and when programmatically.
To me, this can become dangerous territory. For you see, just because someone has extensive wealth and wants to give it us, does not mean that we have to entertain “mission creep.” Our organizations have been founded to serve a community through a particular mission. It is the obligation of the organization and its Board of Directors to ensure the organization’s programs, and mission continues to be relevant to the community that it serves.
We often see “mission drift” in cases where organizations “chase” foundation funding just because it is available and whether or not it meets the orgazation’s mission. As a result, programs develop that are not mission consistent, and the organization begins to take on areas that they do not have a specialty.
A case in point, in 1907, a $3 million bequest left to Swarthmore College met this description: It was made conditional on the school ceasing all participation in intercollegiate sports. (Though tempted by the much-needed funds, Swarthmore turned the gift down.)
So, are you tempted to keep the gift or would you turn it down?
Well, if the gift is going to subject your organization to terms it couldn’t possibly meet or that are not consistent with the core mission, then yes, I say it needs to be turned down. Turning down a gift is a rather difficult decision. But, you must realize that you are bound to the donors’ wishes once you accept it. If you can’t abide by the terms whether impractical, unethical, or for other reasons, then you just need to say “no!”
The dilemma mentioned above points to the importance of having a Gift Acceptance Policy in place. Yes, I know these policies are so mundane, and I know you don’t have the time to create them, but, when you start seeking major gifts, you just may come across a situation like this. Even the smallest organizations have found themselves with donors wishing to make contributions that have binding strings attached. And, when you are small, it becomes especially difficult to say no to a massive infusion of cash.
This situation is more of an ethical and moral question. But surely, the ethics involved in fundraising must be a topic that your organization discusses at a strategic level (meaning Board), and Gift Acceptance Policies provide a basis for that discussion.
So, you don’t always have to say “yes” to a donor who loves you too much. In fact, sometimes, it is best to say no, if it means you won’t hold true to your core mission and the community that you are bound to serve.
Yep. You can go through the motions with your donor, but if you don’t A S K, you don’t G E T. Simple as that.
So, where do you even start?
Each donor is an individual. And, being an individual, he or she needs an individualized strategy – each solicitation is a campaign on its own.
Deciding who does the asking is key to the process. While a team of two to three people may be present during the solicitation meeting, there is only one person who makes the ask. And, don’t bring along someone who has never met the prospect to the solicitation meeting.
Fundraisers should not do all of the solicitations. Someone else in the organization, such as a Board Member, may be better suited to make the ask because of a “peer” based relationship. And, let’s face it, Board members are volunteers and their income is not impacted by a gift.
Then you must set a target gift level and for what specific projects or goals. A prospect often can give between two and ten times the amount that he or she has given annually in the past. You would also want to revisit all the original research on a donor’s interest, concerns, and motives. This information will help you to narrow the range of the ask. Once you decide on an ask amount – double that number.
Then you need to select when and where you will do the asking. It is best to meet where the donor feels most comfortable. Also, determine whether or not the prospects spouse or partner should be a part of this meeting. Note to self, restaurants are not usually places where you want this all to go down. The awkward question regarding coffee and dessert has ruined many a solicitation.
You should give some thought about whether or not the gifts should be outright gifts of cash, stock, or pledges, and if pledges, what is the timeframe for installments?
What should you bring on a visit? I would bring along a letter with a proposal that should include the project’s need, proposed action for meeting the need, financial information, including costs, and a summary of the benefits the donor will get from giving.
Don’t forget to assign specific roles to each member of the team at the meeting, and then role-play, role-play, and role-play before the actual visit. In other words, rehearse all possible scenarios before your team has ever walked through the prospect’s door
Call the prospect to ask for a time to talk about the case for support and opportunities for investment and how the donor can get more involved and be supportive in a more meaningful way. If you have done your cultivation to this point, they should know why you are calling. Above all else, be honest with them and fully explain why you would like to meet. It also sets the stage for the solicitation process. Then confirm this appointment in writing. Send along some easy-to-read information about the organization’s plans along with the confirmation letter. Reconfirm the meeting by phone or email shortly beforehand.
The one best tip I have for nonprofit newsletters – stop calling them newsletters. I am of the mind that this title creates a great deal of confusion both for the nonprofit and the donor.
First, donors are like investors. They are giving their financial resources to support something, dare I say, a mission in which they strong believe. Investors don’t get newsletters; they get quarterly investors reports showing them the return on their investments. And, sometimes, investors even get conference call options to review the investment reports and ask questions. How novel?
Secondly, its sets a small nonprofit or an inexperienced development person up to think that what one should include in a newsletter is exactly that – news. So, over the course of my years in the field both as practicing development director and consultant, I have seen way too many newsletters that report on things like what events are coming up, what events have just passed, and little at all about the donor. And, even more, many of them ask for yet another gift. More of a “Save the Date and we need more money” vs. “This is what our date made possible and thank you so much.”
Thirdly, the title newsletters suggest long, boring “newsy” stories. You know, stories you would likely find in say a newspaper, for instance. And, we know that best practice has found that these types of stories no longer work. Donors are skimmers; they look for photos, captions, headlines, and short, pithy text. Their eyes scan the copy, and, often, don’t even read it word for word.
So, what do I propose we title this nonprofit donor communication workhorse? Let’s see, how about something along the lines of “Your investment report?” or what about “Your impact statement?” or perhaps even “Your insiders report?”
Or, well, why don’t you think on it, and comment below.
Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate. The way we talk about donors sometimes makes me think that we are in relationships. And, in a sense, I guess we are.
Cultivation, what is it?
Well for one, it’s about learning more about a donor and his or her interests and how our cause’s mission intersects with their personal passions.
It is not about educating the donor on what our cause does and how they can get involved. It is not sales or persuasion. It is more about matchmaking. You know, just like in “real life” relationships. It is about learning what motivates them to give and why. Learning about what stirs their soul and makes them feel good.
As with all relationships in life, listening is paramount. We must listen authentically to our donors and not have a hidden agenda. You remember those first days of dating when you hinged on every word of your love? It is the same thing. Ask questions and then listen intently.
For me when I was doing major gift work, I made it an aim to get to know something new about each donor every time I visited with them. I developed long-standing relationships that were genuine and had the organization at its deepest heart.
I have spent countless hours sitting in donor’s homes learning about their lives both big and small. I have had lunch served to me by famous people. I have spent time in a donor’s office getting to know how they got involved and what keeps them involved. I have had donors treat me like family, insisting that I stay for dinner – they made it special just for me.
Each donor will want or necessitate different types and levels of cultivation. Some may want a tour of the facility, and others will want to meet with staff, serve on a board or committee, attend events, or be an advisor.
Most importantly, it is the donor that directs the relationship. The time spent together getting to know each other. This time is set by what makes the donor feel most comfortable.
I never felt as if I could rush this relationship, nor should you. Like all relationships, let it evolve organically over time and it will bear fruit, both for the organization, for yourself and the donor. In fact, the gift will be a transformative moment.
Share with me in the comments below your most poignant donor cultivation story.
There are two things that you need to consider when developing a major gift strategy. The first is deciding on what level of gift you want to solicit in person, and the second is prioritizing the list of prospects from the screening process to ensure that there are enough prospects for each level of gifts needed.
What is the goal of your campaign? Once you have that in place, you can develop a gift chart that will demonstrate the number of gifts needed at each gift level and the corresponding number of prospects needed to obtain one gift at each level. As one moves down the gift chart, the ratio of prospects to gifts drops. Naturally, it becomes much easier to solicit at the lower gift levels.
This gift range chart allows you to ensure that you have an adequate number of prospects to reach your ultimate goal. Not ensuring an adequate base of prospects is the number one cause of campaign failure. You can take the information gained through the screening process to determine if the gift levels are realistic and if enough prospects are available at each gift range level.
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The world is full of prospects. Now who to see first. Well, those that are most likely to make an individual donation.
Without a crystal ball, how do you even begin to determine those most likely to make a donation?
Well, first you look at linkage. Is there a strong connection between your organization and the prospect? Are they active in the organization? Do they know someone actively involved in the organization? These linkages are what matters. A genuine link to the organization.
The next thing to look at is their ability. Do they have the financial ability to make a sizable gift? There are ways both formal and informal that can help you determine if someone can make a gift.
The last thing one needs to determine is if the prospect has any interest in your organization. And, by interest, I mean belief in and passion for the mission. Again, some of this information is available online.
I would also recommend that you conduct a silent prospecting rating session with your closest board, staff, and volunteers. Prepare lists of the top one hundred prospects and have them review the lists for linkage, ability, and interest.
Then you take this prioritized list of prospects and determine initial cultivation and strategies for each. You can then segment each category of prospects into tiers. Tier 1 prospects are your major donors already close to the organization and have been supporting it for quite some time. Tier 2 donors are those with the capacity and interest to make a gift but lack connection. Further cultivation may be necessary for these individuals. And, Tier 3 donors are potential donors who very little is know of them. They folks would require additional prospect research and more in-depth cultivation.
So there you have my primer on major donor qualification. While, I know that asking is critical, I would hesitate to skip this careful planning step. In doing this step, you are determining who is more likely to support the organization immediately, and that will make for a much more effective and efficient solicitation process.
For your free e-course on establishing a major gifts effort in a small fundraising shop, sign up here!
Oh no! We need a new building. The offer letter is on the table.
What now? We need money!
But wait, we haven’t done any fundraising in the past. We need millions tomorrow to move into our new facility and to make all the necessary upgrades. Time, we don’t have time!
Does this scenario sound familiar?
It very well may. It is an accurate one of many who forge ahead without contemplating the planning and preparation necessary for a successful capital campaign. And, let’s face it, there is a great deal of planning and preparation necessary. You can’t just flop campaigns of this magnitude together. They take strategic thinking and planning. Capital Campaigns are the science behind fund development.
For instance, one question that is always top of mind for me as a consultant, “Do you have any major donors?” or even, “Any major donor prospects?” “What relationship-building strategies have you been engaged in with your current donors and prospects?” “For those current donors and prospects, what cultivation activities have you been pursuing with them?” and “At what stage of cultivation are you at with each of your prospects?”
Fundraisers can’t be expected to swoop in and create money where it is not possible. And, surely they can’t do it in the time frame that a capital campaign demands. It is setting the fundraiser, and, ultimately, the organization and the organization’s mission up to fail.
Here are some things to think about up front to ensure the success of a campaign:
What is the expertise level of current development staff? Do you have ample development staff on board to handle a campaign?
Do you need campaign counsel to oversee the stages of a capital campaign effort (highly recommended, of course)?
Do you have a large enough major gift pool of loyal and personally significant givers?
Do you have a large enough major gift prospect pool?
At what stage of cultivation is each major gift prospect at within this pre-determined pool?
How comprehensive has your donor stewardship plan been in the past?
Do you have a long track record of raising funds within the community?
Does your organization have a long-standing reputation?
Are there other similar services or projects that exist in the community and, if so, how is yours different?
Do you have a clearly outlined case for support document that highlights a substantial community need?
Have you previously conducted a feasibility study for this campaign to determine the feasibility of a major fundraising effort to support the case for support.
Do you have the internal structures in place to mount a large-scale campaign such as up-to-date database software, cleaned-up and segmented database, acknowledge and pledge receipting process, finance and bookkeeping systems, and overall campaign management supports?
These are just a few questions that are top of my mind as I sit and think about an organization seeking to mount a significant capital campaign. This list of questions is not exhaustive but illustrates the types of systems and processes that need to be in place before a significant campaign is mounted.
The morale of this story? One can’t embark on a such a significant endeavor such as a capital campaign without planning. Failing to plan, is failing to succeed. And, failing to succeed, in most cases, falls on the backs of the fundraiser who is “put in charge” of the effort. Rarely is failure seen as a team-effort.