Congratulations! Your board has come to the realization that to sustain your nonprofit, you will need to diversify your funding streams. As we know, unbalanced reliance on private grants, government grants, or special events can be costly and detrimental to the financial health of your agency. Conversely, increasing contributions from individuals is both cost-effective and can drastically improve the long-term viability of your organization. Please consider the following five questions prior to launching your new major gifts program in order to maximize your investment:
1. Do you have a solid infrastructure in place?
Is your donor database well maintained? Do you have a dedicated database entry person? Are you able to acknowledge donations within 48 hours of receiving them? Has someone documented the donor entry and gift acknowledgment policies? If not, it’s possible you cannot afford to hire a major gifts officer just yet.
2. Are the board members truly ready to lead in the effort?
Board members often think they will be off the hook for fundraising when a dedicated fundraiser is hired. The reality is board members need to consider themselves part of the fundraising team. No matter how talented the fundraiser may be, she (or he) will have limited success if the board members are unwilling to participate.
3. Are you (assuming you are the CEO or Executive Director) ready to lead the effort?
Question #2 applies to you as the CEO or Executive Director as well. The fundraiser cannot reach his (or her) full potential if forced to work in a bubble. Also, it is important that you make time to meet with your major gifts officer on a regular basis. Ultimately, the major gifts officer should be a member of your leadership team.
4. How is employee morale?
This is the time to take a reading on employee morale and address any lingering internal issues that may be bringing your staff down. The employees are part of the fundraising team too. It will carry a lot of weight with donors when the major gifts officer can state that all key stakeholders believe so passionately in the work that is done here that everyone involved personally contributes to the best of their ability.
5. Has someone analyzed your individual giving trends?
This is a necessary step in understanding what a major gift is for your organization and the reason why data entry is so important. Many times, this step is skipped, and agencies make the arbitrary assumption that some large amount whether $10,000 or $100,00 is a major gift. Someone will need to run reliable donor giving reports and be able to identify the specific monetary contributions individuals have provided in the last three to five years. It is important to distinguish what motivates your individual donors to support your cause (for instance there is a difference between the constituent who purchases a $500 auction item or event tickets and the donor who makes an annual $500 contribution for nothing in return. There is also a difference between donors who can write a single check for $1,000 versus those who reach $1,000 cumulatively through various campaigns). If you are making the investment in a major gifts officer, the last thing you will want is to have him (or her) spending most of his (or her) time sorting through and correcting poorly maintained donor data records. To leverage your investment, make sure your new major gifts officer has everything he (or she) needs to come in and hit the ground running.