The most empowering question in fundraising?
When I’m interviewing a prospective major donor for a capital campaign as part of a feasibility study, for the interview and indeed for the study to be relevant, it’s essential that I ask the right questions. For any fundraising purpose, asking the ‘right’ questions is critical to fundraising success.
Getting back to the feasibility study … what would you think is the most important question to ask in a feasibility study interview? I used to think it was … How much would you ‘personally’ contribute to the project, if the campaign proceeds?
But in my experience, there is a far more powerful, more revealing, campaign game breaking question and it’s this … is there one person who can give the lot?
Asking that question in a capital campaign feasibility study, or, for any fundraising purpose changes everything. Asking the question changes your fundraising focus and strategy. It can drive your program priorities, staff training and how your staff resources are managed, positively impacting your fundraising bottom line.
Whether you’re raising funds for a specific purpose, for a general fund or an endowment, the first question to ask is … Is there one person who can give the lot?
Asking the question immediately leads you to one of two possible answers: yes, there is one person who can give the lot or, no, there isn’t! If the immediate answer is in the negative then the next question to ask is … are there two people who, between them, can give it? What do you think the next question might be, and the next?
Whether it’s one or a few people who between them can give the lot, you will need to ‘qualify’ them through effective prospect research. Once ‘qualified’, you can cultivate them, inform them and set their sights on the target, on the lot; and then …… you ask them for the lot! Simple really, isn’t it?
Asking the right question can transform your fundraising program.
Irrespective of the size of your fundraising development office, the institution or cause you serve, whether you have just a few fundraising programs or are managing a fully developed Total Development fundraising Program (TDP), asking the question for each and every one of your fundraising programs, transforms them.
At Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT) that’s exactly what we’ve done. After two years of implementing a successful TDP, together with my development team, we produced a 3 year ACT TDP Business Plan, 2010 to 2012. To build the TDP Business Plan we rated and ranked each of our fundraising programs against three criteria.
ACT TDP Business Plan
Fundraising Programme RATING Summary
80/20 (Major Donors) – The level of cultivation and solicitation of the 20% of donors who give 80% of the income.
Friend Raising (LTV) The programme’s contribution to the Life Time Value (LTV) of the ACT database.
Fund Raising (ROI+) The programme’s contribution to both £ gross ACT income plus the cost effectiveness of the programme.
Of the three criteria, it is the 80/20 measure that has had the most extraordinary impact on our day to day fundraising. The ACT development team understand the real value of spending 80% of their time with the 20% of our donors or prospective donors who give, or have the potential to give, most of their program’s income.
Experienced fundraisers will observe that this is the case for capital campaigns but what about other programs? – direct response, community fundraising, special events and yes, for major gifts and legacy programs too. Asking ‘the’ question is transformational.
ACT’s direct response program, like other programs in our TDP has an annual budget – income targets, ROI’s and KPI’s. The program raises budget target amounts for general purposes, through a regular or committed giving program. In addition, there is one generic hospital and two equipment specific direct mailings annually, each with a specific fundraising target. But when preparing budgets, when brainstorming which projects we will raise funds for, our Direct Response Project Manager is obliged to ask the first question every fundraiser should ask … for this project need, is there one person who can give the lot?
To identify and qualify direct mail donors who can give the lot, the Direct Response Manager has, as standing members of their ‘project team’, the ACT Major Donor Manager, Prospect Research Officer and ACT’s Database Manager.
Even more empowering, in terms of the Direct Response Manager’s personal professional development, they are also responsible for developing, together with the other members of the Direct Response management team, the cultivation and solicitation plans for any DR prospect capable of ‘giving the lot’.
Similarly, the project managers for both Legacies and In Memoriam programs work closely with the Major Donor Manager and the Prospect Research Officer, just as the Major Donor Manager in turn, manages a ‘team’ of project managers from other related programs.
The point is, they are ‘all’ charged with major donor research, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship; predicated on the need to ask that one powerful question. All ACT project managers are trained in the ‘The Art of Asking’ for major gifts and participate in regular major donor prospect ‘allocation’ meetings.
The impact of asking ‘the’ question across all programs increases communication between program teams, allows greater integration of prospect research and cultivation and develops flexibility in the application of skills and knowledge of staff. What I’ve witnessed is staff being positively challenged by the major gift process and by the ‘joy of asking’ in particular. But it’s that very challenge that motivates them, driving the 80/20 imperative and lifting results across programs.
What’s the most common fundraising task you perform?
The 2009 CFRE Job Analysis Survey interviewed over 3000 professional fundraisers from 8 countries, and asked them ‘what’s the most common fundraising task you perform?’
The most common answer … developing a list of potential donors by identifying individuals and groups … who have the capacity and propensity to give, in order to ‘qualify’ prospective donors for further research and cultivation efforts.
Is that the answer you would have given? Is that the answer your development staff would give? If not, then it may well be worth asking, in respect of each and every one of your fundraising programs … is there one person who can give the lot!