When someone asks how I help nonprofits in fundraising, I typically leave it at a very surface level, “we help them build better fundraising campaigns and operations.” But, understanding that not everyone is as excited about LYBNT (Last year but not this year) numbers or major gift portfolio management as me, I usually wait for them to ask to prompt me for more before getting into specifics. Yes, I know my love of fundraising may not be shared by all. Their loss (see "After 25 years").
But if someone wants to dig deeper, I love to oblige. I tell them that the core of building a better campaign and operation begins like a mystery or puzzle, and then solving it! This is often a mystery to the client and a mystery to our firm. The mystery is: why are we not supported by more people, and why are we not raising more money? To solve it, we need to figure out what’s working, what’s not (see "Legacy Operation"), and what could work. Beyond a diagnosis, we need a solution - often more than one.
To get to the cause and solve the mystery, we partner with the clients in five unique and powerful ways.
1. Outside perspective: As the “neutral” party and the one who’ll ask the tough questions. I can be the person who’s not afraid to ask the obvious questions. And while this can seem negative at first, more often these questions lead to what people and nonprofits and institutions are doing right.
Yes, it’s sometimes easy to see that this mailing is just not working, but we often see something that that’s working well (for example, alumni engagement) or has the potential to work well. For example, a nonprofit has a great base of engaged volunteers and followers, but they’re not being asked to the right “asks.” Then it’s a simple matter of connecting them to “asks.”
Or sometimes the opposite occurs. Engaged donors might be asked for donations, but there’s just not enough to people engaged to provide support, so then it’s a simple matter of broadening the engagement. For major gifts, are you elevating the conversations with those donors (see "Major Gift Fundamentals"), or simply keeping them on the mail list? We also look at your process are they outdated, are they legacy or innovative.
So many nonprofit leaders and fundraiser responding to the day-to-day or the “bottom line” number, they don’t realize they’re missing some key element. One question I ask, “how many of your donors have considered a major gift lately?” Or sometimes, “how does your organization define a major gift?” This answer alone can provide me with quite a bit of information on the health and focus of the institution.
2. Donor-focus: Certainly, this is not to say leadership and boards are not thinking about donors, but it can get lost in all the other priorities vying for attention. More often, their day-to-day role of putting out fires or carrying out their tasks can leave them focused on short-term or misleading goals. And are you building an organization that is welcoming new donors and appreciating current ones (see "Culture of Philanthropy")?
For example, major gifts should always look at two metrics ahead of everything: who are we talking to in a significant way, and whom are we asking to consider making a larger commitment? If these are not measured and measured frequently, it’ll be hard to build a major gift program.
3. On-demand expertise: No one person or organization is an expert in every aspect of fundraising. Plus, you don’t need to be. Most organizations need expertise for specific situations, times of years, or the beginning stage. As consultants, we provide expertise quickly and with little trouble for you. There’s no need for the organization to pay for knowledge they only need for limited times.
In fact, this research often reveals nonprofits have plenty of donors ready to give (see Look in Your Own Backyard) if asked in the right way. A good example of this are donors who are cash limited but asset-heavy. They might be ideal for a donation of stock (particularly privately held), establish a trust, distribute an IRA, or even transfer land (careful!). But this is periodic and rare. When it occurs, you need to act quickly but also keeping the best interest of the donor as well as the institution in mind. To do this, you need expertise.
4. Fresh ideas and creative spark: Not to say creativity or new ideas can’t come from you or the organization, but sometimes it takes the outsider to ask and begin the process. Sometimes we’re the fresh set of ideas on a campaign or simply the person who spurs others to think creatively by asking the questions. BONUS: nine times out of ten, the creative ideas are there; we just draw them out.
5. Cost savings and speed: Very few organizations have the budget, staff capacity, or immediate ability to undertake a rigorous and comprehensive study. And even if they do, it’s not cost-effective. Instead, we come in quickly, efficiently, and effectively to get the job done.
“So how do we carry this analysis and recommendation?” is another question I get. We look at the organization as a whole and try to boil the ocean a bit. Meaning, if we can gather as much information as possible, we’ll have that much more of an opportunity to understand the problem. And if we know the problem, then we’ll have a much better chance of suggesting a solution.
Data, information, observations, and interactions fall into two categories. We use both and neither is more important than the other. But it's important to recognize the limitations and benefits of the source and type of information we're working with.
Objective: all the data related to fundraising that’s available. The number of donors, amounts, types of gifts, and plenty of other data that starts to look like a story of what’s working, what’s struggling, or maybe what could accomplish even more.
Subjective: volunteer, leadership, staff, and community perceptions. Is their understanding of the organization aligned with what the nonprofit thinks that the donors should know? Do donors understand the need for more funding?
The Analysis and Solution
Finally, we make a recommendation with plenty of “why” to back it up. Say we suggest a more robust annual giving program, it’s because of the number, or we often call the “pipeline,” of donors who’d consider larger gifts are small. Or, we might recommend a stronger case for support because interviews revealed donors not connecting with what’s presented. Finally, we’ll state what we think you can raise and within a certain time based on outlined criteria.
Usually, the client is not very surprised. Instead, it’s often reinforcement of what they suspected or had considered. Our reports are often confirmation, and logical conclusions many people in leadership or staff had believed was necessary. But, as unbiased and objective third parties, we can provide direction everyone can get behind.
So what do you think? These are just some of the methods in which you can begin to improve your development efforts, and I invite you to comment below on other ideas and experiences that you feel would be effective.
If you would like to learn more about improving your major giving efforts, please connect with us below.