I am familiar with all the advice and steps that should be taken to develop relationships, multiple touches, involve Board members with connections, moves management, etc. You are too and some of them you actually do and others you are considering. The theme for this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival is Tricks or Treats – How Do You Get and Sustain Major Gifts? I wanted to participate in this informative and fun event but what tricks do I know beyond the basics? At first I couldn’t think of any and then I remembered one client in particular I worked with and this advice I gave to them.
Major donors will understand the reality of your needs and “You should treat them like grown-ups.” That’s my advice – rather than like a fragile china doll – which is what some of the standard advice amounts to – treat them like grown-ups.
Here are the facts in my real life case of an organization I worked with. They provided important services and had a super staff – so far typical. But they were stretched so thin and tried to do way too many things – still typical. However, they were off the charts in critical areas. Their staff had no benefits and were paid 30% below the local nonprofit market resulting in a high turnover rate and lack of stability and experience/leadership on the staff. They had been located for 20 years in a well located building with free rent and the free rent status was in jeopardy. There was no financial reserve and they survived on a month to month basis. Because of the lack of experienced staff, the Executive Director had to spend a significant amount of time on program and operations and there was no one on the staff with development as a responsibility. A volunteer Board member was developing a database and spent significant time every week organizing the fundraising effort and improving its materials. The organization had a solid reputation and a deep support network through churches of various denominations. There was a committed long term Board with varied skills and some fundraising potential.
You could sum up their situation as "provides lifeline and life changing services, inefficient, not sustainable, has untapped fundraising potential."
This organization needed a path to sustainability. Is it doable? Yes. It can be hard to raise funds to keep on doing what you are doing but be able to do it better. But that really is what they wanted.
What will be the goals for the major gift campaign?
• Increase staff pay over five years to be comparable with local nonprofits
• Introduce a shared cost medical benefit for employees
• Hire a Development Director
• Develop a reserve that will put the organization in a position to pay rent or meet emergencies
Can you really tell donors that what you want to do is raise staff pay, hire a development director and save some money in a reserve? Let’s hope so if that is what you need. How do you do that?
First of all you have faith that you can treat your potential major donors like they are grown-ups. They understand these issues and deal with them in their own businesses. They are willing to support your organization not only on an emotional level – yes, you need those people too – but to respond to the practical reality of where you are right now.
The plan was straightforward – Identify 100 people willing to commit $1000 a year for five years. Let’s be frank. If people get used to giving your organization $1000 a year for five years and you do a good job of keeping them posted on your progress and results and say thank you regularly – now we are back to the basics – won’t some of them continue at this level? This, my friends, is the Treat and there is no Trick.
Treat your potential major donors like grown-ups and be Treated.