It is not uncommon for an organization to find themselves in a fundraising “dead-end” after starting a capital fundraising initiative and losing direction and/or momentum. In "I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up”: Or, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Campaign Slowdowns, But Were Afraid to Ask" I wrote of campaign “slow-downs” generally and shared some examples of things I have found to help overcome them. In this article I propose six specific areas of action (that frequently overlap) that you can take to immediately and dramatically increase campaign output.
With these steps, I try to address specific areas of action that are adaptable to your particular needs and position on the fundraising continuum. I find the main value of this process is the focus it brings on the fundraising and to people involved in the effort. Of course, the aim of such intense focus of your time, talents and resources is helping you achieve the goals of your campaign.
The six areas of focus are:
1. Conducting Top Gift Solicitations and Recruiting Leadership
- Organize key volunteers to concentrate on your 10-15 most financially capable prospects and key leadership candidates with outstanding giving potential. Do what you can to make them “prospects” rather than “suspects.” There should have been some ongoing cultivation with identifiable lines of contact with existing major donors and leaders. (As a next step, begin cultivating the next group of 10-15 prospects.)
- Focus on the most potentially lucrative requests. I tend to start with gift requests of $100,000+ and proceed from the biggest asks downwards in a very serial fashion (of course, this is relative to the size and scope of your effort.). This is effective because most of the funds raised come from a relatively few donors. (The “80/20” rule we all know and love!) Also, this builds credibility and momentum for the campaign and, most importantly, raises significant funds. Bring to bear an institutional focus on those prospects most likely to give at the top levels – the rest will follow from the momentum you create. This need not be restricted to a special or extraordinary campaign but can be used for everyday funding needs as well.
- Specify who those prospects are – and why! Make a very specific “short-list” of those prospects and establish the logic behind their selection. This will force all involved to focus on this universe of potential support.
- As part of the solicitation strategy, ask each of these key prospects to serve in a leadership position on the campaign as part of their commitment. Do not just ask for money – as you will make it easy to say “NO.” Co-op these new supporters to shepherd their investment in your organization and the initiative. Make their commitment so important that it, by itself, cannot be made without their leadership. Build a habit of ‘active support’ in these key supporters.
2. Bringing “Pending” Requests to Closure
- Be tenacious in your follow-up on outstanding gift requests. We too often feel our work is done after making the gift request. Nothing could be further from the truth! What turns a “good” gift into a “great” gift is the intensity and urgency of the request. To make a major gift commitment, most donors must feel a compelling, time-sensitive need is being met by their gift. By asking and forgetting, or being casual in securing the commitment, you are sending the message that this effort is not important or urgent enough to require their extraordinary support – not a message conducive to major gift giving – or receiving!
- Bring intense and focused concentration on the top two to three gift requests that have yet to be closed. Design specific strategies to bring each to closure. Train those involved to execute the most effective strategies. This ‘focus within a focus’ will produce the most positive and immediate results and will greatly impact your effort to influence others.
- Constantly monitor, report and discuss the total dollar amount of outstanding requests. This creates an air of expectancy and immediacy. It dangles the ‘carrot’ of immediate financial reward while reminding of the ‘stick’ of potentially lost support. It also reminds everyone involved that the hard work on these requests has already been done – the ‘ask’ is complete, the answer is needed.
3. Making New Assignments
- Encourage (and facilitate) campaign volunteers and leaders to take one or more additional ‘assignments’ (prospects they will be responsible to contact) right away. This will put a fresh name (or more) on their “to do” list and give your organization something new to discuss and encourage. And, if the process has been well-designed, additional visits will produce additional gifts.
- Encourage those solicitors who have taken ‘assignments’ but who have yet to contact them to do so NOW. You can create a flurry of immediate action by asking everyone to follow through on their commitment to these prospects. This is not putting something additional on their plate, just prodding them to finish the calls to which they have already committed.
- Make a diligent effort to regularly communicate with the volunteers, always sharing progress, offering help, describing successful ‘asks” while also reminding volunteers of their assignments and encouraging them to complete them.
4. Focusing on Top Prospects – AGAIN!
- Focus on the “Top 10,” board members, top current donors, and others. In other words, focus on those that are the best prospects and those which you know.
- Constantly work to improve your top prospects list. Make this a dynamic and constantly evolving process that upgrades prospects to the top gift levels and brings new names to the list. Improve the input to improve the output.
- Have a special meeting of board members and/or trustees to seek their help in creating more linkages to top-level prospects. (Often it is even more useful if you can sit with them alone to review the list. Frequently they share in private what they hesitate to share in a group setting.)
- Do the same with top donors.
5. Cultivation and Special Tours
- Design a cultivation plan based on simple, but effective ways to use current supporters to introduce you to others. Keep it personal and intimate to encourage an atmosphere of closeness and singleness of purpose.
- Conduct special tours of your facilities, if appropriate. Bring prospects to your site; demonstrate what you do and how it impacts the world around them. Don’t let them think you operate in a vacuum. Make it very personal with lots of attention. Follow up immediately
- Utilize donors, board members and/or trustees to make introductions and participate in tours. Share their personal stories and unique perspectives on what you do and why they are involved.
- Make your objective to turn ‘suspects’ into ‘prospects’ and ‘prospects’ into donors.
6. Logistics and Support
- Constantly work to expand and improve the logistics that support such a dramatic increase in activity. Facilitate the involvement of volunteers by doing the work that will make their involvement easier.
- Produce and utilize high-quality, effective promotional and marketing materials that help your volunteers do what you have asked of them. Do the legwork, be prepared, train volunteers and give them the tools to be successful.
- Be especially vigilant in follow-up and support activities. Have things ready before volunteers realize they need them. “Up the ante” on the professionalism of the effort. You will be rewarded.
So much of this is obvious and seems self-evident. However, unless you constantly work to promote the focus and intensity inherent in this (or a similar) process, it is often easy to lose momentum in a fundraising initiative. Let’s face it; you probably have other things to do than fundraising! Our job is to help and encourage an immediate focus on finishing the task of making those ‘other things’ possible.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to email@example.com.