13 Jan Working with a Top 100 List in 2015
Fundraiser’s Almanac: January
Happy New Year!
For 2015, I will be creating a week-by-week guide to organizing a fundraising program. My ambition is to provide strategic ideas for approaching your work more so than providing some kind of overlay to what you might be doing already. Some of the ideas might work for you now; others might work later in the year. Some might not be relevant for you at all. If these posts offer you some fresh ideas, if they provoke your thinking about getting your work done, if they pull you out of reactive mode and into proactive mode – if they do these things, writing them will have been worthwhile.
Please give me feedback along the way. What works for you? What doesn’t? What twist did you employ? What were your results?
Here are the four topics for January:
- Communications Theme for 2015
- Top 100 Working List for 2015
- Board Evaluations, Board Campaign
- Thank You Calls
If you’ve been working with a Top 100 list to focus your major gift development work, January is a great month to review and revise the list. If not, January is a great month to start one.
A Top 100 (or T-100) is simply a list of top donor prospects. These are people who warrant and deserve your special cultivation attention. This is the list of priority donor prospects that the board members should be working with. I started calling it a Top 100 List to make the point that is should be a finite list and probably no more than 100 without dedicated staff support. But the list does not need to number 100. Depending on your circumstances, you might have a Top 30 List, or a Top 75 List.
It seems odd to point out that cultivating donor interest has many parallels with cultivating landowner interest. It seems like it should be the other way around. But consider the obvious commonalities. With landowners, you can’t spend equal time with everybody. So you prioritize. You work first with those people who own land – land in one of your strategic priority areas, perhaps. You are open in your interest, but listen first to what their priorities are. You expect to get to know them over time and cultivate their interest and trust over months or even years. And you focus your time on people who have cultivatable interest, while still keeping those obviously disinterested in the general loop.
With donors, it’s the same thing. We can’t spend equal time with everybody. So we prioritize. We work first with those people who have money – money and a known interest in conservation, perhaps. We are open in our interest, but listen first to what their priorities are. We expect to get to know them over time and cultivate their interest and trust over months or even years. And focus our time on people who have cultivatable interest, while still keeping those obviously disinterested in the general loop.
With a Top 100 List, you don’t want it forever changeable – you’ll drive yourself buggy, and nothing will get done other than constantly refining the list. But every year – in January – it is appropriate that the list get formally reviewed.
- Are there individuals on the list who should simply be removed?
- Are there individuals not on the list who should be? Perhaps because they recently joined, or because you recently learned of some previously unknown passion for one of your projects?
- Are there board directors who have been paired with donors they can’t work with?
- Are there new board directors who need fresh assignments?
Now for each donor, draft and calendar an individual cultivation plan. Here are the steps:
- First identify and calendar all the obvious points of contact. These will include organizational events, hikes and field trips, major news events such as known or predictable property closings, large volunteer work parties, newsletter release dates, and the dates of your planned special appeals.
- Identify and calendar each donor’s expected renewal (or annual gift) date.
- Now thinking about each donor individually, consider the types of events and activities they might most be interested in and calendar those events. For example, if a donor has known interest in a spring birding trip, make this year’s invitation a personal one by calling them or personally signing their invitation. Calendar that call or invitation.
- Now consider the calendar. Are their large gaps in your donor communication plans? Let’s plan NOW to fill the gaps. Here are some ideas I helped generate for a recent client:
- January – Call to say thank you
- March – Take the Strategic Plan (or new website roll-out) and present it to them for review and comment
- May – Invite to one of the summer field trips
- June – Special introduction to incoming Chair following the Annual Meeting elections
- September – Personal invitation to donor dinner
- October – Personal note on fall appeal letter
- Any Time – Special news alert of a project closing or trail completion
- Any Time – Special news alert of work party results or field trip fun
Each plan will be individualized, of course, but in general, you’re aiming at 4-7 “contacts” each year with no more than 8-10 weeks or so in between any two of them.
I’d be very interested in your ideas for donor cultivation plans. How much structure are you preparing for early in the year? What activities are you including?
If you’ll share, I’ll post all the ideas I am aware of on this blog.
Photo credit: Moraine Park Winter by Walt Kaesler.