Fundraising Fundamentals: Reminders from Leadership Gift School

July 2019

The Institute for Philanthropic Leadership wrapped up another successful program last month, with the 7th cohort of Leadership Gift School finishing its spring experience by presenting their major gift case for support to the rest of the participants. Kudos to the outstanding leaders at Renaissance West Community Initiative, Classroom Central, CMS Foundation, Brookstone Schools, A Child's Place, Cain Center for the Arts, South Piedmont Community College and Carolina Breast Friends for the great work they are doing in our community.

Leadership Gift School (LGS) provides a powerful reminder of the key fundamentals on which nonprofit organizations must focus to assure they are maximizing their fundraising potential. Of course, these objectives are easier said than done in the busy environments faced by organizations like those participating in Leadership Gift School. The key take-aways for Cohort 7 are worthy of consideration by any nonprofit organization!

(1) Do you really know who your top donors and prospects are? So many nonprofits get lost in what I call "volume fundraising" which is akin to wishful thinking and chasing every dollar from every one known to the organization. There is certainly a place for a systematic approach to building a donor pipeline, but the LGS group found strategic focus by making sure they kept their 20-10-5 list front and center. Who are the 20 individual/families, 10 corporations and 5 foundations that are most important to the nonprofit and have the greatest potential to make a major gift? Keeping this group clearly in mind assured a strategic focus for the Executive Director and Development Director, and made sure their limited time and energy included efforts to cultivate their 20-10-5.

(2) Will senior leadership devote specific time to major gift strategy and implementation? Everyone has plenty of meetings, but Cohort 7 realized the volume of meetings on your calendar doesn't mean you're assuring a specific time block for this important topic. Squeezing major gift strategy discussion into an existing staff meeting is not enough. It needs to have its own designated time and focus.

(3) What do you need to add to your organization's toolkit so you can be a more effective fundraiser? Every LGS organization acknowledged there were tools they could add or enhance, and there was value in doing an inventory and evaluation of the items most utilized by staff and board. Maybe board members need a better collateral piece to help their community outreach efforts, or it's time to revisit the policy about receiving potential non-cash gifts? Virtually every organization acknowledged the need to better highlight their legacy giving program and assure their constituents were aware of the opportunity to support the nonprofit through planned gifts.

(4) What is the one thing you can do to elevate your board's engagement in fundraising? Every nonprofit faces the ongoing challenge of engaging their board members in a meaningful way, and Cohort 7 evaluated different models for board structure that best facilitates fundraising. The conclusion was every organization could do something to better engage the board, and having representative board members actually attend the 4th LGS session helped them better appreciate their role and share their message with the rest of their board colleagues.

(5) Finally, each member of Cohort 7 pondered this question: what are you going to do to get better? We often think of professional development for the newest members of our team, but the reality is that every nonprofit professional should have an annual plan to get better. What skills and experiences can you acquire to help you be more effective in your job? Who are the networking contacts you can target to learn about another organization's success that might help yours? How can you better enhance your organization's material compared to the volume of material that floods your inbox every day? We discussed an approach that identifies ten key skills and experiences every nonprofit professional should strive to master, and then focusing on two or three that deserve attention in 2019-20.

Registration for Cohort 8 in the Spring 2020 is open now! Follow these links for more information about Leadership Gift School, or the Fall program in 2019 for New Development Professionals.