4 Development Questions

by Ken Gordon

If you’re new to day school development, you’ll want to talk to Amy Schiffman of Giving Tree Associates. With more than two decades of experience in the nonprofit world, Schiffman knows her way around this topic. In fact, she’s running Track A for rookies at Enrichment: Strategies for the 21st Century Day School Development Program, PEJE’s late July development conference for development directors and their Heads of School. The questions below will give newbies a taste of her wisdom.

1. What is the most important data point that a development professional needs to track?

That’s hard, because there are so many we should be tracking, so I’ll cheat a little and give you a few: (1) We need to know where our major giving starts and where more personalized donor recognition and stewardship practices should kick in – i.e., take a look at your data and define a leadership gift based on where the top 5-10% of giving falls (this may vary, but we can’t do this without good data). (2) We should know what percentage of our parents, grandparents, and alumni are giving and develop strategies to track and grow those markets. (3) We need to be using data to drive decision-making around events – a basic cost vs. benefit analysis typically works, but don’t forget to figure in staff time. Are your events helping to grow giving amongst your event-attending donor base?

2. Can you tell us a story of a day school that has most successfully maximized the potential of events?

Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Chicago (yes, I’m biased – I used to work there) truly maximizes the use of its dinner as a major gifts stewardship and fundraising tool. Most of the annual campaign revenue comes in via gifts at the Society of Patrons $1,800-plus donor level. Each donor receives seats at the dinner and an ad as a benefit of the donation, so the integrated annual campaign (once-a-year) ask really works here. The fundraising value of the event is exemplified by the more than $100,000 in corporate underwriting it generates, so the staff team’s time is well-spent focused on relationship-building and major gift development. Yeshivat Noam in New Jersey also maximizes the stewardship use of its event and focuses heavily on major gift development. More and more schools are doing this right.

3. What do you say to a development person who says, “I give up! I can’t work with the Head of School!”?

Sometimes, the Head of School (HOS) feels he or she is too busy to fundraise, or has no formal fundraising training and so steers clear of the development office. In this case, I would slowly introduce cultivation opportunities and involve the HOS in fundraising-related activities such as making thank you phone calls, taking donors to lunch, and making personal phone calls to donors around the holidays. An increased comfort level with solicitation may soon follow. The Heads of School who make it a priority to participate in development training find it much easier to engage in “the ask” and benefit from learning with other heads who have transitioned more fully to being a key member of the advancement team.

4. What’s the key element to focus on when considering a donor’s potential?

The key element when considering donor potential is almost always the prospect’s area and level of interest, with regard to the school. A donor will always give more – and more passionately – when the ask accurately reflects his or her funding interests. We need to know what moves a donor before we ask for the gift. Does he or she like music, art, Israel, Judaics? We establish an understanding of these interests in two ways: (1) We simply ask questions during a cultivation conversation; and (2) We conduct prospect research and get a sense of where else the donor gives and at what level.

cross-posted on the PEJE Blog