It is difficult to escape the reality that these are not normal times. Maybe that’s because many school buildings and college campuses across the country sit empty as millions of students attend school remotely. Or because it’s nearly impossible to avoid the nonstop deluge of news surrounding COVID-19, racial unrest, and elections. In the midst of all this disruption, does anyone feel as if they’ve had time to rest and refocus for what’s ahead?
In our conversations with major gift officers in recent weeks, we have learned that many are struggling with next steps after an initial burst of activity that saw them rapidly pivot to virtual work and establish new ways of connecting and communicating with donors in the absence of events and in-person contacts. As one gift officer said to us, “Now it just feels like a long slog. I’m not sure what to do next with many of our prospective major gift donors.”
Those feelings are natural. It is painfully evident that we are in the midst of the most significant public and economic health crises in generations. Yet it can be helpful (and validating) to take a step back and remind yourself that your work as a fundraiser is essential at this moment. You provide constituents with a vital link to causes that are important to them and your outreach will likely be seen as an important source of information from your institution or organization.
We understand that even with that framing, it can be difficult to regroup and get some perspective on how to move forward. We’ve outlined three ideas below that you can use to get started:
Check your institutional messaging.
Our GG+A colleague Melinda Church has written a number of thoughtful and important pieces about how institutional messaging is changing. New priorities may have emerged or your organization may have urgent, increased need for longstanding priorities. Make time to understand how prospective donors can have an impact with current-use gifts, endowment, or even facility projects and be ready with talking points, draft proposals and/or gift agreements. You always want to be able to answer when (sometimes unexpectedly) a potential donor asks, “What is the best gift I could make right now?”
Review your major gift portfolio.
If you haven’t done this recently, now is a good time to undertake a candid review of your portfolio. Take the time to assess key information, update strategies, and determine or confirm next steps. That means asking qualifying or requalifying questions, such as:
- Is there evidence that this individual is capable of making a major gift as my organization defines it? Put another way, can you identify what assets the donor would use to make this gift?
- Is there evidence they are inclined to give? Does this individual have a personal connection to or history of supporting my institution or organization?
- Who else may have insight or information that could help inform my strategy? We also suggest you review and confirm the status of each prospective major donor amid the current moment.
- For those at the cultivation/engagement phases, determine what actions will be needed to move them to “ready” and make a step-by-step plan so that you know where you are with the prospect.
- For those who are ready to be asked, consider how past giving aligns with your organization’s current priorities. Given the state of the world, it is especially important to check in with donors to reassess their readiness and ask how the current situation may have impacted the way they are directing their philanthropy.
- For those in the stewardship phase, identify new and/or creative virtual opportunities to stay connected and share information. Good stewardship demonstrates impact, strengthens relationships, and should also help you determine the timing and focus of their next gift.
Think about ways to engage others in your next steps.
If you can, widen your circle of collaborators and unburden yourself from having to drive every step of your process.
- As appropriate, use other major donors, key volunteers, institutional leaders, or development colleagues to refresh your perspective and help you identify next steps for those in your portfolio.
- Leverage the ease of scheduling meetings in a virtual environment by inviting key stakeholders to join you in donor meetings as appropriate. Consider inviting a fundraiser from another unit on campus that the donor supports, an administrator from your organization, or a key volunteer. This kind of involvement serves to expand the connections across your organization and can provide “insider” level engagement for some of your best prospects and donors.
Once you’ve finished your analysis, it is important to take action. That starts by putting one foot in front of the other and moving along with your plan—even if you don’t have a full complement of answers to every possible question. If you commit to a process informed by strategy and guided by a willingness to listen and ask questions, donors will respond to your efficient and effective approach and you will build stronger relationships with better fundraising outcomes.
Learn more about how GG+A can assist your organization during the COVID-19 pandemic in the firm’s Virtual Resources for Advancement Professionals offering, which you can read more about here. You can also contact Kathleen directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and Angela directly at email@example.com.