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Developing Fundraising Skill in the CEO

Today, most nonprofits seek a CEO with fundraising experience. Generally, that experience is in the annual campaign and major gift fundraising.
But at times, the nonprofit Board hires a new CEO who has built successful special events. With the expectation that this new leader will apply that ability successfully.
My advice to Board search committees is, negotiate with the top candidates on how this will be applied in six month blocks of time from hire date. What is the hoped for result? What experience and qualities of the candidate can be best applied to get improved results?
Building on a solid track record has the best chance of success. Focusing on candidates who get the mission, who communicate with enthusiasm, who seem most engaging with other people…look for the skills that will have the best chance at success.
Then monitor progress along the way.

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Strategic Thinking V: Following Up After the “Ask”

So as I was saying last year about this time, when I wrote my first four posts about “Strategic Thinking,” we need to act in a way that reflects the broader direction we want to go in our fundraising approach. And of course, the fundraising approach we take should dovetail with our nonprofit Mission. So it all works together in a seamless way.

Here we are in February. Most of us have conducted our Annual Appeal. We have our results, we’ve organized follow up activities to lapsed donors who gave in 2013 but we didn’t hear from in 2014.

Most all of our “major” donors (in our case, those who give $1,000 or more each year) have executed their pledge. A few have not, and we’ll be back to those we know might need prompting to write that check.

Now we’ll determine what kind of “thank you” event we’d like to host for our most loyal donors. Cocktails and hors d’hoeuvres? Desserts and coffee? A social gathering at a nice place…maybe an art gallery in our city will accommodate us for a modest fee so we can be surrounded by some beautiful objects. In the Merrimack Valley, maybe at the Western Ave Studios in Lowell. We want the right ambiance so our supporters get the clear message that we do appreciate them.

This is an act of donor stewardship.

It’s part of the Relationship Fundraising approach we want to embed in our nonprofit. The culture we want to establish. So the communication doesn’t end with receipt of the gift. Or our thank you note. We take it a step further.

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Your Board and the Annual Appeal

This post comes to you in early November. This is the time when nonprofit organizations are sending, or preparing to send, their annual appeal for support to donors (and donor prospects). Nonprofit leaders try to organize the appeal in a way that will generate more net revenue in the current year than last year. How might we involve the Board of Directors in helping make this hope reality?
All Board Members Give. The chair of the Board, or the chair of the Development Committee, organizes a campaign to seek board members’ gifts to the appeal. And hopefully, a larger gift than last year. There is a letter or an email involved. But there can also be a direct ask. Where members who have a history of giving make a point to ask members who haven’t given for their gift.
All Board Members Are Asked to Ask. At a meeting of the Board, members are asked to ask their friends and colleagues to consider a gift. At many nonprofits, the donor list is shared at the meeting and members are asked if they recognize names on the list. Will they write a personal note asking for the donor or prospect to consider a gift? Or a larger gift this year than last?
Special to Major Givers Active members of the Board, and perhaps members of the Development Committee, are asked to help make a personal visit to donors who make much larger than average gifts to make the gift this year. The personal approach usually results in larger gifts.
Compelling Message Of course, the appeal is centered on a compelling story or message that will inspire the donor to give more. Some staff think it’s compelling to provide a long recitation of statistics of all the various program activities. This is not as successful as a great story about a person who used a service and whose life was made better because of it. A good story is very helpful.
Apply these techniques and you should see a net gain in your annual appeal.

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First Steps Toward Major Gift Fundraising

Nonprofit organizations working to move beyond start-up to full-fledged operation find themselves with lots of unanswered questions.  And many of those questions relate to fundraising.  What’s the best way for us to raise money for our cause?  Whom do we ask?  How do we best make our case? Why is this so much tougher than we thought when we first incorporated and got our IRS tax-exempt status?

Yes.  It’s not easy being green.  Which is why so many newly-formed nonprofits struggle and many get abandoned.  We read about fabulous campaigns like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and their hugely successful $500 million campaign for their Art of the Americas wing. And then there’s the humongous Pan Mass Challenge that raises multi-millions each year for the Jimmy Fund, a Boston-based organization raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.  So some of us get stars in our eyes from all this huge success and take various stabs at the “Big Show” only to find it ain’t at all easy.

So what are we to do?   Well, it starts with a good plan and then with fabulous execution.  That’s all. Simple as that.

To get going, here are some steps I recommend:

  • Outline a strategic plan that’s build on a well-articulated mission
  • Understand the demographics of the people we’re helping (primary customers) and the people who’ll help us (supporting customers)
  • Draw up a five-year fundraising plan that anticipates reasonable growth, year-to-year
  • Fundamental to that fundraising plan:
  1.    Preparing a donor prospect list and outline our donor database
  2.    Develop an annual appeal to our prospects, anticipating growth of the donor base year-to-year
  3.    Identify one or two special events we feel will generate growing net revenue each year
  4.    Begin to form a development committee, drawing from our Board and outside volunteers who “get” fundraising
  5.    Expect by Year 5 that we’ll be ready to launch a major gift campaign that will fill a big unmet need of our customer base

It will take good organization, a commitment to top-notch execution, to make this work.  Build it from the ground up.  If you can demonstrate the value you bring to those who require your services, and the community sees the value in what you’re up to, they’ll reach for their wallets and checkbooks and credit cards to help make this vision reality.  But you’ll have to build it, step-by-step, to realize it.

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Role of Board in Launch of Major Gift Program

Last week I wrote about fundamentals for Major Gift success:

  • Annual fund donor database with at least 20% renewal rate
  • A senior staff member who gets how Development works
  • A Development Committee with members who know and are connected to generous donors

If these three pieces are in place, you’re working from a base that can work for you.

And one of the key three is a Development Committee.  And if not that, a core of board members who have connections, who contribute to your annual fund, and advance your brand because they truly get the mission.  It’s entirely possible for a nonprofit to decide in 2012 that it wants to get to a Major Gift level and get very intentional about building resources (see bullets above) that will contribute to your first Major Gift campaign when you’re ready to go.  It might be 2015 or 2016 before you are ready.  But you can get there.  With a strong strategic platform to work from, the world will be your oyster.

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