What’s The Big Idea?: Building Principal Gift Propositions
As our institutions become more reliant on big gifts from a smaller group of high-level donors, the pressure to articulate compelling, transformational funding opportunities linked to strategic objectives mounts. Thinking beyond immediate and operational needs to formulate the kind of ideas that inspire donors to make big investments isn’t an easy task — but it’s a critical one. Join us for a conversation with Jeremy Galvin, Vice President and Chief Development Officer of the Iowa State University Foundation, for insights on how he and his team engage key stakeholders and leadership in the collaborative process of generating big ideas for maximum impact.
Due to issues with the recording, the video is summarized below. We apologize for any inconvenience.
As our institutions become more reliant on big gifts from a smaller group of high-level donors, the pressure to articulate compelling, transformational funding opportunities linked to strategic objectives mounts. Thinking beyond immediate and operational needs to formulate the kind of ideas that inspire donors to make big investments isn’t an easy task — but it’s a critical one.
Big Idea Development
If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the past few years have presented interesting challenges much different from those we’ve faced in the past. A critical factor is the pace of change, which has accelerated and affected the way we interact with our donors as well as how they engage with us.
One of the most significant of the changes we’re navigating recently is our increasing reliance on big gifts from a smaller group of high-level donors. Perhaps many of you are seeing the trend move away from getting 80% of your gifts from 20% of your donors to something closer to 90/10. These shifts are making the imperative to focus on developing the big ideas that motivate transformational gifts even more important.
Ultimately, this is easier said than done, especially as the pressure to fund day-to-day operational needs like hiring more faculty, upgrading or expanding facilities, and funding individual programs gets in the way of formulating big ideas. The truth is that despite their unquestionable importance to the organization, they don’t excite or engage donors. High-level donors are interested in being an influential force for change in organizations they care about, so the question then becomes this: How do we develop and articulate ideas that will inspire donors to make big gifts without getting distracted by operational/transactional needs?
As a first step in the process toward developing those ‘big ideas’ that inspire donors, it’s important for everyone to have the same definition of a big idea. So, how do we define them?
Big ideas are:
• Aligned with institutional vision, mission and strategic objectives
• Interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary in scope
• Levers of existing high-impact assets and areas of strength
• Opportunities to attract new allies and deepen existing partnerships
Big ideas are articulated by:
• A clear aspirational vision statement
• Compelling avenues for funding
• KPIs to measure impact
Big ideas are the result of a team effort made up of two primary stakeholder groups:
• Team of Champions: leadership, faculty, program experts
• Project Team: advancement experts
Because of their interdisciplinary nature, the ideal big ideas process involves all the key stakeholders from the beginning of the process to define the problem and work together to identify solutions that could eventually be shaped into gift propositions.
You should first develop a model for collaboration that convenes academic or program officers with executive and advancement leadership on a cross-functional team. This structure serves two purposes: it clarifies roles; and it creates transparency for decision-making from the outset.
Iowa State has committed to and engaged in this process, and Jeremy Galvin, Vice President and Chief Development Officer of the Iowa State University Foundation, can share his experiences, learnings and insights on the pitfalls to avoid.