I don’t know about you, but my honeymoon with 2015 ended about a week and a half ago.
We tied the knot on Jan. 1 and immediately left town for a few weeks of wedded bliss – the perfect escape from reality.
But, now we’re back home. And we’re starting to get on each other’s nerves.
A month ago, 2015 could do no wrong. She was perfect in every way. Now, she’s starting to seem a little…ordinary.
And apparently I’m just a big disappointment to her. All the promises I made, all the ways I was going to be better, all those resolutions… Well, it turns out I’m pretty much the same slob I was back in December.
It’s a familiar story.
How are you and 2015 getting along? How are those New Year’s resolutions going? You crushing it? Failing miserably?
Or, maybe you didn’t make any. That seems to be trendy right now.
I hope you’ve resolved to better yourself and grow professionally in some way this year. Your organization and its mission are depending on you to be at your best. And your professional life will be far more satisfying if you commit to your own growth and development.
Well, wherever you stand with resolutions, I want you to know it’s not too late.
In fact, I’d much rather talk about resolutions in late January than late December. The holiday glow has worn off. You’re back in your routine. You’re in a better (i.e. more realistic) frame of mind for goal-setting.
And there’s still plenty of year left to revise or add resolutions! As of this morning, 93% of 2015 is still in front of you.
So, let’s talk fundraising resolutions. I have some ideas for you.
But first, let’s be clear about one thing: not all resolutions are good resolutions.
Here are some examples of terrible resolutions:
- I’m going to raise more money this year.
- I’m really going to get after it in 2015.
- I’m going to go on more donor visits.
- I’m going to invest in myself this year.
Why are these bad?
They set you up to fail! Each one is either too far outside of your control, or too broad to be meaningful.
They fall into the category of “New Year’s Desires.” And desires don’t make good goals, or resolutions.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about desires. Hopefully you have some. They’re just not the same as goals. And if you try to make them into goals, you’ll end up disappointed.
To repeat: don’t confuse desires with goals.
(I’m going to use the words “goals” and “resolutions” interchangeably for the rest of this post.)
Some quick definitions:
Desires: Things you want; the outcomes may depend on forces outside of your control; progress is very subjective
Goals: Specific things you pland to accomplish; the outcomes are completely within your control; progress is measurable
Let’s revisit the “New Year’s Desires” above and rephrase them as good, healthy resolutions:
|Reasonable Desire||Good Goal/Resolution|
|I’m going to raise more money this year.||I’m going to set ambitious yet realistic goals based on my portfolio and relentlessly prioritize activities aimed at cultivating and closing gifts from the top 25 prospects I’m working with.|
|I’m really going to get after it in 2015.||I’m going to spend at least 6 hours of every workday focused exclusively on activities that will move my prospects to the next stage of the fundraising cycle.|
|I’m going to go on more donor visits.||I’m going to systematize my approach so that I know I’m doing enough outreach to secure 15 face-to-face meetings every month.|
|I’m going to better myself professionally this year.||I’m going to talk to my boss before the end of the month about attending two conferences this year. I’m going to set aside 30 minutes every evening to read material that will be beneficial to my professional life.|
What makes them good goals? Well, they’re specific for one. Secondly, they’re within your control to achieve. And finally, you’ll know for sure if you do – they’re measurable in some way.
So, fellow fundraiser, now that you and 2015 are back from you island get-away, what’s your cohabitation plan? What are the real goals you’re going to work toward this year?
Here are some ideas:
Stop Winging It
We’ve all worked with gift officers who “wing it.” We’ve probably even done it ourselves at one time or another.
You’re winging it if you sit down at your desk in the morning without priorities for the day and just start with whatever email in your inbox feels most urgent.
You’re winging it if you don’t have articulated strategies and next steps for at least the top 25 donors/prospects in your portfolio. Top 50 is ideal.
You’re winging it if you have visit goals, proposal goals, and dollar goals that you hope to hit, but you haven’t mapped out a path to attain them.
Fundraising doesn’t just happen. In particular, major gifts don’t just happen. You must strategize, plan, be systematic, commit to the process, and you must constantly reevaluate.
For example, let’s say you need to raise $1,000,000 this year. What’s the plan for getting there?
You’ll probably need gifts at the following levels:
1 @ $500,000
2 @ $100,000
3 @ $50,000
6 @ $25,000
Your org’s historical data can help guide you here. How many qualified prospects do you need to solicit to receive one gift at each level? Usually it’s around 4-to-1.
Once you know the number, you need the people. That’s right, Who? You need names at each level.
If you don’t have enough prospects at a particular level, what’s your outreach strategy for finding them?
And it doesn’t stop there. Prospects are only one piece of the equation. What are you going to ask them for? What’s the cultivation strategy? What’s the timeline? Who else is a part of the cultivation/solicitation team?
This is just one example of how to not wing it. You can break down any objective until you have an actual roadmap for getting there. Once you have actionable next steps, you can schedule on your calendar.
Resolved: In 2015 I will develop a strategy for __________. I will break it down into its component parts and understand the action items required to accomplish each part. I will schedule these specific activities on my calendar to ensure that they happen.
Focus on Big Wins
One of the trends we’re seeing in higher ed fundraising is that the old 80/20 principle is getting closer and closer to 90/10. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true across the nonprofit world. Increasingly, the top 10% of donors are giving 90% of the money.
I believe the same principle holds true for our time. It’s only a small fraction of your fundraising team’s overall activity that generates the bulk of the giving to your organization.
Given that, how can you focus more on big wins in 2015? Consider the following:
- How can you spend more of your time with your top donors and prospects?
- In what ways can you get better at inspiring those prospects to make larger gifts?
- How can you prioritize fundraising activities that are proven to lead to big gifts?
- What activities that don’t lead to big gifts can you spend less time on?
One word of caution though: you can 80/20 yourself to death. That’s right – it’s possible to go too far. Take 80/20 prioritization to an extreme and you’ll get to the point where you’re only doing one thing!
For 2015, I’ve resolved to think bigger about the asks I make.
Although I can sell an entry-level gift in my org’s leadership giving society to just about anyone, I know I’m leaving money on the table if that’s all I’m doing. This year, I will strive to be less transactional. I’ll focus on developing deep relationships with top prospects to truly uncover their motivations and passions. My goal is to deliver bolder, more inspiring proposals.
Resolved: In 2015, I will focus on big wins. I will work to understand what portion of the work I do every day leads to the largest results. I will put a plan in place to do more of ________ and less of ________.
Conquer a Fear
Although we many never completely get rid of our fears, we can put an end to their control over us. That’s a win. That’s conquering.
After more than a decade of fundraising, I’m still afraid of cold calling. But I’ve learned to manage it. I still have lingering, low-level anxiety before and during cold calls, but I’ve gotten pretty good them in spite of it.
People treated for OCD go through the same process. If it’s germs they’re afraid of, they never quite get over it. Not completely. But, they learn coping strategies. And over time, they’re able to manage their fear and function at a level close to normal.
To make this a “good resolution” as opposed to a desire, you need to break it down.
First, identify the fear. What part of your work gives you anxiety? Then try to find the fear behind the fear?
Let’s use my fear of cold calling as an example. Why was I afraid of calling strangers? Why would I distract myself with menial tasks just to avoid picking up the phone?
I was afraid of two things: 1) rejection, and 2) confrontation. Why? I knew that experiencing either would make me feel weak and inadequate.
The invisible script controlling my behavior was, “If someone responds negatively to my cold call, it’s because I’m not doing my job well. I probably don’t have what it takes.”
Once I had named my fear and figured out how it was influencing me I was able to put a plan in place for overcoming it.
For more on identifying fears and reframing invisible scripts, check out the following:
- The psychology of qualification visits
- The psychology of prospect outreach
- The psychology of making small talk
Resolved: In 2015 I will figure out why I’m so afraid of/to _________. I will identify the invisible script that’s holding me back, I will reframe it, and I will practice operating out of my new mindset until I’m less afraid.
Be Yourself More
You have a super power. Perhaps you know what it is; perhaps you haven’t ever thought about it. But, everybody has at least one.
So, how do you discover it?
Think about something that’s easy and natural for you, but difficult for other people you know. Or better yet, ask your friends what you’re good at. It will be something that energizes you. Something that if your whole job was just doing that thing, you’d be at the top of your field.
Some gift officers are great at building rapport. They can talk to anyone and make friends very quickly.
Others are masters at the written word. Their emails ooze personality without being over the top. Their appeal letters or proposals are always warm, friendly, and make people care.
Maybe you’re incredibly disciplined and a master of the moves management process. You have next steps mapped out for all of your prospects and you come in day-after-day and execute you plan flawlessly.
Whatever your superpower is, to resolve to “be yourself more” in 2015 is to be intentional about playing to your strengths. It means identifying your superpower and figuring out how to use it in your job more often. In what ways can being yourself more make up for weaknesses – either your own or your team’s?
Resolved: In 2015, I will identify my superpower. I will worry less about my weaknesses and find 2-3 areas where I can add value by being more of myself.
Invest in Yourself
Fast forward in your mind to January 2016. Picture a more knowledgeable, more capable, more confident version of your professional self. In what ways, specifically, have your grown?
What’s it going to take to get from 2015 you to 2016 you? Be realistic. What conferences will you need to attend? What books or other materials will you need to read? What type of experience will you need to gain?
Again, be realistic here. Nobody has an infinite amount of time for self-betterment. Pick 1-3 opportunities for growth and schedule a conversation with your boss or mentor to talk it over.
DON’T sit down with him or her and say, “I want to grow this year, what should I do?”
DO say, “I’m making a plan for how I will invest in myself this year. I feel our organization would benefit most by my learning more about __________ and gaining experience in __________. Here are two opportunities that I believe will help me take steps forward in those areas. What do you think?”
See the difference in those two approaches? The second sets you up for a much richer conversation. And it communicates to your boss or mentor that you’re serious – making it much more likely that you’ll get the resources and buy-in you want.
Resolved: In 2015 I will identify and pursue [number] opportunities to grow professionally. If need be, I will schedule a time to discuss them with my boss.
Tips for Keeping Your Goals
Setting goals is easy. Keeping them is much harder. Here’s how you do it:
1. Go Public
Tell other people about your goals. Whether it’s friends or a significant other, tell at least one person. And give that person permission to ask you about them throughout the year. In fact, ask them to put a recurring reminder on their phone calender (monthly is fine) to check in with you.
2. Systems, Not Willpower
Surprise! You don’t magically have more willpower now that it’s 2015. In fact early-2015 you is almost identical to late-2014 you.
As you’re thinking through goals and resolutions, be realistic. Very few people can make sudden, major changes in their lives simply by trying harder. If you didn’t exercise at all in 2014, to expect a tidal wave of willpower to get you to the gym consistently is crazy.
Similarly, do you want to go on more donor visits in 2015? It’s not going to just happen. Instead, figure out what process you’re going to put in place to ensure you get out of your office and in front of people. How will you schedule your time so you’re guaranteed to get to it even when you’re busy with 100 other things?
Instead of hoping for the willpower to get it done, rely on proven systems to help you build new routines and habits. Here’s one I use to make sure I’m always filling my pipeline with new prospects.
Systems aren’t everything in fundraising, but they can help you nail the science side of the equation. And they can help ensure you’re making time for the work that’s most important – the things that make the biggest impact.
So, happy goal-setting! I’m convinced that being able to differentiate between goals and desires is helpful in every area of life.
Dream big, but don’t stop there. Figure out how you can phrase your desires as concrete goals that are within your control to achieve. And then put the systems in place that will ensure you get there.
We’re going to talk a lot about systems at Fearless Fundraising this year. On the immediate horizon are 1) email best practices for gift officers, and 2) prospect cultivation techniques. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your New Year’s resolutions. And if I can help you make them more actionable, let me know!
Kenda Hembrough says
Hi Michael. So love and appreciate your blog. Thank you so much for talking about what none of the fundraising books out there seem to address! Random question for you. Should I ask for a mid-level gift on the first visit? … And how much cultivation is too much for a mid-level gift? …. We consider a major gift to be 10k and up, so mid-level is in the $2,500-$7,500 range. I work at a fairly young public university so most of the alum I’m visiting were commuter students with less affinity than our current students have. I’m usually the first person to try to schedule a visit since they graduated. I’ve gotten mixed advice on this. Some colleagues (at other schools) feel like a visit is a waste without a hard ask, specific amount and “negotiation.” Others feel that I should spend some time cultivating first. We’ve never pursued mid-level gifts before so I’m trying to pioneer a good path. Right now, I’m doing a soft ask on the first visit, but I need to get a better system in place to make sure I get to the hard ask in my follow up…. Any advice for me? … Thanks in advance!
K. Michael says
Hi Kendra – thanks for the kind words! I’ll do my best with your questions.
Short answer: It depends on the make-up of your portfolio.
I suppose it also depends on your personal dollar goal for the year.
I know, I know, not super helpful. Here’s what I mean:
I’m going to assume that you’re a full time gift officer and close to 100% of your job is qualifying, cultivating, soliciting and stewarding a portfolio of donors and prospects.
To be most efficient, you need to spend a disproportionate amount of time on your biggest prospects. For most gift officers this is the top 1/3 of their portfolio, usually around 50 folks. This group should get 50% of your energy and attention. If you have a massive 200+ portfolio because you have a lot of people needing qualification, just focus on your top 50.
So, who are your top prospects? Can you identify a typical profile? Are most of them truly prospects for $10,000 gifts or higher? If so, you probably don’t want to spend too much time cultivating $2,500 gifts.
Similarly, if your personal fundraising goal is any higher than maybe $150,000, you can’t afford to spend time on $2,500 gifts.
Don’t get me wrong, $2,500 is a nice gift, but you have to consider the opportunity cost. As a gift officer, your time is valuable. And you can spend as much time cultivating a $2,500 gift as you can a $25,000 gift! I’ve been there. You don’t want to miss out on $10,000, $25,000, or larger opportunities because you were so busy chasing down a bunch of prospects for $2,500.
Now, that said, my guess is your portfolio has some legitimate $10,000+ prospects, but many more who you’d be lucky to get $5,000 from.
And you mentioned working for a young university with fairly low alumni engagement. It sounds to me like you’re building for the future. You probably have a nice program for stewarding donors in your mid-range. It wouldn’t be a waste of time to try to grow the number of people giving at this level. These folks will become your major donors in 5-10 years.
So, I’ve just outlined two very different approaches. I’m not entirely sure what makes most sense for you given the state of your organization’s fundraising program and the makeup of your particularly proposal, but get those bigger questions figured out first before you decide how much time you can/should spend on mid-level prospects and whether or not it makes sense to ask the first time you get in front of them.
Please, please, please feel free to hit me with follow-up questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks, that’s very helpful! I’ve been working your system and I’m seeing better results already. 😀