by Barbara Maduell
The role of social media in nonprofits is getting an enormous amount of attention these days. Without a doubt, networking tools enable your organization to build a level of awareness previously unimaginable (and prohibitively expensive). However, just like the ability to “friend” hundreds of people in our personal lives can blur the boundaries of deep vs. casual relationships, too much focus on social media can risk shifting your efforts away from personal, face-to-face meetings with donors who have the capacity to further your mission and vision. In other words, when it comes to the foundation of a strong development program, it still is – and will always be – about major gifts.
So what does it take to build a major gifts program that can create a strong foundation for operational sustainability or to prepare for a special campaign that will take your organization to the next level?
Yes, peapods. Like a peapod, every successful major gifts program – regardless of the sector you serve – has several “P’s”:
Planning: At the organizational level, donors want to know how you are thinking strategically about the future, what you’re thinking about, and why. They also want to see a business plan, based on realistic projections, that shows how you’ll pay for that future. Within your development department, sound annual and multi-year plans should map out the role fundraising will play in getting you there.
People: You can’t build relationships without them! Professional staff creates a culture of philanthropy, holds or brokers relationships with donors, and choreographs ongoing stewardship that demonstrates accountability, transparency, and impact. Volunteer peers open doors, often step inside, and ask others to join them in the essential work of your mission.
Policies: Whether you’re setting investment strategy, clarifying the kinds of gifts you accept, protecting donor confidentiality, or determining who has access to prospect research, clear policies lend integrity to the relationships you are growing. Your board should craft them carefully and review them regularly.
Procedures: Like all relationships, those with donors and prospects are based on trust and follow-through. Clear processes to manage, track, prioritize, and monitor prospects ensure that you have the time to do what matters most: inform, listen, engage, and act.
Performance: Developing a mature major gifts program takes time. Because the return on investment ultimately will be high, measuring success to sustain momentum during what is an ongoing journey requires both qualitative and quantitative evaluation and benchmarks.
Positioning: Strong key messages bring your unique market niche and purpose “to life.” You’ll want to respond to a donor’s specific motivations and interests by sharing the many chapters of your organization’s story, simply and compellingly.
At the end (and beginning!) of each day, having the patience to build upon the relationship-based work you are already doing or are committed to start will create a base of loyal, engaged donors eager to partner with you and your dreams.
Barbara Maduell, CFRE, is a former development professional in Seattle’s Jewish community; she is currently a senior consultant with The Collins Group.