We’ve all worked with them. You know who I’m talking about.
Gift officers who come in, start off well enough, but then completely flame out.
Sure, they cultivate a handful of donors, and maybe land a major gift or two. But, they only ever get knee deep into their portfolios before sputtering to a stand-still.
They’re gone in a little less than two years – off with another organization, repeating this same pattern.
And then one day you learn they’re out of the biz and have started a catering company. Why is it always catering? Actually, I know one who opened up a framing store.
You could call them One Hit Wonders. They’re the Right Said Freds of fundraising. They are Mr. Big, or Soft Cell. The Knack, anybody?
And I have a theory about why these folks don’t stick around. It has everything to do with pipeline. They starve their prospect pipeline and eventually stall out.
How do you starve your pipeline? You stop reaching out to new people. Essentially, you give up on qualification work.
It’s easy to see why this happens. Once you get a little traction with your portfolio, it’s tempting to want to focus all your energy on cultivation, proposal writing, stewardship, etc., and drop the seemingly high-effort, low-reward qualification work.
The problem is it’s not sustainable.
We need an outreach system that’s going to feed our major gift pipeline in an ongoing way. And without being too much of a burden on our time. That’s exactly what this post is about.
Last week, we talked about the inner game of outreach and were warned of invisible scripts that can hold us back. If you haven’t yet identified and replaced yours, read this first.
We’re now in the right frame of mind. Outreach is no longer a burden. Instead, we’re excited about the opportunity in front of us. Let’s talk process.
Breaking It Down
Qualification outreach can feel like a big task. And whenever a task is large, I always try and break it down into bite-sized chunks.
It’s a productivity thing. And small wins along the way are nice! They help with that desire for instant gratification we talked about last week. Particularly since we don’t get a lot of them in major gifts work!
I try to dedicate about two hours every day for outreach to new prospects. That includes planning time. In the for-profit world, this type of activity is called “new business.”
The process I’ll outline below worked for me when major gifts was about 50% of my job. And it works for me now that it’s 100%.
Here are the steps:
- Who will you to reach out to?
- When will you reach out?
- What will you say?
- Do it!
Let’s dive right in.
Who will you reach out to?
Your portfolio is probably somewhere in the 100-300 donor range. If you’re new, my guess is it’s on the higher side. If you’re more senior, it’s probably on the lower side.
Regardless, you have some prospects you don’t know yet – they’re in “qualification” mode. And you can’t reach out to all of them at once!
I recommend identifying four groups of 12 prospects each that you’ll focus on over the course of a month.
Why twelve? That’s roughly what it’s going to take if you want to schedule three qualification visits a week. Some folks will be unresponsive, some out of town – assume you’ll get one out every four.
If three per week is more than you need, organize smaller groups.
I try to create groups of prospects who have something in common. Communication efficiencies! Perhaps they’re all existing annual fund supporters, or they all live in the same part of town. Other possible groupings could be community leaders, past volunteers, grateful patients, alumni, parents, etc.
When will you reach out?
I try to have my outreach planned out four weeks in advance. Here’s a planning grid I use:
|Week 1||Groups: A, B||Groups: A||n/a|
|Week 2||Groups: C||Groups: B, A||Groups: A|
|Week 3||Groups: D||Groups: C, B||Groups: B, A|
|Week 4||Groups: E||Groups: D, C||Groups: C, B|
Remember, it’s only a framework. Your actual activity and results probably won’t fall neatly inside a grid. But use it to keep birds-eye view on the process.
You’ll notice that in each week (other than the first) you’re reaching out to two groups. If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry. By the time you’re onto your second week of outreach with each group, you’ll have already heard some responses. You won’t be reaching out to a full 24 people.
If it’s still more than you can handle in a given week, reduce your initial group sizes.
As you’re preparing to contact your Group A prospects in week one, here’s a quick thought on how you could split up your outreach activity over the course of the week:
|Group A Outreach||Prospects||Type|
|Wednesday||1-4||Phone + Email follow-up|
|Thursday||5-8||Phone + Email follow-up|
|Friday||9-12||Phone + Email follow-up|
The phone calls on Wednesday are to some of the same prospects (nos. 1-4) you emailed the previous Monday. Assuming, of course, they didn’t reply to your initial email. If they did, great! You have less follow-up work to do.
Plan on leaving a message if you don’t reach the prospect. The email follow-up afterward is exactly what it sounds like – a quick “hey I just called you” note. Obviously neither is necessary if you catch your prospect on the phone.
Over the long haul, this approach is enough outreach to keep your prospect pipeline full. And – with some planning time thrown in – it only requires about two hours per day!
What will you say?
We’ll cover this in greater detail next week. As always, I’ll provide some sample language you can use in your outreach.
For now, I just want to highlight the importance of separating the tasks: deciding what to say is one thing, actually making the calls is another. It’s another way to divide and conquer.
So, in grid #1 above, consider figuring out what to say part of the “planning” phase. Develop your email template and phone script for each group in advance of actually reaching out. And then email/call in batches, one right after the other.
Trust me, you’ll like it. You’ll get through more calls, and you’ll be able to focus your mental and emotional energy on making great connections with people. Which is much easy to do if you’ve taken care of the all the planning in advance!
Ongoing outreach is the only way to avoid being a One Hit Wonder. You’ve got to keep that major gifts pipeline fully loaded!
Thankfully, any type of ongoing work can be systematized. Invest the energy up front to set up a good process and then let it run day after day.
I once had a colleague who was fond of saying, “plan the work, then work the plan.” And that’s exactly what we’re talking about here.
Next week we’ll take a deep dive into what to say as you’re reaching out.
For now, leave me a comment. Could this system work for you? If not, tell me why and we’ll see if we can tweak it together.