Finding the “Less” Asked

During this week I had the fortune of visiting with a very prominent national foundation that raises scholarship funds for college students. I wrapped up the week with a principal gift husband/wife visit, looking to begin their walk down charity lane. Making use of our donor advised fund program administered by CertusCharitable Giving Fund.

In both conversations I could not help but wonder why, and how, the two had never met… As fundraisers we ought not concentrate on the low-hanging (or high for that matter) fruit section simply because it’s the easiest to pick. We should instead be great stewards of these wonderful opportunities and balance our efforts. Picking from on high, and being very selective about what is low.

What’s low… I call this the “United Way” of fundraising. Please do not mistake my naming convention for lack of total respect for the organization. They are very needed and serve a significant purpose for many communities across the country. The convention only fits in this case because a very large portion of their donor base is corporate givers. And therefore, such a convention fits because the approach is heavily based on “corporate” engagement. Year over year campaigns, very little cultivation, and high aggregate yield at the lower end of the spectrum (avgerage annual gift of $500, or less per employee). I am a proud donor to the United Way, and this is my experience. Could they get more from me, absolutely… but they do not cultivate our family past the board room visits.

What’s high… I call this “Leadership” or “Principal” gift development. While I highlight other words, the focus is squarely on “development” with this group. Picking from high in the tree requires years of careful cultivation, listening, engagement, and last but not least the right person making the ask. Picking from high in the tree requires exceptional patience and planning from management. All too often I find that many nonprofits have dug themselves into a whole by needing “transactional” gifts “now” to keep the lights on and neglect really good development practices that would lead to transformational gifts that endow keeping the lights on instead.

Towards the end of my couples meeting the answer became very clear… Not only does the scholarship organization not call on this family, they potentially never will. They are simply not set up to do so. Their donor base reads like a Forbes 500, versus a balanced list of corporate and HNW (high net worth) benefactors. Successful development teams invest the right amount of resources, where needed, and reap multiple returns. Semi-successful development teams deploy resources reactively, and comparatively have lower ROI per fundraiser.

Balance is the key! Major gift officers, by their very nature, should not be making principal gift visits. Principal gift officers should not be visiting board rooms with more than two people in the room. Student calling teams should not be calling donors that belong to either officer group. If any one strategy (individual, corporate, foundation) is greater than 60%, there may be a problem on the horizon. Such a strategy is not sustainable for the long haul. What can happen… Individuals move on to Glory. Corporate contacts change companies. Foundations grow uninterested in your mission and vision.

Balance is the key… Get started today, and exponential benefits await tomorrow.


1 Comment

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One response to “Finding the “Less” Asked

  1. Great post – you are exactly right that there are different strategies depending on the donor and the goals of the nonprofit. Organizational structure is also important.

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