Many of my clients have one-person development offices. If they are lucky, that means that there is a development director and maybe a (often part time) assistant. If they are not, that means that the CEO is also the development director. Lucky or unlucky, this means that the one person is responsible for it all—from grant writing, managing special fundraising events, annual giving, major gifts and anything else that comes up.
In reality, what that means usually is that at best one thing is done pretty well and the rest…well, the rest.
Often, the thing that is done best is the thing that is smack in front of the development professional’s eyes. A grant that is due. The gala. The annual appeal mailing. And while each of these is important, the big money, the sustainability of donors, are the two things that are often left on the table.
One of my clients recently bemoaned the fact that her organization sometimes had special needs for which she was supposed to fundraise—but she felt she has too little time for that. Not as in not enough spare time, though truth to tell she has precious little of that. But rather, she feels that they get the annual appeal, then the gala comes along, and then they are asked for this special project. In her mind, the donors are being “hit up” too often.
Any regular readers have immediately ascertained this is a new client. I’m pretty clear that fundraising has nothing whatsoever to do with being “hit up.” But I didn’t want to get up on that particular soap box. The one I wanted to jump on was the one about planning and the rhythms of fundraising.
I push every one of my clients to calendar their fundraising efforts. So yes, the Gala is in May, and there’s all those things that have to happen from January onward. Those should be in your calendar. Just as grant deadlines, reports due, the annual appeal and any newsletters. But so should the number of prospects you will be identifying each month—and whether they are existing donors or brand new to the organization prospects. How many cultivation activities, with how many of those prospects? What about stewardship steps? And formal solicitation meetings?
There is no correct number for each of these activities—only a number that is right for you and for the goals you have to meet.
If you really were having three cultivation meetings per month with 3 separate prospects, you wouldn’t be thrown by a new initiative. You’d already be talking with potential donors and this would just be another thing you would talk with them about.
If they are existing donors—say those who are regularly donate to the annual fund—you’ll be talking them about the additional support you are hoping they will give this year (or next). If they have never given, you will discuss the need for annual support as well as the value of giving for a special project.
These conversations should be ongoing. You should always have a pool of major gift prospects you are working with. And while I hope you are not culling them out from the pool of annual donors but rather providing additional opportunities for them, because you are regularly interacting with these donors and prospects, there is never the question of being asked too often. There should just be the feeling of being an important supporter of the organization and someone who helps you to make good things happen.
Janet Levine works with nonprofits helping them to increase their fundraising capacity. Check out http://janetlevineconsulting.com to see how she could help your organization or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.