If you polled most people in a nonprofit organization, they will probably say that the Development Director has a cushy job. Meetings with interesting people. Dinners, lunches, golf, black-tie affairs and whatnot with the movers and shakers. An open door to the CEO. Opportunities to travel outside the walls of the campus, sometimes to exotic locales. What’s not to like?
Truth is, being a Development Director is probably one of the most challenging jobs in nonprofit. In twenty plus years in philanthropy, I’ve seen all types, and unfortunately many more people fail than succeed in these roles. Sometimes it’s simply an issue of “fit”. Not everyone can succeed in this work. It takes a certain type of person with the right mix of skills and abilities. But even the right people can fail if they fail to do the right things.
The biggest challenge to the success of a Development Director is staying focused on the things that matter. Anyone who has been in this job for any period of time will tell you how easy it is to get sucked into the internal affairs or proverbial red-tape of an organization. Suddenly it’s Friday, and–looking back at the week just completed–you realize that you were busy all week but didn’t accomplish much of value, at least in terms of helping you achieve your outcome objectives.
Most non-profit organizations are more apt at measuring process indicators than they are at measuring outcomes. Except when it comes to development. In this case the opposite phenomenom applies. That’s the tricky thing that trips up many a Development Director… the outcomes are pretty tangible and easy to measure. (I like to joke with my colleagues in the Public Relations business that fund-raising is basically Public Relations but with actual accountability built in. I usually find that more funny than they do). Unfortunately most don’t have an organized plan with specific outcome objectives in place, so success or failure becomes a subjective determination.
I would argue that in the case of development, non-profit leaders need to focus more on measuring and monitoring process than results. Don’t get me wrong–results matter. But good outcomes are driven by good activities consistently applied. There is no magic formula. Uncountable numbers of factors–some known and some unknown–can have a dramatic effect on fund-raising revenues. But if your development staff are doing the right things day in and day out then the likelihood of successful outcomes–i.e. raising more money–will be greatly enhanced. On the other hand, if they are consistently doing the right things and not getting good outcomes then you need to take a good hard look at other factors related to your donor base and your programs and organization. So what are those “right things” that a Development Director should be doing? What are the “good activities” that will drive “good outcomes”? Here is a list of ten things that every Development Director should be asking him or herself every week:
How many one-on-one donor visits did I make last week? There is no substitute for one-on-one personal calls on donors. Of all the fund-raising approaches out there, there is no greater driver of overall fund-raising success. Regardless of all else, in order to be successful a Development Director needs to be spending a significant portion of his or her time out in the field, making a minimum of 3 to 5 donor appointments per week. Nothing should take precedence over this key function. Too often, however, this is the one thing that gets pushed off the schedule in favor of meetings, management, and the “tyranny of the urgent”.
How many appointments did I make for future donor visits? Someone once said, “Motivation is what gets you started; good habits are what keep you going.” I’ve seen many a fundraiser resolve to spend more time in the field and then get on the phone and make a flurry of appointments. It works well for a time. After a short time these visits are done and we’re right back where we started. The only way to ensure that you will be consistently out in the field is to consistently set aside time each week to work the phones and make appointments. It’s the least enjoyable part of the job but it has to be done– there’s simply no way around it. Start a routine and make it a habit. Close the door and work the phones and don’t stop until you’ve met your goal for a specific number of appointments.
How many of my one-on-one donor visits involved a specific request for a gift? Not every visit should end with a request for money. A healthy percentage of them should be cultivation or stewardship calls where the main purpose of the visit is to prepare for a later ask, thank them for a previous gift, encourage their involvement in an activity or event, or provide a report on how their recent prior gift has made an impact for your nonprofit. As a general rule, however, at least half of all personal visits with donors should end with a request for a gift (i.e. an “eyeball-to-eyeball” direct ask for a specific amount designated to a specific purpose, preferably accompanied with a written proposal and response form). I’ve seen too many Development Directors who hardly ever get out in the field, and when they do, too many aren’t making enough direct asks. It’s the difference between being a professional visitor and a professional fund-raiser.
How many telephone calls did I make to donors? One of the chief responsibilities of any fund-raising staff person is to manage a portfolio of donors. A full-time Major Gifts Officer may have as many as three-hundred assigned donors that he or she is responsible for. A Development Director with a broader set of responsibilities may have anywhere from fifty to a hundred and fifty. It’s simply not feasible to see all of them in person every week nor is it necessary. In some cases you many only be seeing many of these donors once per year. In between these personal visits, however, the phone is the next best thing for staying in touch with donors. Don’t revert to email. Fundraising is a high-touch, not a high-tech business and a live voice on the phone trumps a typed message in terms of personal touch.
How many referrals did I receive? The future success of any fund-raising program is built upon the organization’s ability to attract new donors to their nonprofit. In today’s economic environment, recruiting new donors is perhaps the biggest challenge we face. Traditional methods of using wealth engine data for prospecting and then “working the lists” simply isn’t working effectively anymore. The best way to gain new donors is through referrals from existing donors–a warm lead beats a cold call every time. If your organization is doing a good job then your current donors will be your best advocates. People are always making recommendations to their friends–for new restaurants, vacation spots, movies, books, you name it. When done in the right way an ask for an introduction is any easy ask to make and it is the cheapest and most effective way to gain new partners for nonprofit.
How many new donor contacts did I make? Referrals in and of themselves are worthless if no one is following up with them. Reaching out to new donors via a phone call, personal visit, or invitation to visit your nonprofit or attend an event are important first contacts and should be part of any Development Director’s routine. Even more important than the “first contact” however, is what happens after a new donor gives their first gift. I read a report recently that gave some eye-popping statistics. Any personal contact from someone involved with the nonprofit increases the likelihood that a new donor will give a subsequent gift to an organization by a large factor. The more personal the contact–i.e. a visit, phone call, or handwritten note–increases that likelihood by increasing degrees. A new donor who receives a personal contact has an eighty-percent or greater likelihood of giving again. Nearly forty percent of these donors will go on to become major donors to the nonprofit. Barring personal contact, less than twenty percent will give a subsequent gift within the next year. Further, for those donors who do not give another gift within the following nine months, the chance that they will ever give again is statistically zero. There is a strong lesson to be learned from these statistics. Most development program focus primarily on the nonprofit’s largest and most loyal donors, but it is equally important to give significant time and attention to new donors.
How many thank you notes did I send? My wife likes to remind me from time to time that, “It’s the little things in life that count”. This holds true in any relationship, including your relationship with donors. Donors appreciate being appreciated, and a simple “thank you” can go a long way towards building a long-term and productive relationship. No doubt you have a good database in your office that prints out a quantity of thank you letters and receipts on a daily basis. This is to be expected. But how many personal thank you notes are you writing? Every visit you make should be followed up with a personal thank you note. Every gift you receive from an assigned donor should be acknowledged by a thank-you note. This is a small touch with a big impact on making your donors feel appreciated and inclined to continue to give.
How many donor reports did I present? In today’s competitive fund-raising environment more and more donors approach philanthropy in the same way that they approach investment. They support your mission, but want to know that their giving is having an impact in helping your organization achieve that mission. In order to have a continuing and growing partnership with these givers, your organization needs to provide them with accurate, timely information about how their previous gifts have had a positive impact. If you want to lift donors to higher levels of partnership, preparing and presenting donor reports needs to be part of your regular routine.
How much networking did I do? Networking is an important function of any Development Director’s position. Networking is about expanding opportunities and developing relationships through connections with likeminded people. The key is to be in the right venues connecting with the right people. In my work I’ve met hundreds of major donors who give to a myriad of types of organizations. In almost every case there was story to be told about how a key donor was introduced to the organization through someone they knew through some other network of contacts. Smart networking is strategic and focused, and will result in important connections that will help increase your organization’s circle of friends.
Did I document all of my key donor contacts? Successful donor development is all about strategically managing relationships with donors and prospects to cultivate stronger relationships and move them towards higher levels of giving. Information management is a key component of a strategic donor development system. Since each contact builds upon another, success requires that you document and track all activities between your organization and its donors.
Any Development Director who can consistently answer these ten questions affirmatively each week will be successful in his or her work. Every situation is unique, so there is no magic number when it comes to success in each of these areas. I recommend you put your own plan in place that incorporates specific objectives for each of these areas, then monitor your activities each week. Do that consistently and good outcomes will follow, resulting in success for you and your team and more money for your mission.