Full opening message of FundClass Topic #06, September 1997
Our facilitator for this FundClass topic is Mary Thom Adams
Major donor fundraising is all about building relationships. As the primary fundraiser at Highlander Research and Education Center, there is only so much time I can justify for any task. There are foundation proposals, direct mail appeals, board reports, planning, and all the other many tasks of a fundraiser in a small shop. The most pleasure I get from my work is the time I get to spend with our major donors. They are the people in whom I can really invest. I can justify conversations of any length, visits, you name it. Many of Highlander's donors are my friends. I know their families, and we share the ups and downs of our lives. Oh yes, and once a year I ask them for a lot of money.
Having said that, I can also tell you that major donor fundraising is the donor work that often doesn't get done as well as it should in my shop and in many others. There is a lot of good written material on major donor fundraising. You can get step by step advice on how to get and keep major donors from great authors like Kim Klein or Joan Flanagan. What I have learned about major donor fundraising--any fundraising for that matter--is that you should follow their advice. What I have also learned about fundraising is that implementing that advice is not so easy. What I would like to offer during this fund class is an opportunity to discuss why it is so hard to do this fundraising, and the ways that we can help each other to do better at this most wonderful part of our jobs.
To get us started I'll walk you through the plan we have in my office this year for getting and keeping major donors. We develop a calendar of activities at the beginning of each fiscal year. On that calendar we schedule general contact we will have with all major donors. For instance, they will all get the newsletter, a monthly letter from our director, a holiday card, and two or three times during the year we will mail them an article or book or account of a workshop. Then I run a printout with all their names, addresses and phone numbers and put it in a notebook that has my development claendar, the year's goals, and the quarterly reports we generate. (I have found that if I put these most important items together (without a lot of other STUFF) that I will be more likely to refer to the notebook everyday and therefore stay on top deadlines.)
I try to set a goal of contacting at least one major donor a day. What does that mean? Well, it can be very direct. I call the person, or write the person, or someone else in the organization calls or writes. Less direct and no less important is the time spent organizing an event (house party, funder's evening or weekend, etc) that a major donor might attend. Most important to any major donor effort are the personal events. For us that is also the hardest part to carry out. Our donors are spread from one end of the country to the other and unfortunately, my fundraising budget is not so spread!! Remember, I have a small development office and there is hardly enough of me to go around anyway. The solution to this problem is easy, but the implementation is difficult. The solution is to develop a pool of volunteers around the country to help you do the fundraising. They can go with you or the director to make visits. They can do lots and will, if you take the time to get them involved and keep them involved.
As it turns out this is a good time for me to be doing this class because I am renewing my efforts this year to practice what I preach. For a number of years we have been trying to increase the number of individual donors at Highlander and reduce our dependency on foundations. Each year of the last five we have made progress and I am pleased. I'm not pleased enough though and circumstances (too many to name) this year provide me with an opportunity to make a more significant jump. The first step I'm taking is to let folks know that we may have to say no to a few foundation opportunities in order to see major donors. I'm developing that list of volunteers who can go with us to see donors and in order to have the time it takes to get these volunteers I may have to say no to some other things. The point is that I'm trying to follow simple steps that often get put aside in favor of other tasks.
This is a start. Let's get down to the nuts and bolts. Let's talk about training volunteers and about the horrible fear people have of asking someone for money. Let's talk about the cycle of donors. I have one donor who started with a contribution of $1 and now gives $25,000. Wow! Let's discuss how to ask for a major gift. Let's share successes and our less than shining moments.
I'm looking forward to this discussion over the next several weeks.
Mary Thom Adams
This opening message was originally posted by Mary Thom Adams on September 30, 1997