Not All Actions Are Equal: From High Touch to Low in Donor Cultivation

We don’t just count the number of actions in assessing our cultivation record; we look at the quality of the interactions themselves. More is not always better—highly personal contacts are. As useful as email is, for example, it is a third-tier form of cultivation. Here is how I rank cultivation actions:

High Touch – Most Valued

  • Solicitation in-person
  • Meeting (not including board committee meetings)
  • Visited contact
  • Breakfast/Lunch
  • Campus tour
  • Conversation

Medium Touch – Valued

  • Dropped by
  • Proposal
  • Phone call
  • Personal letter (even a personal acknowledgment letter)
  • Note

Low Touch – Less Valued

  • Email
  • Left message
  • Fax

Therefore, a visit trumps a phone call, which, in turn, trumps an email.

Board Annual Giving

Every foundation board must give to the Annual Fund at the level of 100 percent participation. Board participation rates are publicized in proposals to foundations, to the staff and faculty during the employee annual giving campaign and in annual reports to the community. Taking board support as a given, the goal is to realize the maximum amount of support in the most efficient manner.

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Begin the fiscal year with board of directors giving, to “prime the pump”, and put some numbers on the board during July, the slowest month of the fiscal year. Board giving often comprises between 12 and 15 percent of the Annual Fund goal. The chair of the annual fund committee makes the pitch during a July board meeting. Ask amounts are determined by the CDO using the guidelines of past giving as well as the overall goal of making board giving meaningful. I start with an automatic “floor amount” of $1,000 per member. The most common board Annual Fund Ask amounts are between $1,000 and $5,000. Any amount above that is all for the better.

Thirty thousand dollars plus would be a normal yield from a board of 20 members. In fact, this is a conservative estimate. And usually, this is their personal giving, not the dollars that members may also leverage from their companies.

Here is how to make a group pitch at a board meeting: the annual fund committee chair hands out personalized pledge cards containing a specific ask amount. The chair explains that board members will have 11 months to fulfill their pledges. The chair requests that board members hand in their pledge cards at the meeting if possible. This will prevent the director of annual giving from having to chase down board members individually for their gifts over the ensuing months. You want to report 100 percent participation by the time you launch your employee annual giving campaign in August. By all means, encourage gifts of securities. These are usually paid in December.

Reduce you annual workload if you prefer by introducing multi-year Annual Fund pledges, perhaps tied to board membership terms. Just recognize that you may sacrifice a bit of flexibility for gift upgrades with this approach.

If you have difficulty reaching the board Annual Fund goal, it is usually an indication that something is wrong at the board level—unless you simply miscalculated the goal. Most likely, the problem lies in the previous practice of not making giving expectations clear. You will need to enlist your annual fund committee and chair to have private conversations with any members who do not understand that it is their obligation to give. If you are serious about the Annual Fund then you are serious about board of directors giving. Board giving is where college philanthropy begins.

The Actions Meeting

Development consultant Mark Davy recommends that development officers coordinate team efforts through the means of a brief, weekly “Actions Meeting.”   At Dunwoody College of Technology, the development staff began each week with a half-hour meeting first thing Monday morning.

At the Actions Meeting, each development officer presents his or her actions of the previous week for review by the group. Development officers document their own actions, without fail, by Friday afternoon, in the donor database. The development officers then run their own action reports before the meeting. In Raiser’s Edge, this is a simple, automated report. The Raiser’s Edge entry includes a brief statement communicating the gist of the interaction, such as, “asked Ron to make a personal call to Tom about his Annual Fund gift.”

Sometimes the group reviews the report in silence, pausing only for questions or clarifications. Sometimes the development officer walks his or her colleagues through the highlights. You only need to spend a few moments on each entry. Each development officer is expected to have a minimum number of contacts for the week; for example, 10, but lists of 20 contacts or more should be commonplace. Each contact should be a meaningful interaction. Do not list routine attendance of board members at regular meetings.

At Dunwoody, the president usually attended the meetings to present his actions along with the development officers. If he could not attend, his assistant would submit his weekly list of contacts in advance of the meeting. The fact that the president attended was a powerful testament to the value of direct donor contact and the importance of accountability.

In a one-person shop, the chief development officer should attempt to institute a 10-minute weekly meeting with the president to share contacts.

Another feature of the Actions Meeting is a quick review of the main donor-related events of the coming week. If Monday is a holiday, convene the meeting on Tuesday. Actions meetings are never cancelled. The Actions Meeting is a powerful tool in building a culture of accountability on the part of the development officers. It illustrates the point: what gets noticed gets done.

 

Tip: Convene a Monday morning Actions Meeting to review donor contacts of the previous week.

10 Things You Can Do to Increase Year-End Giving

imagesThe end of the calendar year is a wonderful time for donor engagement. The tax deduction available to itemizers, while never the primary philanthropic driver, is always a good reminder that it’s time to give. December is the biggest month for annual giving and many donors are keenly attuned to their year-end giving cycles. Here are a few things we can do to promote their end-of-year generosity.

  1. Keep the office open between Christmas and December 31.

At Dunwoody College of Technology the development staff took turns staffing the office between Christmas and December 31. What’s more, we kept open the line of communication with board members and close friends of the college, suggesting that we were open for business and that we cared about donors’ year-end gifts. If your college or organization is closed, at minimum offer a cell phone number to those who call the development line between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

  1. Check the mail for postmarks.

Any gift delivered by mail with a postmark of December 31 or earlier was intended by your donor as gift to be credited to the previous calendar year—and the IRS allows it. So respect that intention by acknowledging the postmark date and crediting the gift on your database as a December 31 gift. You may need to change a sentence or two in your standard acknowledgment letter. Keep the postmarked envelope on file to document the gift date. You could even add a page to your web site containing year-end giving details. Here how UC Berkeley does it: http://haas.berkeley.edu/groups/alumni/giving/haasfund/endofyear.html

  1. Encourage gifts of appreciated securities.

The overall market is slightly off its mid-year peaks, but many segments of the stock market are quite healthy. Gifts of appreciated securities are the most cost-effective means to make meaningful gifts or fulfill pledges. But you have to be around the office to close these deals. Check in with your bank, broker or local branch of a mutual fund company to be sure you have phone numbers, account numbers, routing numbers and especially electronic funds transfer protocols on file before your donor calls you. If you need leadership authorization or participation to conduct these transactions, make sure you can find board members or organization officers during the busy holiday season. If this becomes a problem, amend your account authorization records so the chief development officer can make deposits without board participation.

  1. Email board members who have yet to give.

Get the word out to board members that you are open for gift processing while highlighting opportunities for gifts of appreciated securities. It is one of the most cost-effective ways for board members to make bigger gifts to your institution. Highlight the tax deduction available and let them know you are striving to meet mid-year revenue forecasts. The truth is, if they don’t make a gift now you may be chasing them around for the balance of the fiscal year. It never hurts to have a message go out from the board chair to all the board members of have yet to make their gifts or fulfill their pledges.

  1. Send a blast email containing a year-end tax advantage message.

Let them know that the dollars they give now will reduce their tax bills when they itemize. Those dollars will then be available for spring disbursements from the foundation to the college. Your donors may have a few days off and a few spare minutes to think about their charitable intentions for the year during the holidays and be moved to act. Emphasize the ease of online giving in the holiday season. (See the link in #2 above.)

  1. Run a report on all year-end LYBUNTS from last year and email them.

If you don’t have gifts in hand for this calendar year, email those donors to offer a gentle reminder that this is the month they gave last year. State their last gift amount to make the pitch more concrete. One of the biggest questions we hear in phonathons is, “When and how much did I give last year?” Get out in front of those good intentions by getting to LYBUNTS before they go stale. Few people are motivated to make gifts in January when all those credit card bills arrive.

  1. Remind staff and faculty that they can make a seasonal gift in honor of someone.

Holiday gifts can be hard for busy colleagues to keep up with. If it’s the thought that counts, a gift in honor of a friend, family member or colleague can be a meaningful way to give. Offer to send out a “Season’s Greetings from Prof. X” card, which lets the honoree know that a gift has been made in their honor. (Of course no amounts are mentioned!) And of course you must have someone in the office to send out those cards.

  1. Ask your president to call his or her top ten prospects over the holidays.

Your president has a list of top ten prospects right? A personal call wishing happy holidays to someone important to the college is one of the easiest, most natural, most appreciated cultivation calls a president can make. And even though this is just a cultivation call, it can inspire donors and prospects to make that gift they have been thinking about. If your president is a little light on prospects, compose that list now. No one possesses the golden opportunity to make a positive impression on friends of the college than does your president.

  1. Send a personal holiday card to your top 25 donors.

Nothing says thank you like “thank you.” And no time is better to say it than now, in the holiday season, when cards are the norm. So even if your college sends out boilerplate cards to friends of the college, say something personal as a steward of philanthropy at your college. After all, the season of giving is your season, right?

  1. Call and thank your volunteers.

Where would we be without those special volunteers that put us over the top on our fund drives? In this era of texts, emails, tweets and so many of the lesser communicative arts, phone calls are often regarded as a more personal medium. Sometimes a thank you is all about inflection—as in, conveying emotion and meaning it! So how about five calls a day, every day through the year-end? Your volunteers will know you care about them. That, as they say, is priceless.

Good luck, and good works to you all!

The Perils of a Staff-Driven Advancement Program

The classic public higher ed advancement model is built on the triad of the college president, the foundation board, and the professional development staff. If the triad is in place and functioning well, do everything you can to maintain its effectiveness. If it is not in place, do everything to can to support the formation of the triad.

Without the president and board onboard you have a staff-driven program, and with a staff-driven program you limit your revenue to 50% of potential. You can do a lot of things right, and effectively, and still have a staff-driven program. You may have a strong Annual Fund and grants program, but you will have a weak major gifts program.

When you limit your revenue to 50% of potential you become irrelevant. That is, you cease to matter in the power dynamic of the college. You won’t receive an adequate budget or sufficient attention to get the job done. If advancement isn’t an engine, it’s a caboose. If advancement is the caboose, it will fail.

When I refer to the engine, I mean the resource engine, that term Jim Collins talks about. The major gifts program is more potent resource engine of the development program, as compared to the Annual Fund, and, it goes without saying, special events. Yet the Annual Fund must be well established for the major gifts program to launch. So there is hope for anyone running a staff-driven program raising most of the annual revenue from the Annual Fund. You just have to shift the dynamics of the advancement triad to put the president front and center and the foundation board firmly—and actively—behind you.

I wrote about engaging the president in my last blog entry. As to engaging the foundation board, you might refer to Tip #19 in my book: “Members of effective boards actively support the fundraising activities of the Annual Fund and make it a priority for personal involvement.”

After that, major gifts!

The Problem with Special Events

Opportunity Cost, Transactional Displacement, & the ROI on Staff Time

A word on the origins of our dependence on events: in terms of fundraising tradition, this dependence arises  from a grassroots board and a lack of staff. I advocate that we talk about mission instead. When I hear of a strong dependence on special events, the warning flags go up. We have to look at the opportunity cost of events–of what I call transactional displacement.

Transactional displacement is the displacement of mission-based, purposeful cultivation by event-related fundraising transactions. This includes “selling tables,” “selling sponsorships,” and rounding up auction items. It can become similar to a retail transaction, unrelated to the mission-based story of changing and transforming lives.  And when event participants are done with the event, they are sometimes done with you until next year. They think they’ve done their part.

And we have to look at the ROI on staff time. It usually is lower with events than with other forms of direct cultivation. The higher your gross, the greater your dependence, the more difficult it will be to shift your paradigm. At a certain revenue point, change becomes nearly impossible; you are locked in.

So unless you are raising a lot of money on events, you might want to rethink your reliance on them, and instead think about raising money using the collegiate development model.

“Five Ideas for Fifty Thousand”—for the Community College with the Tiniest Shop—or One That Doesn’t Even Have a Shop

Rudimentary as this is, it outperforms the net on many special events

Employee Leadership Giving:  Even without a complete employee annual giving program, you can launch a giving initiative that focuses on the top leadership team of the college. Because these gifts can be in the $200 – $1,000 range, this simple effort can yield $5,000 to $10,00o.

Board Giving:  Every board should give at a rate of 100%. The board Ask should start at $1,000 and go up or down from there. Yield: $15,000

Grants:  Most community colleges have grant programs in place, upon which we can leverage new proposals to private funders using a standard template for operating or scholarship support. Yield: $10,000

President’s Personal Asks:  Every president knows 5 to 10 community leaders who can be approached directly for gifts. When the president asks, the importance of the initiative is reinforced. Yield:  $7,500

Board Asking Peers: Every board member knows one or two people who can be approached for a gift in the $100 to $1000 range. I call this an “Each One Ask One” campaign.   In my book, I discuss a more robust version of this approach in context of a board-initiated giving program. A single prospect, a single Ask, and a single follow-up on the part of the board member is all it takes. It is a way to build a volunteer culture and reinforce the importance of the mission to the board. Yield:  $7,500

Total Yield: $50,000

These techniques will work for a college that has little in the way of a fundraising program in place. If you need help, a consultant can help tailor the initiative to the needs of a particular college via a phone conversation with the chief development officer or president of the college.

Sixteen Things to Look For in a College Foundation Form 990

One reason to review a college foundation Form 990 is to verify that the foundation actually does what it says it does—a useful thing to know for grantmakers, development audits, benchmarking, and prospective executives.

Here are 16 issues a Form 990 can help address:

  1. Do the numbers on the Form 990 support the amounts shown elsewhere?
  2. Personnel expenses paid for by the foundation (Usually the college pays for personnel expenses.)
  3. Outside fundraisers or fundraising consultants paid by the foundation
  4. College payments made to the foundation
  5. Endowment information, including decreases in endowment balances that may reveal the foundation is not properly managing endowments
  6. Event revenue and expenses paid by foundation, including grosses & nets (This can be tricky and requires reading the entire return.)
  7. Five-year history of fundraising revenue
  8. Diversification of revenue (you’ll get a partial picture)
  9. Two-year trend in grants amounts paid to college
  10. Program areas of grants to college
  11. Total foundation expenses
  12. Revenue less expenses
  13. Existence of uncommon organizational practices, revenue streams, and operations
  14. Number and names of board members
  15. Unrelated business income
  16. Investment management fees

The Scholarship Recognition Event: an Essential Cultivation Tool

One thing I’ve learned in 25 years of raising funds is that a little recognition goes a long way.

Hundreds of two-year colleges have had success bringing scholarship recipients together with the donors who funded the scholarships through a scholarship recognition event.

But make sure that donors are connected with the students they have helped to support, and that students themselves are doing the talking from the podium. Just vet them and coach them in advance, and keep the remarks short. Three minutes will do. The goal, as one foundation board member put it to me: not a dry eye in the house.

Have some donors onstage to speak, too. Unless there is a strong narrative arc in the remarks five minutes can seem like an eternity (particularly true when administrators are doing the talking!).

One nice touch when you don’t have too many students in attendance: have them receive scholarship certificates, convocation style, where each is called in turn to the podium to shake the hand of the president and a donor and receive the certificate.

Don’t forget to pair scholarship recipients and donors at their tables.

And whatever you do, put the mission first.

Don’t Overlook Employee Annual Giving

One of the most reliable Annual Fund methods is employee annual giving. Who better to understand the critical importance of support to the college than those who are closest to your students? Employee annual giving can play a role in the fundraising plan of every college.

Consult Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges for a thorough presentation of a proven employee campaign model. Many colleges have found they can raise $25,000 to $50,000 per year—and more—for the Annual Fund through employee annual giving.

The only caveat is, make sure to seek community support with the same intensity you use to win employee support. Employees are, after all, somewhat a captive market.