Question: Who’s a Good Prospect?

November 29, 2010

It is tremendously difficult to understand who to prospect and who not to prospect. We don’t want to waste our time talking with people who are not interested in the organization and we need to be able to prioritize who we talk. So how do you do it?

How do you figure out who is a good prospect? If you are doing cold calling where do you go first? The Book of Lists, Chamber Lists? Do you get referrals from donors who already love the organization? When you call do you try and talk with business owners, executives, or middle management? How do you get in-touch with them?

I’m trying to answer those questions myself. How can I most appropriately use my time in prospecting and talking with donors? I’d love to hear from you.

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Too Much Cultivation

November 24, 2010

How much is too much cultivation? I’m a believer that you need to spend some time with a donor before you ask them for a gift. For most major and significant gifts, there should be a handful of touch points, before a solicitation is made, and at least one of them should be in-person.

Starting in a new job I inherited a few donors that were in the very middle of their cultivation process. In fact, some of them were fully ready to be solicited. I have a really hard time soliciting a donor with whom I’ve never established a relationship. So I scheduled some intentional conversations and touch points to introduce myself.

I’ve found too little cultivation results in unsuccessful solicitations. If that has been no previous cultivation, often times a solicitation appointment becomes a cultivation appointment. When you cultivate an appropriate amount donors know what’s coming, they know why you want to talk with them. But, if every meeting you have with a donor is cultivation, you end up becoming a bad steward of the donor’s and organizations time. Overly cultivated donors either become comfortable never making a gift or they decide they’ve waited too long for you to ask and will make a gift without being asked. With a preemptive gift a donor often gives far less than an organization hopes or intends. There is a huge value in having that opportunity to ask for a specific gift for a targeted reason.


Featured Fundraiser Amy White

November 22, 2010

What kind of fundraising do you do and who do you do it for?

I am a Financial Development Director for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. The YMCA has been my only employer since graduating college and it has always been a mission match organization for me. After many years of Youth Development work I wanted a change. Relationship building is the heart of youth work and it turns out it is also the core foundation of fundraising. So I left youth work to become a fund raiser. I was initially hired to help our organization complete its $40M capital campaign, which provided facility upgrades and built 3 new Y’s. After the campaign was over I transitioned into one of our brand new YMCA’s (the Matt Griffin YMCA in SeaTac) to focus on fund development through annual campaign, major gifts and grants.

What keeps you going? Why do you keep working in development?

I’m a list maker. It’s how my brain works. The following words best describe why I do what I do what I do: Passion, innovation, being a change agent, taking risks, dare to dream, fun, opportunity, value, transformative.

What tips/advice do you have to other fundraisers in your field?

  1. Keep it simple, think big, act now. I cannot take credit for this mantra but it is the best advice I have ever received with regard to fundraising. Early in my development career I had the opportunity to attend a training hosted by For Impact of The Suddes Group. This experience revolutionized my thinking about raising money. I still need to do my homework but I don’t need to be distracted by real or imagined barriers.
  2. Make the ask, then be quite and listen. We are always in such a hurry, afraid the donor will say no or that they will counter offer with a lower gift. Shhhhhhhhh, silence is golden, you will be surprised.
  3. Impact drives income. This is one of my favorite concepts to share with co-workers and board members. If we do our part to make a difference then raising the money will be that much easier.

What is the most frustrating or difficult thing about fund development?

Working in an infrastructure that ultimately holds me accountable for the outcome, but the outcome is not achievable without effort from the entire team. This can be true for many positions in a large organization – not just fund raising. Holding this concept close reminds me of how important it is to relationship build with my own team. In development we spend a lot of time cultivating and stewarding donors, don’t forget to apply these best practices with the people who help make it happen.

Do you have any memorable donor visits or solicitations that you’d like to share?

I was planning for our first annual campaign at the new YMCA. We had a very small budget to host kick-off, weekly meetings and victory. One of our business neighbors is a well respected conference and retreat center. I decided they should host our kick-off and donate the space and catering in full as an in-kind investment. I met with their general manager asked for what I wanted and got it! That was a year ago and the general manager in now on our board of directors and we are partnering their business to host a winter holiday event for foster youth in our community.

Any last words?

Create opportunity. If you have door opener, use it. I skate for the Rat City Rollergirls and I am happy to share this as a conversation starter. It has served as a spring board for great dialogue on visits with donors. And if all else fails, I can always hip check them!


What Are Your Intentions?

November 17, 2010

Let your prospects know what direction you are going. Is your intention to build a relationship that will bring money to the organization or do you see your prospects as community connectors? When making an introduction, do you set any expectations as to how the conversation will go? It cuts down on the number of uninterested people you talk with if they have an idea of why you’re having a conversation with them.

Before a cultivation appointment I will often let donors know that I want to learn a little bit more about their connection with the organization and what caused them to make their first gift. If it is a stewardship appointment, I’ll let them know that I want to thank them for their gift. And, if it is a solicitation, I will let them know I’d like to talk with them about making a gift. It seems to me that people don’t like being surprised.

This has become more difficult when I have applied this same process to donor acquisition. When talking with someone who does not have any relationship with the organization they do not want to meet if I tell them I want to talk with them about the organization. I’ve found that it is valuable to find some kind of value-add that I can provide to them even if it is just a conversation about the needs in our community. With these individuals, if they do not have a link to the organization, we are their very best connection point. If they enjoy talking with us, they will be more motivated to engage in the organization.

How do you frame the conversations you schedule with your donors? What do you say to new donor prospects?


The System Is Down

November 15, 2010

When you leave a job, one of the best things you can leave behind is a working system and instructions on how to use that system. I was recently amazed at the number of tasks and jobs I do I never thought about until I had to write them down. It is also amazing how hard it can be to decipher someone else’s system without any notes or explanation.

I’ve always thought I was methodical and that everything I did made logical sense. Then someone else took a look at what I was doing and raised a number of questions that introduced a new perspective. Writing down your mental process provides you an opportunity to improve your regular flow of work and helps everyone to be on the same page. I found that this process allowed me to take the time to think critically about what is really essential in my processes and what is not essential.

Creating tried and true systems can be incredible for an organization. A good system makes our everyday tasks more efficient so we can spend our time growing the organization by talking with donors. Setting up a good system can be as simple as creating an acknowledgement process for donors or creating a checklist for an event. This is why capital campaign fundraising often allows an organization to move to the next level. Not only does campaign fundraising allow you to reach out to new donors, but it also creates a system to engage them in a meaningful ongoing way.


Lost in the Junk

November 10, 2010

Don’t get lost in the junk of everyday work and fail to get the important work done. I find it tremendously easy to get stuck in the mindset where I have to finish every project no matter what the size. It is often surprising how hard it can be as a Major Gifts Officer to get out of the office. It is easy to stop the prospecting process and stop finding new donors and stick only with cultivating those you already have. But that can destroy your pipeline of new opportunities.

I prioritize my work with direct donor engagement as number one. If we are not creating and sustaining relationships with donors, then we are not serving our purpose as fundraisers. I will sometimes bump creating & sustaining relationships if I getting ready for a solicitation and I need to prepare something to make it successful. I rank solicitation meetings with donors as the very most important to schedule.

I found my first couple weeks on the job I had a dozen pamphlets to read, staff to meet, and orientation classes to attend. If you are not new to the job it is easy to get wrapped up in organizational committee meetings, answering the front desk phone line, budgeting, and much more. It has been helpful to prioritize my work so that projects that involve donors are put to the front of the line.

How do you manage all of the junk that gets in the way of work? A lot of it is important and can’t be completely abandoned, but it can be reprioritized. How do you prioritize?


Tips in a New Job?

November 1, 2010

I’m not sure if I mentioned it yet, but I recently started a new job. So, that will probably be on my mind a little over the next number of posts. I am working as a Major Gifts Officer at a local hospital and am managing a portfolio of donors as well as launching a capital campaign. I thought I’d write this post to offer some tips and ideas I’ve tried when starting my new job and to hear some new ones from you. Here are a few things I’ve tried or wish I’d tried my first few weeks on the job.

  • Temper my ambition my first week on the job. I’ve found that if I’m too gung-ho that it can frustrate my boss and co-workers. I try to relax and educate myself to the environment and get a feel for expectations.
  • Ask co-workers the tactical & logistics questions. This frees up your boss for the strategic and hard to answer questions. Co-workers can help you discover how the office works and the expectations of your team and your boss.
  • Try to figure it out on your own first. Try to answer the easy questions with simple research and reading. In the least, you can use that reading to inform how you ask questions to the rest of the organization.
  • Figure out what kinds of things are considered extra credit and expectations. Does everyone go out to lunch regularly? Is there an organizational meeting you could attend that would be really valuable but isn’t expected?
  • Take time to talk to everyone on your immediate team. Those initial first impressions are huge. Many of your co-workers make a decision about you in your first few days of work. People like you more if you’ve taken some time to get to know them. I often will make sure I say good morning to everyone in the office by walking around or doing a coffee run.
  • Take time to get a tour of the organization and understand the client experience. What does your nonprofit do? Make sure in your first few weeks you have a chance to have some of those experiences first-hand. Maybe it makes sense to set up a couple of meetings with clients and get their perspective.

Those are only a few small things. I’d love to hear any tips from you on being successful in your first couple of months on the job. What do you think? What is your advice?