When I started in development, I worked in a large research university, where—as a gift officer—I had a lot of support. Not the least of that was a development research department that could provide me with a lot of information about my prospects and donors.
When I went to smaller organizations, I was on my own, especially where donor research was concerned. And in those days—especially before the internet made it possible to find out all sorts of information about the people you want to know about—I both missed the research department and felt oddly liberated. Someone’s capacity to give to my organization took a back seat to how much they cared about the work we were doing and the connections that they had with us.
Not that I ignored capacity. It’s important. You don’t want to be spending a lot of time thinking you might get a six-figure gift from a donor who will never go above two figures. But then, even someone who could reach those higher levels might not—especially if you don’t ask then for the right thing in the right way with the right people in the room.
Asking your board to help you screen and rate people is essential to a successful major gifts program. One main thing you are looking for are those connections—who knows the prospect best and how can they help you connect that prospect even more closely to your organization.
Those who know the prospect will be important sources of information for you. They can help you rate capacity and interest. The ratings my research department provided were often quite detailed; don’t expect that from your board. What they might be able to ascertain is whether this person can make a gift at your highest level, somewhere in the middle, or at a lower level.
For example, if the largest gifts you get are in the $50,000 range, then that becomes the foundation of your highest level. If you regularly get gifts in excess of $250,000 that would be your level. And if your largest gift ever has been $5,000, then that is your highest level.
The other thing your board can help you with is how inclined that person is right now to give you a gift at the level they’ve rated the prospect. “She’s told me several times how much she loves our organization,” indicates that most if not all of the needed cultivation to get a larger gift has been done. “He’s really annoyed at….” tells you there is work to be done.
Board members can also help you to design the best strategies for bringing a prospect closer. “Brian hates parties,” is a clue that inviting Brian to your gala as your guest may not be the best way to engage him.
Some board members—and sometimes entire boards—are loath to screen and rate their peers. Screening meetings may fall flat if your board falls into this category. But don’t abandon using your board for screening and rating purposes. I had a board that felt it was “betraying confidences” to talk about their friends finances and preferences in front of a large group, but none of my board had issues sharing this information with me in a one on one conversation.
Sitting with our boards is sometime professionals too often ignore. Here’s yet another reason to reach out and meet with your board members as individuals several times during the year.
Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and energize boards. Learn how she can help you and your organization at http://janetlevineconsulting.com or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. When you’re at her website, don’t forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter.