I hope the early days of 2016 have been treating you well!
And I hope your New Year’s resolutions are holding up. Last week, everyone at my office steered clear of the leftover holiday candy—pretty impressive.
I tend to make more New Year’s resolutions than I can actually keep—or even remember over 12 months. Even if I only stick with one or two of them, I suppose I’m still better off in some way.
Have you given much thought to your professional resolutions for 2016?
Whether you have or haven’t, I invite you to join me in making 2016 the year of more and better donor relationships.
Fundraising, at its best, is relational. People give to people. People give because of people. People give to help people.
Major gifts fundraising, in particular, is all about relationships.
You need more relationships. You need better relationships.
And this has never been more important. You’ve heard it; perhaps your organization is feeling it: the 80/20 principle is quickly becoming the 95/5 principle.
That’s right, going forward it won’t be uncommon for the top 5% of your donors to give 95% of the funds your org raises.
Many non-profits are losing ground on donor retention. Direct mail programs are stagnating. The future is in increasing the investment level of a smaller set of your very best donors—getting more money from fewer people.
Relationships is how big gifts happen. They are critical to your org’s success, and to your professional success.
Let’s resolve grow more and better relationships in 2016.
How? I have some ideas for you.
But first, I want to quickly touch on an important truth I make sure to revisit every New Year’s: the difference between goals and desires.
Young professionals, learn to distinguish between goals and desires if you haven’t already—this is a life skill. Like personal hygiene. Or Microsoft Excel.
(If you want to dive a little deeper into this idea, read my post from last January.)
Goal and desires are not necessarily the same thing.
In fact, a very good and reasonable desire (such as “I’m going to get serious about my health in 2016”) is a terrible goal.
Why? Because it sets you up to fail. It isn’t specific enough.
Similarly, “I’m going to build more and better donor relationships in 2016” is a great desire, but unhelpful as a goal.
So, how might we turn this good desire into some actionable and achievable goals?
Here are some ideas:
1. Resolve to Feed Your Pipeline
Major gift officers have an alarming tendency to stall out once they close their first few gifts. I believe this is a matter of pipeline.
How will you ensure you have enough relationships to meet this year’s goals? And next year’s. More simply, are you continuing to meet new people?
Perhaps you’ll resolve to implement a system for feeding your relationship pipeline. CLICK HERE for some thoughts on how to do it.
My approach to ongoing prospect discovery and qualification can be scaled up or down depending on how many other responsibilities you have.
2. Resolve to Make Enough Attempts When Reaching Out
This one’s pretty tactical. I’ve noticed that many gift officers give up too easily when trying to establish contact with a prospect.
I advocate for six attempts between email and phone over a period of 2-3 weeks. If still no response, put your prospect “on the shelf” for 2-3 months and then try again.
People are busy. It simply isn’t realistic to expect that every phone call will be returned or every email will inspire a response.
Let’s lose the fear of “bothering” people in 2016. Staying persistent (albeit politely) is key.
CLICK HERE for more on this topic.
3. Resolve to Ask for More Referrals
Your next major donor may only be one degree of separation away.
Salespeople know referrals are far more effective than cold calls. With a referral, you leverage an existing trust relationship in building your own relationship with a prospect. This accelerates the process.
We all desire more referrals, but what concrete steps can increase our likelihood of receiving them?
Staff training. Are fundraisers asking for referrals when they visit with prospects? If not, you can arm them with these simple questions:
Who among your friends and acquaintances [or classmates] might be interested in our work?
As you consider what we’re trying to accomplish, who else do you think we should talk to?
If you want to go a step further with your staff, find a way to incentivize referrals.
Network analysis. Vendors (like Wealth Engine) can give you a snapshot of who your board members might know based on other boards they sit on. Even without fancy tools, a little Google searching can yield much of the same info.
How many times have we told our boards, “OK guys, it’s really important that you help us make connections”? Heads nod; but nothing else really happens.
Perhaps this year you need to resolve to better understand your own board members’ networks. And, remember that they’re busy people. We can’t expect them to do all the leg work here.
It completely changes the conversation to ask:
“Jim, I understand you sit on the [other org] board with Bob. What do you think it would take to get him interested in our work here?”
And, going a step further:
“Would you be willing to ask Bob to join you and [your org’s top executive] for lunch in the weeks ahead? I can promise we won’t ask him for money. The purpose of the lunch would simply be to make the introduction and bring him up-to-speed on [specific project / community served you’re confident will interest Bob].”
4. Resolve to Invest More in Your Existing Relationships
I’m guilty. I spend far more time chasing the next big gift than I do stewarding existing donors.
Yet, repeat business is always easier to get than new business. Which means investments in stewardship are also investments in your major gifts pipeline.
There are any number of ways you can decide make stewardship a bigger part of your 2016:
Hand-written notes. Early in his career, George H.W. Bush cultivated a habit of writing “thank you” notes at the beginning of each day. Doing the same probably won’t take you all the way to the White House, but would it strengthen your donor relationships if you wrote one each morning? Jack Welch had a similar practice. As did Mark Zuckerberg in 2014.
Or, “Thank You Thursdays.” Anyone?
Articles of interest. Forwarding an article to someone is a great way to let them know you were thinking of them. And it doesn’t take a lot of time!
Stewardship lunches. A certain set of your donors deserve to be taken to lunch once a year. You could sit down right now and calendar out when you’re going to approach each one. A simple “thank you” lunch goes a long way.
Make introductions. You can add value for your donors by helping them meet interesting people. This practice strengthens your org’s network while also positioning it (and you) in the privileged role of “connector.”
5. Resolve to Build More Internal Relationships
I read a Harvard Business Review piece last year that completely changed my thinking on the importance of building relationships within my own org. Titled What Makes Great Salespeople, the article pointed to the strong correlation between a salesperson’s results and the number and strength of her internal relationships.
I believe the same applies to fundraisers. Becoming a trusted colleague within your own organization will increase the number of fundraising leads sent your way. It will also grow you institutional knowledge and, ultimately, help you connect your donors/prospects to the organization in more meaningful ways.
What if you took five minutes each month to invite a colleague to coffee—someone you don’t know particularly well? You’d end the year with a much stronger internal network. Could you do two a month?
I’m sure there’s plenty more we could cover! If you have your own major gifts resolution for the New Year, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below.
Quick closing thought: don’t try to do all five of my suggestions above. That’s unrealistic. Instead, focus on one or two and make them more than merely a New Year’s desire. Get specific; get measurable; set a timeline.
Let’s resolve to focus on relationships in 2016—building new ones, strengthening old ones. Your success (and perhaps 95% of your fundraising) are at stake.
Stay tuned, we’ll have plenty more on this topic throughout the year ahead.
Great post! I just came across your blog this morning. I recently accepted a development position for a non- profit organization where I sat on the board for several years. I have a background in corporate communications and a few years fundraising experience, but have found that I am not as equipped for this role as I hoped to be right out of the gate. I can already tell that your blog is going to be an incredible resource!
K. Michael says
Congrats on your new job. And good luck!
I’m re-reading your article now in July and it’s amazing how it set me on the right course for the year. Thank you!