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Your major donors are an important part of your organization’s success. Making a Major Gift ask is the culmination of thoughtful planning and strategic actions. You will have the most success if you have worked through the entire process of building and implementing a Major Gifts process. It’s important to connect your Major Gifts program to the organization’s strategic vision, to set goals within your development plan and commit to the discipline of building relationships with major donors. Your garden of donors will respond favorably if you have built and made use of the appropriate toolkit for staff and volunteers.
Tools to Help with the Major Gift Process
Each organization has its own unique garden of donors, with individual preferences for how they want to be connected to your mission. The Major Gift process will help you give them the individual attention they deserve. Striving to customize a cultivation path for each donor is the key to success. Putting in place a leveled giving program, building a committee of connected volunteers, and creating a menu of cultivation activities is worthy of investing your time. Once you have the right people on the committee, you must provide them with the tools they need to be effective volunteers. One of the best motivators is having a goal; share your Major Gifts needs with the committee and have them help set a goal.
Getting the Appointment
It can take 12-18 months to cultivate a donor to the level where they are ready for a Major Gift ask. Use your volunteers to help make connections and learn about donors’ preferences in communication style and frequency. Make sure you are reaching out to them with multiple customized “touches” throughout the year. This includes newsletters, phone calls, invitations to events, handwritten notes, and personal meetings. Make them feel like insiders by sharing important news directly with them before it goes out to the rest of your donor base. Use all the tools available to build the relationship, so when you ask for the appointment, they will be receptive.
Preparing for the Meeting
Careful planning for the ask itself is very important. Be sure the materials have accurate name and address information and that you have enough copies, so no one has to share. Confirm the appointment with all who will be attending the meeting. Review your plan for the meeting flow and prepare your “ask partner” if you have one, with all relevant information about the donor. Determine who will make the ask based on the relationship and comfort of you and your volunteer or staff partner. The amount should be well planned, based on the goal and cultivation steps. If you don’t know the amount, you aren’t ready to make the ask. Practice your part so you will feel comfortable and smooth in your delivery.
And Now for the Ask
The time has come and you’re in the meeting with your donor. All your planning and preparation have positioned you for the best possible results. Start with some questions to get the donor talking. Listen to them carefully for cues about their interests and concerns. If they have questions that you cannot answer, it’s fine to say: “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I will get back to you” (you just created another touch point and built trust through being transparent). Once you determine the moment is right, make the ask as a direct request for the agreed upon amount. Know that you’re giving them an opportunity to support something they care about, so don’t be apologetic. Then wait for them to respond. Train yourself to be okay in the silence while they’re considering your request. It’s very important to not “talk them out” of the gift by filling the silence with chatter or remarks such as “if that’s too much, whatever you give is fine.” While you have spent months preparing for this meeting, they have not and may be mentally reviewing other commitments, whether they should check in with their accountant, or discuss it with a spouse. Once you have their answer, be appreciative of their time and let them know you will be following up in the agreed upon manner. Follow up with a thank you note regardless of the results.
By following these Best Practices of careful relationship building and planning, your Major Gifts asks will net positive results and help support your organization’s mission.
How do you set up a major gifts program? What do you need in your “garden shed” to help cultivate it? You need tools, sunlight, plants, food, etc. When you recognize that gardening is hard work, (but it can be fun!) you will see that your major donor garden will flourish when you have all the right tools in place.
Your major donors are an important part of your organization’s success. We’re looking at those who make donations – not sponsorships or other transactional revenue – at the level you have determined constitutes a major gift.
Tools to Help with the Major Gift Process
The Donor Development Committee Process takes time to get up and running. It could be 3 – 6 months or sometimes more. Your planning and perseverance will pay off with good results. The purpose of the Committee is to help with donor engagement. This means sharing their donor intelligence. What do they know about your donors that will help you treat them like the individuals they are? Who on the list has more capacity to give? And who are they willing to help you with?
Other work of the Committee is to personally invite people to cultivation or engagement activities that have been identified as appropriate for that specific donor. When volunteers invite donors, the peer-to-peer response can be stronger than a simple invitation from the organization. Helping with personalized thank yous is also a responsibility of the Committee.
Recruiting the Committee
Getting the right people on the Donor Development Committee is vital to its success. Committee members are both donors (flowers in the garden) and also gardeners who help with cultivation. Loving your organization is not enough. You want those who are able and willing to help make connections and to interact with donors. A good Committee has a couple of Board members and some non-Board members as well – probably enthusiastic donors who are connected to existing donors or can help you expand your network. Because the cultivation process can take 12-18 months, it’s helpful to have your volunteers commit to at least a year with the Committee.
Once you have the right people on the Committee, you must provide them with the tools they need to be effective volunteers. One of the best motivators is having a goal. Share with them your major gifts needs and have them help set a goal.
Major Giving Levels
Establishing major giving levels that show the impact of donations is very important for your organization and for the Committee members. Look at what a gift at $1,000 and other major gift levels can do for you. If you don’t already have this in place, the Committee can help with ideas, and it helps them to have buy in. Then develop a print piece to share. Once you have the levels and the print piece, determine how to launch the program. This could be at a luncheon or gala, in a target appeal, or at its own major donor event. This is a tool to be integrated into all places where you could be showing the need for impact giving at higher levels.
Recognize that, like different kinds of flowers in your garden, donors will respond to different kinds of engagement opportunities. The Committee can help develop your menu of activities. The more personalized they are, the more effective they are likely to be. Some donors will enjoy group or social activities, while others will need more of a one-on-one approach. Here again, your volunteers can be very helpful in determining what kind of engagement will be needed for the donors they know.
Tend the Garden
Your garden of major donors will thrive when you give special care to them. Recognize them with unique thank yous. Engage them by putting them on committees or on your board. Be sure that they are on the list for hearing first when something new or exciting happens. Reinforce your brand with them at every opportunity. Make use of the tools and your Committee to extend your reach and build the relationships that will continue cultivating major gifts.
When I moved into my current home, one of the first things that inspired me daily was the amazing work that went into the flower gardens in the front and back yards. Neighbors told me that the previous owner would come outside each day with her glass of iced tea and carefully tend to the many bushes, plants and flowers with such technique and care. As a result, I enjoyed walking outside for the next few months, excited to see what new flowers were blooming. As another result, because I have no gardening instincts, or time to develop them, the beautiful gardens are no longer blooming and I now spend my time hoping the previous owner does not drive through the neighborhood!
The problem was that I used just one strategy for my entire garden – same amount of water, weeding, and shade, or I didn’t pay attention to it at all. The same story can be told in terms of major gift donors and the amount of care and time you take with them within your own organization. Major gift cultivation is just like growing your own garden. Just as donors become engaged with your organization through different channels, their needs are different in terms of stewardship and cultivation. This means that while some donors want to attend a group tour or event, others may prefer a one on one meeting, or engaging with your constituents directly. Everyone is different, and each donor prospect is going to respond differently to a different level of engagement with your organization. In order to build and maintain a robust major gifts program, organizations must keep a “garden” mentality, using care and deliberate action to get results.
What is a Major Gift?
Major Gifts are defined by three things: the amount, the process that garners the gift, and the source. A major gift for one organization might be $250, for another it may be $10,000. The particular dollar amount is the highest level at which you have a critical mass. This is also the level of donor that is manageable for you to cultivate on an individual basis. These donors may be individuals, foundations, or corporations – any gift that is part of this highest critical mass should be considered a major donor. This group of donors is your base for your major gift program, or your organization’s “donor garden.”
Role of Major Gifts within the Annual Fund
A successful major gifts program plays a critical role in your organization’s strategic plan success and mission advancement. As the strategic plan provides the vision and mission and details the initiatives that move that mission forward, a robust major gifts program can provide the funds to resource those initiatives. And, your major donors not only want to know you have a strategic plan, but they also want to help you reach your goals. But, you have to share your vision and future plans with them in order for them to see how their dollars can help. All of your donors are interested in your success, a major donor is interested in how you are going to get there.
Your plans for growing your major gifts should include a strategy to share your vision and goals with donor prospects regularly, without making an ask, so that when it comes time for them to renew or increase, they know what your needs are, and they can respond.
Not all of your donors have the capacity to become major donors, but your job as the “master gardener” is to give them the opportunity to get to their own highest level of giving. This means that as you are able to bring prospects in through a strategic point of entry such as an event or tour, you are taking the time to determine what the next step should be to give that person an opportunity to learn more about your organization.
Developing Cultivation Plans
One of the most common issues we hear from our clients is that they can’t seem to connect with a major donor prospect after inviting them to different events. While it might seem like this donor is simply not interested in your organization, another explanation is that you just haven’t found the right cultivation step for them. As you look at your cultivation options, consider which types of donors might like to attend which activities. Someone who would be thrilled to have lunch with the CEO or Artistic Director, would not be as interested in attending a large group event or house party. This is why each major gift prospect should be considered individually, so they can be brought to their highest cultivated gift for the organization.
A great way to better understand your donor prospect, and begin to cultivate them in a way that elicits the response you are looking for, is to engage with a volunteer that knows the prospect. A good connection can tell you whether what part of your organization is probably the most interesting to them, and how they might like to learn more. Another way to determine the right path is simply by listening to the donor when you are talking with them. Do they seem uninterested in your idea or are they simply too busy? Have you asked them how they got interested in your organization in the first place? Many donors are happy to tell you what interests them, and you can use this information as you consider the right pathway. However, if you only try to reach them by mailed invitations, you don’t have an opportunity to learn more about them.
Planning and Tracking Cultivation Paths using Moves Management
As your development team considers its “donor garden,” and how to care for the donors in it, you should create an action plan for the next three steps that you plan to take with that donor. One step may be to engage a volunteer, another may be to invite them to a speaker series you are holding, and another may be to personally share a recent “win” for the organization. As these three steps are mapped out, a staff member should be identified as the person who will ensure the identified pathway is taken. In addition to the cultivation plan, there should be an intended target ask amount. This ask might happen two months after the first step is taken, and it might happen a year later, but there should be an ask plan that matches the dollars you have identified in your development plan.
Your cultivation path should be a fluid, dynamic document. A missed first step can derail the rest of the plan, and your action plan should reflect that shift. Additionally, your plan doesn’t end when you receive the gift. Once the gift is received, you should be planning the next steps to steward the gift, and show the donor how your organization is a good investment.
Every organization wants to know how to move the needle on the issue that their mission addresses. I often have people as me how they can make a significant improvement on their fundraising results – how can they go from good to great? The answer is always a robust major giving program. A deliberate plan to bring individual donors closer to your organization is the best way toward real mission advancement.
With changes no longer on the horizon but here now, how does the new tax law impact your organization and your donors?Staff at Kennari have been receiving and reviewing several webinars, documents and information about the changes that have come. We wanted to share a couple notable pieces with you.
The Sharpe Group recently facilitated a webinar detailing the recent tax law changes and potential impact on charitable giving. Additionally the Sharpe Group provides a White Paper detailing the changes. We hope you find this information helpful. As always, if you have detailed questions please consult your tax advisor.
The Kennari Grants Team works with clients of all sizes and passions, helping them create compelling narratives to further their missions. Each time a grant is received we all celebrate the client’s success. Hope Network’s grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is just one of many projects we enjoyed being a part of this past year.
Overcoming incredible odds and breaking down barriers are no easy tasks. For those re-entering society after incarceration, the path is often a difficult one, especially when it comes to employment. Although employment is strongly correlated with reduced recidivism, jobs can be hard to come by for ex-offenders. In today’s labor market, the widespread use of criminal background checks severely limits ex-offenders’ job prospects. In one study, over 40% of employers indicated they would “probably” or “absolutely” not hire an individual convicted of a crime. Employment prospects become even slimmer when individuals have violent or stigmatized convictions.
Fortunately, Hope Network, one of West Michigan’s most highly-regarded providers of workforce development, mental health, and rehabilitation services, is no stranger to helping people overcome barriers. Hope Network’s Workforce Development division launched a successful pilot program, Ready for Work (R4W), in 2012. R4W provides pre-release employment readiness training and post-release job support, placement, and coaching to male inmates of the Kent County Correctional Facility.
Over the past 6 years, the R4W program has helped hundreds of men get and keep steady jobs, reducing recidivism. However, the R4W team recognized that the program could be strengthened by partnering with other organizations providing re-entry services, including Arbor Circle, 70×7 Life Recovery, and Legal Aid of Western Michigan. These partnerships would potentially provide wraparound services pre-and post-release, including ongoing case management, mentoring, and civil legal services. This new concept program would do more than help individuals find employment, it would support individuals’ re-entry efforts at every step of the process. The Road to Success program was born. For Hope Network, the question became, “How can we fund this?”
With the support of the Kennari Consulting grants team, Hope Network applied for a federal grant through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to implement the Road to Success program for three years. The BJA grant was awarded in 2017 and will provide three years of funding for Road to Success, totaling nearly $1 million. Local foundation grants have also been sought to bring this program to fruition, namely the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.
Road to Success will impact the Grand Rapids community for years to come. “This grant from the Bureau of Justice is an investment in our community, along with the support of the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation who share our interest in interrupting an outdated and stubborn re-entry model for those exiting the corrections system,” says Justin Swan, Director of Development for the Hope Network Foundation. “With the help of our partners, and the guidance of Kennari Consulting, we were able to build a new and innovative model that offers better outcomes for those exiting the corrections system and lends to economic development in the region.”
To learn more about Hope Network, please visit their website.
Many organizations have barriers in adhering to a consistent and strategic donor communication plan. The most common we hear are: there just isn’t enough time in the day AND it’s difficult to gather stories from program participants. And of course there are hundreds of other barriers as well. Let’s face it, the donor communication plan isn’t breathing down our necks – so it’s easy to wait until it’s absolutely urgent. But today is the day to dedicate a little time to your plan. You’ll be glad you did.
Remember, it’s about the donor, not you. Organizations need to regularly “Inform, Ask, and Thank,” and it takes all three for a comprehensive plan.
To “Inform,” donors need to hear the details about what their dollars are doing – focus on what their gift has accomplished, share statistics and impact stories, and give updates on programs they have already demonstrated interest in. Vary your delivery. It can be letters, pictures, videos, etc.
To “Ask,” make sure the timing is right for that donor. Detail your future plans and where the organization is headed. Most organizations should be asking for support at least twice in a direct mail/email appeal.
To “Thank,” get the thank you letter/receipt out within 48 hours. Make it a meaningful piece of communication. Regularly change the content of the thank you letter so donors don’t get the same one. At least change it seasonally/quarterly, but consider updating it monthly. Be sure you ask people how they want their tax letter (via email or hard copy) and especially be intentional with how monthly donors want their receipt info. Be creative! Consider sending a thank you video or hand made card from a program participant.
Combat the Struggles! Time is a challenge for all development professionals, so we all have to do the best we can. First off, make a communication plan and share it with your team. This will help keep everyone on the same page and avoid random additions to your calendar! Don’t rely on mailings when you have a cash flow issue – you should be asking when it’s the right time for a donor to give, not when you need the money. Gathering stories can be difficult for some development staff as well. Consider participating in existing program meetings. Have each program director share a story at all staff meetings. Take notes on tours or identify a specific program staff member who you think might have stories and begin building a relationship with them. Program staff are busy and sometimes reluctant to share stories, so make it easy for them. Also, show them how the story will be used so they can be comfortable knowing we aren’t going to cross any moral or confidentiality lines. Consider asking for a little testimonial/statement in your remittance device and then have a volunteer make calls to follow up and get more info.
There are a few critical elements to a donor communication chart – but the most important part is to have one and use it! Make sure it has the purpose of the piece specified, the recipients, the segments, and the drop date listed. This will not only help you keep track of what you did before, but also eliminates some of the chaos if you agree on these areas ahead of time. Segmentation is the most difficult and time consuming part of donor communication, but also the most critical. You MUST talk to your donors in the way they identify with you. If they’re a volunteer, thank them for their time! If they’re a major or monthly donor, acknowledge their support before asking them for anything else. It’s okay to ask people to give more than once, but if you don’t start with gratitude, you won’t get very far.
Let’s talk campaign readiness.
At Kennari Consulting, we are dedicated to giving nonprofit organizations the skills and resources they need to prepare for their futures. On April 12, from 11:00am – 12:30pm, we invite you to join us for lunch as we discuss an important element in preparing for a campaign.
A capital campaign is a wonderful opportunities to move your organization forward, facilitate change within your community, and engage your donors, but it requires a lot of planning and preparation. This session will provide tips for engaging your donors in your campaign or project far in advance of the Feasibility Study. Bringing in donors early in the process helps build excitement and can generate early lead gifts.
So even if a capital campaign is the farthest thought from your organization’s mind, join us to learn what strategies you can implement today to guarantee capital success tomorrow. You won’t want to miss it!
Date: Thursday, April 12, 2018
Time: 11:00am – 12:30pm
Location: 401 Hall St. SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 – First Floor Conference Room
RSVP: Click here to register
~ Cultivate those who pour their hearts into your mission ~
If we begin to think of our table hosts as major donors, or start treating them with more special treatment throughout the year, just imagine how much further that relationship could expand your mission. Not to mention how much easier it would make the job of host recruiting.
Let’s start by talking about the different ways you could recruit hosts.
- Start early. By early I mean, start the day of your current table hosted event. Consider including an option on your pledge card at your event for people to be a host at the next event. Why not catch them on their ‘high’ from your event?
- Each time you have a new donor or host an engagement activity, plan their next step with you. It might not be asking them to be a table host, but it might be engaging them as a key volunteer. I think its safe to say that key volunteers make some of the best hosts.
- Are you truly looking through your donor list for host prospects? This seems to be a common area that gets forgotten. Comb through your donor list, especially those who have given to your table hosted event in the past – or maybe that donor who has given to your table hosted event for several years. Determine a giving level (such as $250+) and call that group of donors.
- Diversify: consider staff, committees, and organization members. You may need to secure a few table host recruiters to help you with some of these harder to reach segments. For staff, consider sitting with them one-on-one to determine the guests they have in mind. Explain the purpose of the event and provide information on how these events have grown your operational budget allowing for program growth.
- Track. Track. I’m fairly certain you have a donor database so please use it to track your host prospects throughout the year. If a host can’t commit one year to your event it doesn’t mean you can’t solicit them to be a host the next year. But tracking that info is key in being able to rely on it later.
- Last but not least – don’t get discouraged. Implement a systematic way of reaching out to your hosts, keeping in mind that it may take three to four attempts to reach them.
I’m hoping you get to the point where you see the value of your host beyond what they accomplish at one event for you. Some of these hosts are bringing you board members, long-term major donors, committee members, and much more.
So, let’s treat them as such. Try some of these things to make sure your hosts feel special all year long:
- Host a host appreciation gathering. Something simple. Not only do they feel appreciated and get to meet other hosts, but this is a wonderful opportunity for that host to bring someone with them who they think has the potential to be a future host.
- Segment your table hosts in your mailings. Take opportunities to show them that you know who they are to you. Pull out a handful of newsletters and handwrite personal notes to your hosts.
- Consider sending a mid-year thank you postcard, video, or special mailing from a client served.
When the time comes to actively pursue these host prospects, they should be highly engaged and highly cultivated, and you will have a stronger list to start from because you have been diligent about tracking.
Though 2018 is well underway, it’s still a little hard to believe! We at Kennari are excited to enter a new year – both for our own company and for the many nonprofit clients we serve. With the new year comes new possibilities – new initiatives – new successes – new stories of impact. Now we know that also means new challenges – new restraints – new obstacles – new complications. But, it wouldn’t be the industry we know and love if it was too easy!
In 2017, the Kennari Consulting team added five new members. We were grateful to add such high caliber people who were willing to jump in and join us in helping our clients move their missions forward. We continue to offer services in four main areas: campaigns, annual fund, grant writing, and strategic planning. We were also able to present at various conferences and groups on several facets of fund development and the critical role it plays within nonprofits.
As we celebrated the close of 2017, we were privileged to welcome Steve Wilson, President of the Frey Foundation, to present at our Holiday Luncheon. He shared that grant makers give gifts in three basic categories: Responsive, Collaborative, and Catalytic. Responsive grants are often transactional and given within defined guidelines to provide basic services. Collaborative grants have shared expectations and offer mutually beneficial partnerships. Catalytic grants look at systemic problems and partner to solve larger scale problems.
Though grant makers will likely always support all three of those categories, many, including the Frey Foundation, are continuing to seek more opportunities to make Catalytic Grants for long-term solutions. We were also all reminded to ask questions when meeting with funders: What are their goals? How do they see their funding changing in the next 5 years? What challenges do they currently have? Steve reminded us that fundraising, especially from foundations, should be a conversation, not just a presentation.
But most importantly, looking back on 2017, we celebrated many client successes. Whether it was the finish of a capital campaign, a transformational grant award, an implemented strategic plan, a wildly successful donor acquisition event, or just the first time an organization finally got a newsletter out, we have had much to celebrate with our clients. We are honored to partner with the staff and volunteers of so many organizations who truly are making a difference in their communities.
As we look ahead to all that 2018 can be, we are excited and ready. And we hope you are too!
Meet Hanna Werner, a Senior at Cornerstone University majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in Music. Hanna concluded her internship experience with us before graduating this December.
Everyone is Connected
Over the course of my internship at Kennari Consulting, I have learned some of the best, most effective fundraising tactics and strategies to help organizations, but my biggest takeaway from my experience is the importance of building and cultivating relationships both internally and externally.
The staff at Kennari have brains that are living spider webs of relationships. I’ve had the privilege of shadowing the team in meetings and it seems they know everyone in Grand Rapids. All 196,445 people. Okay, that’s an over exaggeration, but it sure seems like it! Staff often know not only who a donor is, but also who they should sit by at an event. They know who should ask them for support to elicit the best response. They know where the donor went to college and where their interests lie, so an organization can ask for support for the project the individual is most interested in. In Kennari minds, everyone is connected.
Initiating and cultivating relationships is essential to any career, and particularly so for nonprofit development, but you also need the knowledge and wisdom to navigate those relationships. I’ve learned you must take time investing in individuals, not purely to get that major gift, but to get donors engaged in your organization for the right reasons.
Everyone wants to be appreciated and given special attention. Why not give that to your donors?
Not only should you be cultivating your current and new donors, but don’t forget about the person who sits across from you or down the hall in your office. Development and fundraising is impossible to do alone. You need people to support your organization, both externally and internally. You need to have a team that works well together for goals to be met. By being around Kennari’s team, it has affirmed the need to respect and value those around you, ask questions, and encourage those questions to be asked.
I am just graduating from Cornerstone University and the individuals working in Career Services have always drilled networking into our heads. Some fellow students have expressed to me that they feel like it is inappropriate to “use” someone to get a job or ask for support, when in fact, people typically want to help! My dad has always told me, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In some respects, that is the case. But you must have both. You must have the technical knowledge and wisdom to even utilize those professional relationships appropriately.
Overall, my internship at Kennari Consulting has increased my knowledge of West Michigan’s nonprofit community, given me the opportunity to do impactful work for clients, and connected me to individuals and organizations within the industry. They don’t make you feel like “the intern,” they include you in conversation and make you feel like a part of the team. Even the conversations I have had with the encouraging, passionate, and kind individuals in the office have impacted my life for the better.
If you are a student considering a career in the nonprofit industry, I would highly recommend pursuing an internship with Kennari because you are exposed to such a wide variety of organizations, projects, people, and job opportunities.
Thank you to everyone on the Kennari team for a great internship experience!
Hanna has been an absolute delight to work with during her semester here at Kennari Consulting. We are appreciative of her self-starter attitude, keen ability to take direction, and great sense of humor. We wish her the best as she begins her career in the nonprofit sector next month!
To learn more about Kennari Consulting’s internship program, please email Kim Kvorka at email@example.com.