During campaign years institutions raise more money. The research is clear on this. A campaign focuses an institution and its donors on strategic priorities and gift income goals. During a successful campaign, the case for support is concisely articulated and the institution places an extraordinary level of energy on the discovery, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of major gift donors.
But what about non-campaign major giving? A primary indicator of a mature development program is the existence of an effective ongoing major gift program. So that even outside of campaign years, major gifts continue to be received. To keep major gifts flowing every year, make sure the following 3 keys are implemented.
1. A Case for Support – Do you regularly revise and ask major gift donors and prospects how they perceive your case for support? Keep in mind that your case for support is different than your case statement. Your case for support is the message. It is why you are raising major gifts and how the identified major gift priorities will substantively advance your institution. Your case for support is never about your needs. It is about your mission, vision, and values and the priorities which will allow your institution to serve better. Your case statement, on the other hand, refers to the document or vehicle you will use to deliver your case for support. Some institutions still produce a multi-page, 4 color, case statement. Others present their case statement using iPads. You can have, simultaneously, a visually appealing case statement and an ineffective case for support. To be effective, focus on crafting and seeking feedback on your case for support.
2. An Organizational Structure That Encourages Activity – How do you track and encourage ongoing activity with your major donor prospects? How do you share information about donors and prospects among development team members? Mature and ongoing major gift programs share similar organizational characteristics. First, there are specific meetings that focus on prospect management and the upkeep of major gift officer portfolios. These meetings occur at least monthly and are “command performances” for all development team members involved in major gifts. The agenda for these meetings rarely deviates from discussions about prospects and strategies. These meetings ensure that “getting out from behind the desk” happens regularly for all responsible for major gift donors. Second, there is one person who is tasked with reporting on major gift officer activity. Regardless of the types of performance metrics you use, there is a staff member who reports regularly on the number of visits, solicitations, and gifts received (or other metrics) for each major gift officer. This structure helps to ensure accountability. Finally, timely visit reports are completed after each substantive visit with a donor or prospect. These reports are short but content-rich. A rule of thumb is simple: If you learned something during a visit that will be of value or will help explain the donor’s relationship with the institution 3 years from now, complete a visit report. Anything less significant and it isn’t worth a major gift officer’s time to document.
3. The Engagement of Institutional Leaders – Does your president participate in prospect management meetings? Do your deans have portfolios that they actively manage? Are governing board and/or foundation board members utilized during the cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of prospects and donors? The engagement of your institution’s leaders in the ongoing major gift program is key. It signifies to donors and other constituents that major giving is important to the institution, even when the campaign is over. Also, it encourages a sharing of information about donors and projects that can help both the major gift staff members as well as the institution’s leaders. Finally, when institutional leaders are engaged, it helps ensure that major gift program progress continues. If more resources are needed, for instance, there is a much better chance of obtaining them when leadership is involved.
When helping institutions assess their readiness to conduct a campaign, a typical weakness is the tenuous relationships between the institution and its top 100 donors. “We haven’t really continued the cultivation of our top donors since the last campaign,” is a common acknowledgment. If you make the above 3 keys a priority, you will ensure that this won’t be a weakness of your institution. And, most importantly, you’ll raise more money each year to help your institution transform lives.