Taking Small Steps For Large Gifts

Rubin Singh

As part of our rollout of Neon One, we will be hearing from industry celebrated experts in a wide variety of fields and expertise. Today’s educational spotlight comes from Rubin Singh, whose expertise is High Touch Fundraising.

Major gift officers have their work cut out for them!

Over the years, I’ve sat down with hundreds of “high touch” groups at nonprofit organizations. And despite how different their missions might be, the challenges they face are much the same.

Here are the greatest challenges nonprofits face getting major gifts:

  • Under-Resourced. High Touch groups tend to have the loftiest growth expectations, yet are the most under-resourced in terms of staff and technology.
  • Poor Integration. High Touch teams are often expected to “mine the data” for existing prospects, but are typically relegated to separate systems (dare I say, spreadsheets?), or poorly integrated into a CRM with privacy walls built all around them.
  • Inconsistent Data. While some major gift officers are tech savvy and like to report actions and projections in a shared CRM, others are less so, which leads to incomplete and inaccurate reporting
  • The Elusive “ROI.” Where remittance slips for direct mail campaigns give you a clear measure of your impact, the ROI on major giving efforts are harder to track. Often times years may pass before the large gift actually comes in (sometimes after the constituent passes away), and a poor “loop closing” process may never actually tie that gift to the original high touch effort.

So with poor integration, limited visibility, and incomplete ROI tracking, it leads development teams to ask the question that makes every major gift officer cringe, “So what exactly does our high touch group do all day?”

Those of us who’ve walked a mile in the shoes of a major gift officer know that it is not always easy cultivating relationships, connecting the dots between influencers and documenting the dozens (or hundreds) of touch-points it may take to secure a major gift.

Here is a short list of recommendations to ensure your high touch team is reaching it’s full potential:

  1. A centralized database. No surprise here. Major Gift Officers (MGO’s) need a clear view of a constituent’s giving history, interests, events attended, relationships, and all the touchpoints in between. The more an MGO knows about the constituent, the better they can cultivate that relationship. If forced to work in a separate or poorly integrated system, not only will MGOs be flying blind, but they run the risk of embarrassing the organization by having conflicting (or redundant) conversations with the constituent and appearing like the “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing”
  2. An open system. Advocate for full access to all constituent and giving data. This is always a sensitive topic, but wealth management data from third-party systems will only get you so far. Often times the most valuable prospecting data is already in your database. If there is concern about other groups seeing your data, put some “skin in the game!” Make sure all your data is shared too. Remember, your portfolio could potentially reveal donors for capital campaigns or influence corporate gifts.
  3. A consistent set of stages. Regardless of which CRM or donor management system you choose, most systems allow you to take a gift through a series of stages to reflect your moves management cycle. Although there are a lot of tried and true methodologies for this, it’s more important your organization decides on a consistent set of meaningful stages that best fit with your organization’s process and culture.
  4. A defined action plan. The moves management stages themselves are just names, but it’s the actions within each stage that are most critical. Come up with a list of recommended actions for each stage that an MGO must complete in order to move from one stage to the next (i.e. thank you letter letter, follow-up call, face to face visit etc.). Not only will this provide some structure and guidance for newer MGOs, but over time, those recommended actions can reflect what’s actually worked. It’s a way of capturing your organization’s best practices and applying it to each major gift proposal moving forward.
  5. Actionable Reports. With meaningful stages and a clear action plan, management can now truly measure the pipeline, gifts closing this month, gifts by stage, and number of “activities” scheduled this week amongst so many other key metrics. By providing the management team meaningful metrics and actionable reports, it reduces reliance on cumbersome Excel spreadsheets and increases user adoption. And by making high touch activity more visible, it will answer the question for all the skeptics in the organization who wonder “what goes on behind the curtain?”
  6. “Closing The Loop.” This is often just as much a business process as it is a technical one, but organizations I’ve seen most successful at this use dashboards that show when a large gift comes in or automated workflows that alert an MGO when a gift comes in from a designated “major giver.” Most CRM or donor management systems provide this feature, as it is critical to determining the ROI efforts on major giving activity.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years in the nonprofit space, is that there’s no “silver bullet” to securing a major gift. But I do know that by capturing high touch activity in a smart and structured way, your organization can uncover invaluable insights and that may currently be hidden in spreadsheets or even in people’s heads.

By considering these recommendations above, it will not only provide a more focused approach to your high touch program, but the transparency and visibility will ensure your team is getting the love it deserves!

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