I’ve put a lot of thought into this over the years… sharpening the saw (7 Habits) so to say.
While there is no magic rolodex, it is the rolodex that has been my number one source in my last five years. I had no fundraising experience coming into this role, but can derive all of my success from working and re-working my growing rolodex (donor base).
My actual response to this question is… They find (or come looking) me! My benefactors regularly cc me on emails to their friends and colleagues for philanthropic advice.
Over the last five years I have rolled out three critical GOOD habits that have turned me into a production machine.
1. Birds of a feather, give together – I make it a habit of researching who my benefactors’ contacts are, what boards they serve on, and what hobbies they have that enable me to grow my donor base through them with hot leads. Another amazing finding is that most of my benefactors really enjoy their engagement with me and the University, and because of that experience they very much want for their friends and associates to have the same experience. Because of this habit, new prospects compare their experience with me to current and new developer engagements, and I find that Notre Dame quickly raises to their family’s #1 or #2 area of philanthropy. Even while we have this “already too wealthy” moniker seemingly hanging above our head.
2. Never assume that Business Titans know one another – This habit has created what will inevitably turn into soliciting and closing one of the University’s largest commitments ever, in the coming fiscal year. Three benefactors come to mind as I think of this habit. I believe, against conventional advancement wisdom, that we should actively be looking for opportunities to introduce our benefactors to one another. When politics and business opportunity align, you have a perfect match. They want to know each other and to a very large degree it’s what they pay for. Access! Because of this habit, I now receive “qualified” 6/7 figure commitment leads monthly. Not to mention, over the last three years, 7 figure gifts have made up 40% of my year’s total production. This habit allows me to work smarter, not harder.
3. Educate your Benefactors – As I have grown closer to my benefactors I have found that their needs and circumstances change with time. Given that, I openly listen and look for opportunities to lay out food for thought to help them, and help our institution as well. I’ve spent the last two years learning all that I can about planned giving. When I speak to my “current” new money benefactors I am already seeding for the next planned gift to come once their current commitment is completed. Because of this habit I find that my benefactors are not CPA’s and that their financial advisers are not openly sharing this info because there planned gifts diminish the financial planner’s portfolio balance, hence hitting them in the pockets. In this case what benefactors don’t know about planned giving is hurting them. Because of this habit our planned giving conversations become golf course and water-cooler talk with friends and colleagues. Those friends and colleagues begin reaching out to me, even if they are not alum or friends of Notre Dame. I give them help gratis! In turn I find that many of these parents have high school aged children looking to apply to Notre Dame. If the kids get in, I have a huge head start in the cultivation phase of my process.
Hope this helps you… I think that these habits apply widely!
Thanks to Marc Pitman for this thought provoking question.