How to Start a Major Gift Program in 2020 – The January Donor Planning Meeting

How to Start a Major Gift Program in 2020 – The January Donor Planning Meeting

 

By David Allen, Development for Conservation

 

Major gift development isn’t hard.

It’s a discipline.

And it’s scalable.

So just start. Let movement create momentum and let momentum create habit.

It starts in January, and it could start for you in January 2020.

You can do this for ten donors. You can do this for 300 donors. The process is the same.

Step by step.

 

The great majority of the money you raise in 2020 will come from people who give you $250 or more. Most organizations I work with call these donors “major donors.” Personally, I don’t like the word “major” modifying the word “donor.” I prefer Annual Giving Leaders instead.

Regardless, organize a meeting in late January, once the full results from the end of the year fundraising are known. This meeting might last for several hours. It might last for a week. Make the time, your results next year in December will reward your effort.

 

Step 1 is to identify your Annual Giving Leader Group. I really have only two selection criteria: that they have given before and that you plan to ask them for at least $1,000 this year.

Three source lists will initially populate a starter group:

  • Donors who have made gifts of at least $1,000 in the past five years,
  • Donors who have made gifts of $250 last year or the year before, and
  • Donors who have come to your attention in some other way (like from a screening exercise, for example).

 

Then from this initial list choose the donors you will plan for. This is scalable. Start with five. Or ten. Or whatever you think you can handle. Successful capital campaigns often involve the direct solicitation of 200 donors or more. Gotta start somewhere.

You can do this for ten donors. You can do this for 300 donors. The process is the same.

Step by step.

 

Step 2 is to establish a goal amount for each donor. You will need two numbers. An “ask” amount – the amount of money you will ask each donor to give. And a “goal” amount – the amount of money you expect they will give. If you ask for $1,000, what do you think they will actually give?

I use two general rules. First, I do not generally ask donors to “renew” for more than four times their largest annual gift. Asking a $250 donor for $2,500 feels like it’s too big of a leap. Asking a $250 for $1,000 feels about right.

NOTE that for major gifts – gifts restricted to a specific project, purpose, or outcome that are NOT considered renewable – I may use a ratio of up to 20 times their largest gift.

And second, I do not generally count on donors giving more than 80% of the ask amount. I may be super confident that every donor will give what I am asking for, but over the run of multiple donors, some will give less than I expect and some may even leave me stranded altogether.

You can do this for ten donors. You can do this for 300 donors. The process is the same.

Step by step.

 

Step 3 is to calendar these asks. If you are working alone, using a gigantic spreadsheet is fine. For group planning efforts (the preferred method), use a long run of butcher block paper taped to a wall.

The rows in this grid are donors, the columns are months, and the cells are activities. So write the donor’s name, the ask and goal amounts, and the solicitor (or solicitation team) on a post-it note and place it in the appropriate square on the grid.

The solicitation month should be at least the month before the month they “normally” give. And preferably two months before. If a normal pattern hasn’t been established for a particular donor, use the month that they gave last year, and work from there.

Think, too, about HOW this solicitation gets made. In person (preferred)? By telephone? Letter? Email? And WHO is involved. A Board member? A staff person? Someone else?

That person, or those persons, also needs to be aware right away when the donor “answers” their request so they can participate in the acknowledgement process. How will that information flow? What about if you hear nothing back? How long will you wait, and what will you do next?

You can do this for ten donors. You can do this for 300 donors. The process is the same.

Step by step.

 

Step 4 is to ask yourself the following questions:

Why will they say yes to the ask we make?

“To support the mission” is both too broad and too simple. It’s a given. Do you have a project nearby that they care about? Do they engage in other ways, like events or volunteering? Have they protected their own land? Do you offer opportunities to see and/or experience things that donors don’t get any other way? Do the donors already giving at the requested level represent a peer group to which they aspire?

Who needs to be involved?

Board members? Family members? The Executive Director? A land steward? Other donors?

What will they see from us and when?

Newsletters? Special YMAD (You Made A Difference) notices? E-Blasts? Invitations to field trips, workshops, and other organizational events?

These questions drive your stewardship work for that particular donor. Write down specific actions to be taken during the year on separate post-it notes and place the notes in the appropriate cells of your planning grid.

In general, I think you can safely communicate with donors 12-15 times each year, but I would be looking for at least four communications designed to elicit a response from them. Phone calls, invitations to coffee, lunch, or special events, and surveys can all be designed with this purpose in mind. They should be spread out through the year and should come from a specific point of contact – preferably the same point of contact – instead of from the (faceless) institution.

You can do this for ten donors. You can do this for 300 donors. The process is the same.

Step by step.

 

Step 5 is to step back and notice where the bottlenecks are. Can you move things around without disrupting the integrity of the engagement sequences? Can you prepare materials ahead of time? Can you plan your vacation around these priorities?

You can do this for ten donors. You can do this for 300 donors. The process is the same.

Step by step.

 

I am working on a Rally workshop with the January Donor Planning Meeting themes in mind. If you conduct such a meeting now, I’d appreciate hearing about your process and results. If you are not doing this now, and plan to for January 2020, I’d appreciate hearing about your experience.

And I always appreciate questions and feedback.

 

Cheers, and Have a great week.

 

-da

 

Photo by Werner Weisser courtesy Pixabay

 

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1 Comment
  • KIMBERLY A GLEFFE
    Posted at 09:39h, 13 November Reply

    This is great! love the step by step format… Thanks, David.

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