16 Feb

The Major Gifts Wonder Ball

The wonder ball, goes round and round
To pass it quickly, you are bound
If you’re the one, to hold it last
The game is past, and you are out!

I often feel that the board, the development professionals and the development committee are playing a version of wonder ball with major gifts fundraising. This is especially true in smaller organizations.

The board budgets for a development director and wants them to bring in the money. The development director knows that peer-to-peer fundraising and relationship based fundraising is the way to go so he enlists the help of the board. The board is uncomfortable fundraising and they delegate to a development committee. The development committee is charged with helping with the annual fund phonathon, overseeing events etc. too and isn’t all that comfortable with solicitations either so they pass it back to the development director or the board or they come back with a perfect solution – hire a grant writer to raise more foundation money instead!

You know who is out? The mission of the organization. Because a ton of time gets wasted watching people who love the organization and mean well pass the buck – or the wonder ball to stay with my analogy!

To raise more money, most organizations need to have a successful major gifts program in which volunteers engage in face-to-face cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of donors.  Yes, if you have unlimited funds, you can hire a lot of staff to do all of this. However, because peer-to-peer fundraising is the most effective, you will still be leaving money on the table AND without your volunteers involved, your staff probably can’t get meetings with many prospects anyway.

So, instead of playing wonder ball, here are the basics of major gifts fundraising. Discuss them. Assign ownership and agree that everyone will, as we say to our NE Patriots, do their jobs.

  1. Commit to relationship based fundraising and decide who is on the team.
  2. Produce a donor and prospect list with key information such as contact information, giving history, notes about the donor’s relationship with the organization and it leaders, information about the donor’s capacity and other philanthropic causes or organizations etc.
  3. Have a rating and review meeting at which the major gifts names are vetted and relationship managers are assigned. If you take names, you need to follow-through. If you are not going to do it, don’t take the name.
  4. Give the relationship managers up to date collateral and information about the organization including current talking points, a menu of cultivation options and training on how to solicit.
  5. Relationship managers should have a plan for each of their donors/prospects.  What is the right ask amount and for what? What are the right cultivation moves? When is the right time to solicit?  How will the donor be stewarded?
  6. Commit to being donor-centric and getting to know the donor. We are building relationships, and it takes time.
  7. Decide how donors will be thanked, recognized and stewarded before you ask. Put the appropriate processes and systems in place.
  8. Make sure all the “moves” are tracked in your database. Reporting back and exchanging timely information are key.
  9. Decide who is the major gifts manager. Who is the person holding the relationship managers accountable? Is it the executive, the development director, the development committee or the board? People need structure and boundaries of time. Create monthly reports by relationship manager, progress against goals, progress against YTD etc.
  10. Establish a pathway for new prospects to get integrated.

If you want to raise more money, stop passing the ball around and start taking ownership of and responsibility for major gifts.



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