Leadership annual giving is a fundraising term used to describe a nonprofit’s largest repeating philanthropic gifts. Leadership annual gifts, also referred to as mid-level gifts, represent a higher dollar segment than that of baseline annual donors. Depending on the size of your organization, leadership annual gifts typically fall in the $500-$10,000 range.
When conducting annual giving campaigns, nonprofit development professionals often focus on securing first-time gifts from the base of the donor pyramid or renewing major gifts from the top of the donor pyramid; however, gifts at the the middle of the donor pyramid are just as important. By strategically cultivating and stewarding mid-level donors for leadership annual gifts, you can increase their engagement and position your organization to ask for larger major gifts.
Of note: According to the December 2022 AFP Fundraising Effectiveness quarterly report, annual gifts between $500-$5,000 are generated from 14% of donors and make up over 16% of total dollars raised, while gifts of $5,000+ are generated from a much smaller pool of 2.6% of donors but make up 74% of total dollars raised.
Leadership Annual Giving Tactics to Raise More Money
The following are my go-to recommendations for clients looking to increase their leadership annual giving:
1. Strategize and cultivate leadership annual giving donors through regular follow-ups utilizing a donor cultivation cycle to manage the donor journey. Assign staff members who have relationship-building skills to your top donors and prospects to personally engage with them and cultivate future gifts.
2. Monitor leadership annual giving by consistently collecting and analyzing donor data. Tracking giving patterns can help determine the appropriate time to solicit for larger major gifts within your donor moves management system.
3. Launch a giving society for your organization with named giving tiers, such as: Sustainer ($500-$999 per year), Influencer ($1,000-$2,499 per year), Investor ($2,500-$4,999 per year), Founder ($5,000+ per year). Providing meaningful benefits and recognition opportunities can motivate your donors to keep giving and to move up to the next level.
Consultant Tip: Host invitation-only events for the giving society to acknowledge leadership annual donors as well as public events where they can invite friends who have the potential to be future donors.
4. Conduct a comprehensive development assessment to analyze your current fundraising efficiencies, and/or a campaign feasibility study if your organization is considering a capital, endowment, or capacity building campaign. Both of these processes can reveal insights about the overall health of your organization’s fundraising practices and opportunities for improvements.
5. Align your frontline fundraising team by setting internal goals and reporting fundraising progress. Set a reasonable number of prospects for each of your gift officers’ portfolios, depending on the scope of the gift officer’s role, the size of your organization, and the goal of your campaign. Set a dollar goal for each gift officer to reach and celebrate wins along the way.
6. Make donating to your organization as easy and seamless as possible by leveraging a variety of fundraising channels, including mobile giving, mailed forms, and online giving pages connected to your donor database. Keep messaging specific and consistent across various fundraising platforms to clearly convey the ask.
7. Communicate with your donors to convey the impact of their gifts: once a donor contributes a leadership annual gift, they must be promptly thanked and informed of what has been made possible through their contribution. Connect via phone or video calls, thank-you letters, social media, and in-person meetings. Once a donor has made a leadership annual gift, consistent and regular donor communication is one of the best ways your organization can retain donors and increase future gifts.
Leveraging leadership annual giving is crucial for cultivating a robust pipeline of stable and increasing philanthropic support. Contact Creative Fundraising Advisors today to discuss how we can partner with you to achieve your goals.
Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant
Rob Ruchotzke focuses on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Rob comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions. Most recently, Rob served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multichannel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold). A native of Camanche, Iowa, Rob holds a BA in Public Relations from the UNI and resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
By Joanne Curry, Vice President of Client Services
Capital and endowment campaigns are special, multi-year fundraising efforts tied to a visionary goal which present a special opportunity to engage your organization’s fundraising volunteers. By serving on your campaign committee, fundraising volunteers can share their affinity to your mission by influencing new contributions and garnering increased gifts. Campaigns and endowment campaigns can be a win-win for organizations and volunteers when participants are equipped to collaborate in the launch, progression, and completion of the campaign goal.
At the same time, development officers and philanthropists may struggle with sustaining motivation and enthusiasm in fundraising volunteers over the course of multi-year campaigns. Here are some suggestions to help your fundraising volunteers enjoy the campaign experience while helping reach the campaign goal:
Seven tips to set your volunteer fundraising committee up for success
1. Recruit with intention. The people on your campaign committee must work well together, be able to influence the campaign outcome, and represent diversity in as many forms as possible. Start by recruiting the campaign chair(s) and focus on your most invested and well-connected donors to join your campaign committee. Take time to meet with each person individually to share the campaign goals and a description of their roles and responsibilities.
2. Provide clarity. Even the most experienced fundraising volunteers want to work toward a shared vision and align on a plan of how to achieve it. When people volunteer, they need specific tasks and clear expectations. Review your campaign plan at the first committee meeting. If you are conducting a multi-year campaign, ensure that the plan and timeline is discussed on an annual basis with all of your volunteer committee members.
Volunteers also need to understand the “why” behind the tasks you assign. For example, if you ask a volunteer to call on a colleague for a large gift, explain how the gift will help reach the campaign vision, how you came up with the solicitation amount, and why you think they are the best volunteer to help make the ask. If donor cultivation is the aim, ask one of your volunteers to set up a meeting with the prospect and explain how that will help to move the relationship forward.
Consultant Tip: It is important to actively manage and update your donor data. Use the data you collect to keep your campaign volunteers focused on viable prospects.
3. Practice and prepare for fundraising. Volunteers may not be comfortable asking for money or cultivating donors. Demystify this task by providing fundraising training for your committee members early in the campaign. Equip your volunteers with the tools to succeed by sharing your case for support and a link to your campaign video (if applicable) and walking through these resources together in advance. To prepare a volunteer for conducting an ask meeting without a development staff partner, I recommend providing them with a personalized cover letter that details the amount of the financial request. However, in most cases, I counsel clients to have a staff member present to ensure all relevant details are conveyed.
Consultant Tip: At campaign committee meetings, add a storytelling exercise to the agenda. I always enjoy hearing the personal stories of committee members about how they became involved in the organization or why the organization’s mission is meaningful to them. Discuss how sharing these personal experiences with campaign prospects could be fruitful.
4. Keep it simple. If you have a committee of 20 volunteers, avoid giving each member 20 tasks. Don’t expect volunteers to cull through long lists of prospects who may or may not be aligned with your mission and vision. Instead, aim for quality prospects over quantity of asks. I have found that assigning each volunteer one or two prospects at a time is ideal. Keeping people focused on a small number of set targets can help make fundraising volunteers feel accomplished.
Consultant Tip: The best tactic for assigning roles is to identify a task that you can’t accomplish without volunteer help, or a task that is better accomplished by a volunteer. For example, if a volunteer knows the prospect because they serve on a board together, the meeting request is more likely to get a response when the volunteer, as opposed to the CEO or someone else on the staff, asks.
5. Track and meet in person. The purpose of committee meetings is to convene and share progress so that volunteers can hear from–and brainstorm with–each other. The peer accountability that occurs during in-person meetings can motivate and inspire action from your volunteers, while also allowing you to record what each committee member promises to do for the campaign. At CFA, we recommend using moves management to record interactions and plan next steps with campaign prospects.
Consultant Tip: Cultivating major gifts is a long-term effort. Convene your campaign committee every other month to give volunteers ample time to demonstrate progress.
6. Hold volunteers accountable. Knowing when a volunteer expects to accomplish a task is essential to reaching campaign goals on schedule. This can be the toughest part of volunteer engagement! Establish a timeline as part of your campaign plan. Staff members and/or campaign chairs can follow up with volunteers individually between meetings. If it is obvious that a campaign volunteer is not likely to complete their tasks, work with campaign leadership to rethink the strategy for that volunteer’s assignments.
7. Keep volunteers motivated. Thank volunteers as often as you can and keep them informed of campaign progress. Celebrate wins along the way and recognize how a volunteer’s action translated into a contribution or a positive move for a future gift.
Capital and endowment campaigns can be a transformative time in the life of your organization when they are executed well and when your volunteer fundraisers feel ownership and success in reaching goals alongside development professionals and other staff leaders. Contact CFA today to find out how we can set you and your fundraising volunteers up for campaign success.
Joanne Curry, Vice President of Client Services
Joanne Curry is CFA’s Vice President of Client Services focusing on campaign management, prospect development, and membership and annual giving programs. Joanne came to CFA with over ten years of non-profit experience in operations management, development, and accounting. Before joining CFA, Joanne served as Head of Revenue and Interim Head of Development at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas, managed fundraising operations and communications with Missouri Contemporary Ballet and Owen/Cox Dance Group and worked with nonprofits as a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor Accountant with Support Kansas City. A native of Port Jefferson, New York, Joanne holds a BFA in Ballet Performance and Teaching from the University of Utah.
If your organization is considering a capital, endowment, or capacity building campaign and you are not sure if you can inspire and manage the volunteer manpower necessary to carry out the campaign vision, CFA has assembled the following guide on the purpose and fundamentals of effective nonprofit campaign committee management. Read on for best practices to help harness the power of your team to accomplish your philanthropic goals.
What is a Nonprofit Campaign Committee?
A nonprofit campaign committee, also known as a campaign steering committee, is a group of volunteers tasked with fundraising and relationship building for a significant campaign outside of annual fundraising.
Differences between a Campaign Committee vs. Development Committee
A capital campaign is a fundraising effort for a specific project with a defined timeline, and a campaign committee is the volunteer leadership group tasked with the campaign’s launch, progression, and completion. The campaign committee is often formed from members of a campaign feasibility study committee. Members of a campaign committee are not required to be members of the organization’s board of directors.
Development is an ongoing fundraising activity conducted by staff and development committee volunteers that includes annual giving and major gifts. A development committee is a function of the board of directors of the organization.
Purpose of the Campaign Committee
Campaign volunteers bring an external energy and impact perspective to the campaign. Volunteers view the campaign from the community’s lens and are genuinely invested in the campaign’s broader success. By leveraging their personal and business connections, campaign volunteers can open the door to new donors outside of the organization’s core networks and expand the overall reach of the campaign.
Campaign Committee Structure and Membership
Campaign committee members are well-connected donors who are passionate about your organization’s mission and are committed to helping raise dollars for a special effort. Most will have been involved with the organization and have existing relationships with staff and other volunteers. It is important that committee members have experience giving before they ask others for financial support, so they are often some of the most invested donors and volunteers in your organization. A campaign committee also includes staff liaisons, such as the executive director and development director. The number of people on the committee depends on the size and scope of your organization and campaign, but is typically between 10-20 members.
The volunteers who lead the campaign and committee are referred to as the Campaign Chair or Campaign Co-Chairs, and they make key decisions about the campaign and recruit other committee members. Many campaigns also have an Honorary Campaign Chair.
Nonprofit Campaign Committee Member Responsibilities
Serve on the committee throughout the campaign (3+ years).
Make a significant gift to the campaign, based on individual capacity.
Leverage personal and business connections to recruit campaign support.
Engage new and prospective donors by sharing campaign information, hosting small gatherings of friends and business associates or on tours of the nonprofit’s facilities, and introducing prospects to other supporters of the organization.
Follow up with donors and prospects to close the gift.
Thank donors with phone calls and written correspondence as part of ongoing donor stewardship.
Campaign Committee Engagement
Conducting a campaign provides an opportunity for your organization to engage volunteers in different, deeper facets of the organization. Campaign committee participants have an opportunity to actively mold plans and goals for the organization. There are a number of ways to encourage and inspire your committee members through your campaign:
Hold regular full committee meetings (bi-monthly or quarterly) and conduct at least one “one-on-one” meeting between the campaign chair(s), staff, and each committee member.
Provide job descriptions for every committee member as well as the campaign chair(s) and honorary chair(s).
Plan, manage, and track the work of the committee using a moves management system.
Inspire committee members by sharing success stories of who your organization has impacted, how different solicitations unfolded, and examples of staff and volunteer achievements.
Share campaign progress updates at committee meetings, over email, and on internal dashboards to keep volunteers engaged and enthusiastic about the goals and progress.
Campaign Committee Best Practices
Pause to consider each prospect and where they are in the donor cultivation cycle; don’t rush to make an ask with every prospect simply because you are in campaign mode.
Ask each committee member to make a personal “stretch” financial gift to the campaign before they ask others to give. Gifts will vary in size based on each individual’s capacity, but the most important metric is that every committee member makes a gift. When 100% of the committee participates in giving to the effort, it sends a strong message to other potential funders that they are seriously committed to the campaign.
When Outside Expertise Can Help
A campaign consultant is a partner to your staff and committee volunteers who helps set the campaign strategy and provides nonprofit fundraising training on how to cultivate, solicit, and close leadership gifts in a campaign.
Experienced fundraising consultants can bring fresh perspectives to share with the nonprofit campaign committee as they have seen what works in other campaign fundraising engagements. Consultants can also provide the systems needed to track progress and ensure every campaign committee member is confident in asking others to support the campaign.
Development professionals must build personal relationships with people who give to their nonprofit so the donor feels connected to both the mission and the people who carry it out. Donors rarely give to organizations unless they align with its philanthropic vision or have relationships with board members, staff, or other supporters. Whether they realize it or not, donors move organically through a series of stages as they become more deeply involved with an organization. Development staffers can shepherd and track this progression through a process called “moves management.”
As fundraisers, we must be comfortable cultivating donors and asking for money regularly if we are going to conduct successful campaigns. Moves management is a tracking tool that allows us to inspire donors to give in a way that is most meaningful to them.
Why use donor moves management?
Moves management is a system of operations that development staff and nonprofit leaders use to strategically elevate personal engagement with donors. Moves management can be used in annual funds, major gifts, and capital and endowment campaigns.
When I worked at a small private school in College Station, Texas, I learned why donor engagement has to be personal. It was 2012, and we didn’t have a nonprofit donor database or system for tracking donors, so we set out to create one from scratch. The head of the school and I referenced attendance rosters dating back to 1962 and began reaching out to alumni. During the process, we transferred donor information and touchpoints from a spreadsheet to an electronic database and created a centralized, streamlined system by which we could track engagement of prospective donors. We scheduled meetings and hosted tours of the school. The head of the school did a beautiful job of reengaging former families by getting to know them and learning why they loved the school. Alums were overjoyed to be back on campus and felt reconnected to their school. This fresh engagement, which began with the head of the school’s personal invitations, ultimately deepened alum involvement and the completion of a successful capital campaign.
How to implement a donor moves management system
Effective moves management involves examining donor data, tracking donor engagement, and working with staff and volunteers to plan and implement campaign activities ranging from hosting events to asking for campaign gifts.
When CFA is working with a client in campaign mode, we meet to review every lead donor’s giving history, event attendance, volunteer participation, capacity to give, and more. From there, we can gauge the donor’s engagement with the organization, determine where they fall within moves management, and look for opportunities to bring them closer to contributing. We strategize on every activity, assign tasks to staff and volunteers, and set deadlines. For example, the first step with a prospective campaign donor may be for the executive director to ask them to meet. With each successive “move,” we work side by side with our clients to determine the best next step. Many of our clients report that we keep them accountable because they know we will follow up with them on their progress.
How to track moves
Tracking moves management can be accomplished with a donor database software or a basic spreadsheet. At CFA, we offer a proprietary campaign moves management dashboard customized for each client based on the organization’s goals. Many organizations are not fully utilizing their database software for moves management, so we also provide donor data strategies and training solutions to maximize clients’ existing tools and resources and help them implement a sustainable moves management system for the long run.
Regardless of your system, it’s important to determine and track several key items: Who is the donor prospect manager? Who is the assigned solicitor who holds the relationship with the prospective donor? How much have they given? Do they volunteer or attend events? How much are the ask amounts? What is the next step? Managing relationships, timing engagements, and tracking deadlines is vital to keeping solicitors on task and donors engaged.
Consultant Tip: How you collect, maintain, and track donor engagement informs how you determine where a donor or prospect falls along the moves management path. Tracking engagement is also a way to uncover trends that inform the next best steps to reach your goals. Learn more about tracking donor engagement using data analytics.
Key steps in donor moves management
As a campaign manager, I see my role as the conductor who keeps the train moving forward on the tracks. Moves management is how I know which train is going where and when. Here are the five basic steps I follow:
1. Determine the “why.” Why are you acquiring more donors or seeking to increase the number or dollar amount of gifts? Your answer could be that you are growing the annual fund or raising capital for a new building.
2. Learn more about donors and prospects. Examine your data to determine each prospective donor’s motivation and capacity. If you are planning a campaign, consider conducting a wealth screening of your database.
3. Segment and strategize. Utilize the knowledge from examining your data, combined with the “why” of your campaign, to segment your prospective donors into groups and set goals for each group and each donor or prospect. Goals might be to encourage a segment to become recurring donors, to increase their annual donation, or to consider making a planned gift.
4. Engage donors and prospects. This is where the assigned solicitor personally engages prospective donors by following their inclinations and the campaign strategy. Our job at CFA is to guide our clients and help them set a strategy to cultivate and solicit personal relationships with leading prospects and donors. If you’ve done your job with cultivation, you’ll know the right time to make the ask and the right people to have in the room.
5. Track progress and next steps. It is crucial to input gifts in your donor database for historical record keeping and tax purposes, but it is equally important to track moves management and identify which strategies worked for which donor. There is always a next step. Check out CFA’s donor cultivation cycle to learn more.
The goal in philanthropy is to help people engage meaningfully with organizations that address the issues they care most about. Every campaign is unique, and every donor has individual interests and levels of dedication to the mission. We can each inspire philanthropy when we give special attention to these nuances and build personal relationships with our donors.
Contact CFA to see how moves management and donor engagement can improve your fundraising efforts
Anne Spears, Campaign Manager
An experienced fundraiser with over a decade of experience in education, religious, and social service nonprofit fundraising, Anne is energized and inspired by working side by side with our nonprofit partners as a project manager for fundraising campaigns.
Most recently Anne was the Director of Development at the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas where she oversaw a multitude of fundraising initiatives including capital campaigns for Diocesan camp facilities and 87 Diocesan churches. Previously Anne was the Chief Development Officer for Ascension DePaul Services of San Antonio and the Development Coordinator at St. Thomas Early Learning Center in College Station, Texas. She also worked for the State of Montana as a social services specialist serving indigenous and rural populations.
Anne has a B.S. in Sociology, a M.S. in Family and Child Studies, and a Master of Public Administration. She also is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE). Anne lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband and three children.
Creative Fundraising Advisors (CFA) has assembled a guide on donor communications to help you achieve better engagement with one of your organization’s most important audiences: your donors. Below you will find basic concepts and key steps toward implementing donor communications along with best practices to help your organization elevate its fundraising.
What are Donor Communications?
Donor communications refer to content designed to activate and cultivate connections between your organization’s mission and the people who have the inclination to support it. Donor communications include direct mail appeals, philanthropic news, and social media campaigns and are a consistent component of the fundraising and development function of any nonprofit organization.
Donors deserve gratitude for their contributions to your organization and regular updates to keep them apprised of progress toward mission delivery and the organization’s vision for the future. Prospective donors identified as having an inclination to give require ongoing engagement to increase the likelihood of a donation.
Distinction between Donor and Nonprofit Communications
Donor communications are an integral part of your overall nonprofit communications strategy. Nonprofit communications and donor communications strategies reinforce each other but are distinct. Nonprofit communications, or nonprofit public relations, are designed to reach and respond to everyone, while donor communications focus on engaging supporters and prospective donors.
When and Why to Use Donor Communications
Long-lasting donor relationships are the foundation for a nonprofit’s growth, which is why donor communications must focus on engaging donors and reaching prospects. Donor communications are a year-round initiative that is equally critical during times of success, crisis, and business as usual. CFA has found that organizations need to engage with their prospects anywhere from 10-24times before it is time to ask for a financial commitment. These numbers are a general rule and illustrate the necessity of a comprehensive donor communications strategy. Forbes Nonprofit Council recommends engaging seven times with a donor before making the ask.
Components of a Donor Communications Strategy
The expected outcomes of donor communications include acquisition of new donors, funding for annual and special campaigns, and donor retention. A donor communications strategy is built upon an organization’s fiscal development goals and annual fundraising timeline, and key components of the strategy include data analytics, staffing and expertise, and correlation with the overall brand of the nonprofit.
Donor Data and Segmentation
To increase donor engagement and retention, nonprofits must understand and appreciate their target audience and personalize their communications approach using donor data strategies. Your organization’s development team can leverage data by segmenting donors into two or more distinct groups based on giving history and donor inclination scores. Segmentation allows for the creation of more tailored communications.
Customer relationship management (CRM), also known as donor management software, is an invaluable tool for managing donor and prospect relationships. A CRM application, or donor management software, can help your development team keep track of where donors and prospects fall within your Donor Cultivation Cycle to determine what type of communication is best to approach them and at what time.
Staff and Resources
Creating compelling appeals, managing a schedule of donor communications delivery, and designing digital and printed content requires time and expertise. It is important for an organization to plan annual and capital campaign budgets that leverage writers with storytelling expertise, visionary designers, direct mail and digital platforms, and fundraising advisors.
Coordination with Brand Identity
Brand recognition is important for several reasons, and chief among them is fundraising. When an appeal arrives at a potential donor’s doorstep or email inbox, they will be more likely to read it and contribute if the brand is known to them. Using similar content and graphics across all channels will reinforce the organization’s message and brand identity, which will increase the likelihood of a donor’s commitment.
Four Types of Donor Communications
There are four types of communication that can make up your donor communications strategy to increase donor engagement:
Acknowledgment – Acknowledgment messages are not only important for providing donors with the appropriate tax information, but also in expressing gratitude. Read more about donor acknowledgment as part of ongoing stewardship here.
Informational – Regular updates are imperative to donor engagement and retention. Examples of informational donor communications include annual reports, newsletters, videos, and emails that highlight donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries and illustrate how philanthropic gifts drive social impact.
Persuasive/The Appeal – Strong fundraising appeals have a clear ask for support with a specific dollar amount or percentage increase request. Examples include sharing a campaign case for support with prospects in face-to-face meetings, direct mail solicitations with enclosed pledge forms, email messages with links to online donation forms, and social media posts with quick and easy ways to give. Follow-up messages reminding people to give are also an appropriate part of persuasive donor communications.
Feedback – Communications is a two-way street. Organizations must be open to receiving as well as distributing information. Examples include surveys (electronic or hard copy forms), stakeholder interviews (such as those used for strategic planning and feasibility studies), social media engagement, and face-to-face conversations.
Donor Communications Methods
Direct Outreach – Face-to-face meetings and video calls are the most effective way to communicate with top donors and prospects, and direct phone calls are a great alternative.
Print – Printed materials are impactful and direct mail remains an effective way to raise dollars. Many people enjoy a brochure to hold in their hands and read, especially creatively designed materials that dovetail with digital efforts.
Digital – Nonprofits must have a strong website with compelling messaging and a clear call to action to make a donation and all digital communications should lead back to this giving page. Email, digital presentations (such as PowerPoints), social media (such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn), and digital tools (text-to-give) are examples of digital channels.
Multichannel – Using a multichannel approach that employs more than one donor communications method is proven to have a higher success rate than using a single channel. According to Nonprofits Source, marketing campaigns that used direct mail along with one or more digital media tools experienced a 118% increase in response rate compared to those that only used direct mail.
Donor Communications Plan and Timeline
Four to six months ahead of a new fiscal year, set out a plan for donor communications that clearly states the timeline, budget, tasks, and staff member responsibilities. Plan steps for each donor segment including a calendar for which segments to approach with which communication method. Your organization’s development and public relations must collaborate to maximize brand identity and audience engagement.
Measuring Donor Communications
Tracking donor engagement will allow you to measure the return on investment of donor communications. Recording gift amounts, event attendance, and volunteer participation, along with measuring open rates, click-through rates, or conversions to gifts, informs how to segment your donor and prospect data and provides insights for the development team to assign “inclination scores” to each donor. Tracking and inclination scores are very useful for determining which types of communication resonate with each donor or prospect and what strategies to implement in future appeals to increase return on investment.
Donor Communications Best Practices
Personalization – Marketers have found that adding personalized elements to communications resonate with donors and result in deeper engagement and higher return on investment. People are more likely to answer a call, letter, or digital communication when it arrives with their name on it and references how their contribution can or has helped your organization deliver on its mission and fundraising goals. In fact, one study found that 92% of marketers also believe that their prospects and customers expect a personalized experience.
Storytelling – People are more likely to read and respond to content that focuses on a single individual who can benefit from their generosity. Deborah Small, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that people are more likely to give to help one individual rather than an overall cause or statistic.
Testimonials – Leverage powerful supporters and experts to encourage donors and prospects to follow their lead in supporting the cause. Testimonials from major donors, influencers, politicians, and community leaders are an extra stamp of approval.
How Outside Expertise Can Help
At CFA, we partner with you and your organization to maximize data and communications strategies and uncover the insights that elevate fundraising. We help create messaging that resonates and reflects the vision for annual, major gifts, and capital campaigns and can walk you through the best ways to pitch your prospects. We also develop case for support materials, website language, digital presentations, and more as part of our clients’ donor communications strategy.
Serving on a nonprofit board is an honor and can be a rewarding way for people to give back to their communities. Board members have a shared responsibility to ensure the organization is financially stable and maximizes impact. By the same token, nonprofit leaders who provide ongoing board training can equip members with the knowledge and confidence to govern more effectively, participate in fundraising and donor stewardship, and guide the organization to advance its mission.
Empowering your nonprofit board to fundraise
What kind of skills could you help board members develop to benefit your nonprofit? Increased willingness to ask friends and associates for financial support? More relationship building with prospective and existing donors? Additional fund raising know-how? Strengthening your board and development committee is about empowering them to help your organization be successful, which includes asking fellow community members to support your organization’s mission financially.
Fundraising training to facilitate board engagement
Even the most seasoned board development committee volunteers can benefit from a refresher in the art of asking for money and inspiration from your organization’s leadership. Fundraising training on the shared campaign vision, goals, and fundraising tactics ensures everyone is aligned and confident about where the organization is going. Training can also bring together members with varying solicitation experience to discuss best practices.
The most effective board training content for fundraising
Preparation for a tailored board training is a crucial step. Your facilitator must understand the specific challenges your board perceives about fundraising in advance, what additional support the staff hopes to get from the board, and if your board is aligned on the vision and goals of the campaign you are pursuing.
According to the Ebbinghaus “forgetting curve,” people forget half of what they learn within an hour and 70% of what they learn within a day. An effective board training includes instruction, practice, debriefing, team building, and following up with board members after the training to ask what they learned. The extra step of following up helps board members recall information and also shows them that you are invested in their continued involvement.
Fundraising training is most impactful for board members if they learn fundraising principles and skills, engage in practicing as a group, and debrief in open conversation with one another, your staff, and the facilitator. Whether you choose to bring in a professional for two hours or two days, it’s important that the training is custom to your organization and your people.
Training for the ask
Many board members are accustomed to selling tickets to events and soliciting small donations, but may be intimidated by capital or endowment campaign scenarios when the ask is for a significant pledge or estate planning gift. Asking for money is not easy for everyone. Remind your board that it is a positive sign if they feel nervous; it shows they care enough about the mission and their community to make the ask.
Good fundraising facilitators engage a board with conversation on everything from the rationale for conducting a silent phase during a capital campaign to understanding a donor cultivation cycle. Practicing asking for money can help board members overcome emotional reservations and learn how to have difficult conversations. Team building can be especially effective when you have had staff turnover or are preparing for a new significant campaign. Lastly, including specific content in the training presentation such as the campaign’s fundraising case statement allows the overall experience to be more realistic.
When the time is right for board training
When board members or campaign leaders ask for money without proper training, the organization risks doing both the board member and the prospective donor a disservice by potentially hindering the relationship with the prospect. Board training for fundraising can give your board volunteers the confidence and know-how to maximize fundraising and donor stewardship for your organization.
By Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development
Gone are the days when nonprofit professionals and board volunteers convened around a table to hypothesize about a prospect’s inclination to give and ranked prospects based on recent giving history. While relationship insights and staff intuition remain important, there is both an art and a science to fundraising. Intuition (the art) combined with donor analytics (the science) will generate the best fundraising results.
Where to start with donor analytics
If you are like many nonprofit professionals, you know your organization needs help with your donor database, but you may not be quite sure where to start. When I begin working with a new client, I help them define the problem they are trying to solve. Once we understand your challenges, then we can help optimize your data analytics and strategy to increase your return on investment. We often utilize data to prioritize which existing donors to ask for which appeal because it is more cost effective to cultivate people who are already giving to your organization versus acquiring new donors.
How can my organization maximize philanthropic investments?
How can we optimize our organization’s database infrastructure to support our fundraising goals?
Is anyone on my team consistently tracking and recording donor engagement data such as event attendance and volunteer participation?
How inclined are prospects to support our organization, and how does their inclination align with their wealth capacity?
Are there untapped pockets of opportunity in our database?
Is our organization staffed to properly manage the scale of giving opportunities?
Analyzing data to determine a donor’s inclination to give
Inclination analysis is a way to predict which prospects have the potential to move from having capacity to give to being likely to give with the right outreach, cultivation, and engagement. We use donor inclination scores to illustrate how willing and interested the people in your database are to give to your organization based on their past behavior. We develop the scores based on a customized, data-driven points model and project the potential size of gifts by combining this information with a wealth screening of your database.
Here are examples of prospect prioritization used to prepare for a sample capital campaign.
The shaded boxes represent 176 prospects from a sample core prospect list with the greatest campaign potential. The blue section represents prospects for six-figure gifts. In this example, the “cold” and “very cold” prospects will need additional cultivation to determine if they are viable prospects for a major campaign, while the “warm” to “very hot” are more likely to be ready to make a commitment soon.
The range for these projections comes from the low and high range of the wealth capacity score, using a 5-year pledge commitment.
Most organizations discover through an inclination analysis that, on average, 75% to 90% of their donor database falls in the “cold” category. These may be lapsed or infrequent donors, but they are in your database for a reason. Many nonprofits solicit the same people again and again or buy data in pursuit of new donors instead of cultivating the “cold” prospects. Greater opportunity to move prospects from “cold” to “warm” exists when you increase engagement through strategic cultivation and donor communications.
Check out our Donor Communications Guide to learn how changing or increasing your donor communications tactics can increase your return on investment.
Most development professionals rely on a “moves management” system to track cultivation of prospects along a continuum of giving. One person might be a past donor at risk of disengagement while another has steadily increased their giving over time. At CFA, we call this system the Donor Cultivation Cycle, and data analytics plays a key role in determining where your prospects lie within the cycle. Today’s technology tools bring increased accuracy to data analytics and can help you track when you have engaged with a prospect.
Consultant Tip: Have one person on staff assigned as data manager or prospect manager. This role is especially crucial during any campaign outside of your regular annual giving effort. Ensure that this person is trained in the concept of moves management and how to maximize database tools.
Good tracking is key
How you collect, maintain, and track donor engagement informs how you determine and refine a donor’s inclination score. Tracking donor engagement is also a way to uncover trends that inform the next best steps to reach your goals. Tracking does not have to be cumbersome, and it must be done year-round.
Many software applications will allow you to tag database records to enable you to match individuals with gifts and appeals. This is a great way to build new insights about your donors. For example, if you know that Donor A gave $100 through a text-to-give initiative but has never responded to direct mail solicitations, or that Donor B pledged $1,000 to a major gifts campaign at an event, and Donor C made a $25 contribution online from a postcard mailer QR code, then you can use this information to customize your outreach strategy and increase response rates.
Consultant Tip: If you are not sure which message will best resonate with a segment of your donors or prospects, start with an “A/B test”: send out two versions of a message — one that is heartwarming and one that is transactional — and track which gets a better response from which people. This can help you tailor future messaging.
When donor analytics is right for you
Taking a deeper dive into data analytics and donor inclination can be done anytime your organization is raising annual dollars and cultivating donors for special projects and future campaigns. For a capital campaign, I recommend analyzing your database and prioritizing prospects at least three to six months before you expect to launch a campaign.
CFA donor analytics helps shape fundraising strategy by harnessing the nuances of donor inclination, database training, and wealth screening, which can optimize moves management, cultivation steps, and best practices to increase donor engagement.
Reach out today to see how CFA can help you harness data analytics in your fundraising strategy.
Stephanie Brouwer, Senior Manager, Prospect Development
Stephanie has over 10 years of experience in prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics at both higher education and nonprofit organizations. At CFA, Stephanie’s responsibilities include establishing strategy, procedures, and processes for prospect research, prospect management, and data analytics. Stephanie is Blackbaud-certified in Raiser’s Edge NXT and Raiser’s Edge and has a master’s degree in library science. Additionally, Stephanie is a Gallup-certified Strengths coach and has a passion for helping others understand, apply, and integrate CliftonStrengths results into their lives and work.
Years ago, I sent an email solicitation to thousands of college alums as part of a multichannel fundraising campaign in which every person’s salutation read “Dear [first name].” That email merge mistake was embarrassing, and it was a direct result of me trying to single handedly manage all donor communication. Since then, I have been a proponent of bringing a team approach to multichannel fundraising, and believe that leaning on fundraising, communication, database, and digital experts, as well as your colleagues, provides an extra measure of success.
Multichannel campaigns use more than one communications tool for donor outreach and fundraising. Direct mail, email, social media (such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn), and digital tools (such as text-to-give) are all channels used in donor communications.
Coordinating fundraising and other donor communications across multiple channels is proven to have a higher success rate than using a single channel. According to Nonprofits Source, marketing campaigns that used direct mail along with one or more digital media tools experienced a 118% increase in response rate compared to those that only used direct mail.
A 2020 study found that multichannel donors give as much as three times more than single channel donors, and are more likely to keep giving year after year.
Whether you are new to multichannel fundraising or expanding from three channels to five, there are a few key ideas to keep in mind.
How to begin multichannel fundraising
Tailor your message
Your case for support must be tailored to your brand, campaign, and, most importantly, your audience. Using similar content and graphics across all your channels will reinforce your message and brand identity. Start by creating a long form message for your printed solicitation letter, then pare it down for an email version, pull out human impact stories to highlight in a video script, and emphasize one or two sound bytes with relevant hashtags for social media. Anchor each communication within your multichannel appeal to your giving page. Don’t let the donor get distracted by linking to social media pages; instead, make it easy for people to land in one consistent place with a prominent “give” button.
Consultant Tip: A key tactic to help drive donor engagement is to personalize correspondence to show your constituents you know them. You’ll also want to tailor several versions of your solicitation note to distinct types of supporters: leading donors should receive a different message than someone who has never donated before.
Choose channels wisely
It is crucial for nonprofits to adapt and learn how and when to best communicate with dedicated supporters; it would not be advisable, for example, to invest time and resources into Facebook if it is not where your stakeholders read about you. Determine what options are available to your organization and are realistic for you to implement. While text messaging services or digital ads might seem intimidating, their implementation is straightforward, they are relatively cost effective, and they have proven success especially with younger audiences.
Consultant Tip: Educate your donors on the channels you offer so they are comfortable with the different approaches to giving. For example, try emailing and snail-mailing an instructional segment about a text-to-give option or include it as a story-telling video on YouTube. Whichever channels you choose to communicate, be ready to respond to comments and questions, such as those that come via social media, in a timely way.
Here are samples from a personalized multichannel fundraising campaign for the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota. The museum combined a direct mailing with social media and email to amplify their messaging.
Test first and analyze along the way
How you test to ensure you are ready to launch a multichannel fundraising campaign depends on the capabilities of your data and communications platforms. Send out test emails, texts, and other communications through each channel so you can be confident in your approach. Testing adds an extra day or two to get a representative sample and receive feedback or edit, but it is well worth it (and you won’t send out a letter with incorrect merge fields in the salutation like I did!)
Evaluation during and after a multichannel fundraising campaign is equally important. Schedule dedicated time with your team to review and analyze your multichannel results and adjust your course as you discover new data. It is imperative to determine which channels are the most effective and how you can improve communications and outreach in the next campaign.
Consultant Tip: Evaluation of donor data for each multichannel effort is important to determine what channels are most successful, if there are new donor segments emerging, and who needs additional personalized attention, such as a phone call or meeting.
Increase engagement with multichannel fundraising
Your donors are passionate about what you do, and you want them to continue to feel connected to your mission through donor stewardship. When you provide a seamless journey for them to connect with you in various ways and more often, you are increasing engagement. Engaged donors are more likely to volunteer, attend events, and tell friends about your work.
Consultant Tip: The practice of employing multiple platforms is not only for your primary annual campaign. Take advantage of multichannel donor communications across all the phases of the donor cultivation cycle.
Multichannel Fundraising with CFA
At CFA, we can help you reach your audience strategically and transform your fundraising results. A development assessment is a great resource to help identify your unique donor communications opportunities, and partners like CFA can help you with a strategy for using multichannel fundraising as part of campaign counsel.
Rob Ruchotzke focuses on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Rob comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions. Most recently, Rob served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multichannel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold).
A native of Camanche, Iowa, Rob holds a BA in Public Relations from the UNI and resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
There’s nothing like a crowdfunding campaign to capture a moment, build your donor base, or raise money for a specific project. I’ve had the opportunity to lead over 30 crowdfunding projects ranging in goal from $1,000 to $50,000, as well as seven days of giving and Giving Tuesday campaigns. Each project had its unique set of challenges and opportunities that led to the insights I am pleased to share with you below.
Crowdfunding allows you to galvanize your existing supporters and leverage your constituents and their social media networks to expand your reach faster than traditional annual giving methods like phonathons or direct mail campaigns. Plus, crowdfunding can be fun. When people see you and your followers having fun with a campaign, they are more likely to engage.
Crowdfunding is most successful when executed over a designated time period or on a single “Day of Giving,” such as Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (November 29, 2022) and is recognized around the world as a day to make contributions to nonprofit organizations. On Giving Tuesday 2021, nearly $3 billion was raised in the United States alone.
How to run a successful crowdfunding campaign
Set Campaign Messaging
Your goal can be a specific number of donors or a dollar amount, but it must be attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Create a unique, authentic tagline to communicate your goal and a dedicated landing page or fundraising platform that you can link to in all of your messages. Plan to share stories online along the way.
Consultant Tip: Campaign video teasers sent via email and social media are effective ways to build anticipation before your campaign launch. Here is an example of a crowdfunding campaign teaser video from a university where I worked. When weencouraged reactions and responses to our posts, people were more likely to spread our message.
Build Your Team
Recruit a leader to manage the progress of internal staff members, volunteers, and “star” ambassadors. Who is best suited for planning and who for execution? Who is motivated and will stay engaged? What connections to social media “stars” do you have on your Board who would be willing to make a gift, post about their contribution on their social networks, and help increase organic engagement?
Consultant Tip: Track which of your ambassadors brought in the most new donors or overall dollars and create a leaderboard to generate healthy competition within your team to increase gifts.
Find the Right Partner
Crowdfunding can be part of your larger annual giving strategy. Partnering with an expert who understands the planning, marketing, fundraising, and strategic moves that crowdfunding requires will make your effort run smoothly and give you confidence.
Consultant Tip: Set aside time to meet with an account manager for each of the platforms you use including your customer relationship management (CRM) and bulk email platform, direct mail vendor, texting application, and giving page. Make sure you understand what tools you have at your disposal and how to use them to make your campaign really shine.
Set a Timeline
Once you determine your crowdfunding approach, it is crucial to plan when, what, and where you will post your campaign goals and progress updates. Creating a timeline can help your team see the bigger picture, generate new ideas throughout the process, and stay on schedule with timely communications.
Crowdfunding is most effective when you have a compelling and urgent need to entice donors, many of whom may not yet be associated with your organization. One or more of your donors may be willing to encourage others to give to your crowdfunding effort by making a challenge gift and calling for matching gifts.
Consultant Tip: In advance of launch day, meet with potential major donors to “seed” the campaign with early donations. This early support will encourage more people to get involved, especially when you have a challenge gift. During a designated day, time challenges can also be effective, such as a “Rush Hour Challenge” or “School’s Out Challenge” or a “Members Only Challenge.”
Your crowdfunding campaign success will be defined by how constituents drive the momentum via social media. Harness your ambassadors and keep the online engagement moving with timely messages, videos, and updates along the way. Use a multi-channel communications strategy to reach people in more than one way.
Consultant Tip: Plan for the unexpected. Your campaign could go viral if a megastar or influencer gets on board. Be ready to react in real time and ride the wave to success.
Make It Easy
Donors want to click, give, share, and receive acknowledgement and campaign updates. Make the path to sharing your content simple and approachable both for your team and the public.
Plan stewardship well in advance of launch day so that you can thank donors along the way. Enlist ambassadors, staff, and volunteers to help with a letter writing campaign or thank-you video in addition to your regular tax receipt acknowledgement.
Consultant Tip: Show the impact! Record a video capturing the excitement on a day of giving or the results of the gifts that have been made – check out this example of a personalized video I received when I made a contribution during a crowdfunding campaign.
Debrief, learn, and adapt for future programs using quantitative and qualitative data. Create tracking mechanisms in advance of your campaign. Use solicitation codes and set up a campaign tracking sheet so you can understand which channels and outreach tactics were most successful.
Crowdfunding takes effort, but can have an immediate impact on your organization and be incredibly satisfying when done correctly. Reach out today to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed in your crowdfunding and annual giving efforts.
Rob Ruchotzke, Consultant
Rob Ruchotzke focuses on annual giving strategy, development assessments, campaign feasibility studies, and campaign counsel. Rob comes to CFA with nearly a decade of annual giving experience in higher education institutions. Most recently, Rob served as the director of annual giving at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), where he led multi-channel campaigns, developed crowdfunding platforms, managed annual giving vendors, and served as the strategy lead for UNI’s Day of Giving (#LivePurpleGiveGold).
A native of Camanche, Iowa, Rob holds a BA in Public Relations from the UNI and resides in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Your organization has an inspiring vision and is ready to raise big money to make it a reality, but you aren’t quite sure of the communications approach to donors. Would punchy, bold language add to your fundraising appeal or turn prospects away? Should you print hundreds of fancy brochures or create a campaign website? Do you need a theme separate from your annual fund or marketing slogan? This is where a fundraising case statement comes into play.
A case statement—also referred to as a case for support—is your best communication tool for a fundraising campaign. It indicates to prospective donors what you hope to accomplish with their philanthropic dollars in both a pragmatic and an emotional way. It also ensures that everyone on your campaign team—your executive director, board members, staff, and volunteers—is aligned with your messaging.
Tailor Your Messaging
Your case statement must be tailored to your brand, campaign, and, most importantly, your audience.
Consider the questions your audience will want to know:
What is your organization’s “big idea”?
Why does this idea matter, and who will it impact?
Why is your organization the right one to implement the big idea?
What will it take to reach success?
Why is now the right time?
10 Steps for Building Your Fundraising Case Statement for Support
Articulating your organization’s distinct values and vision is vital to raising money consistently and effectively. There are several steps that you can take regardless of the size of your organization or the scope of your campaign when building your case:
Gather background. Reflect on your organization’s brand and strategic plan and how they integrate into your fundraising approach. If you have had a fundraising advisor conduct a campaign study, incorporate recommendations from the feasibility study report.
Build a team. Host a kickoff meeting for a small team of internal and external stakeholders with whom you will collaborate as you develop content. Be proactive in asking for your team’s input and always be open to their feedback.
State your timeline. Determine a timeline for content production. A case statement can take anywhere from two to six months to develop, design, and print.
Determine structure. Decide what structure you think is best for your audience and whether to go digital first or have it professionally printed.
Write an outline. I cannot overestimate how important an outline is to the case building process, especially for managing word count.
Interview key figures. Campaign leadership, the people you serve, and notable community members will help you make your case.
Create a memorable campaign theme. My most important piece of advice when developing a campaign theme is that it suggests to the donor how they can take the organization to the next level.
Insist on an appealing design. Having a distinct look from everything else the organization is putting out will ensure the campaign is viewed as the special effort that it truly is.
Use clear and compelling language. Communicate your organization’s primary campaign priorities and the impact that donated dollars will make.
Make the ask. Bolster your conversations and grant proposals with philanthropic language throughout your case statement to reinforce the message that this effort is only possible through leading donations. Why not start with, “Join us”?
If you are interested to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed, please reach out.
Pressley Peters is an award-winning writer specializing in philanthropy and marketing. She has written for numerous CFA clients including the Entertainment Community Fund, Friends of St. Paul Public Library, Headlands Center for the Arts, Lundstrum Performing Arts, North Carolina Museum of Art, Project Angel Food, and United Theology Seminary. She is a graduate of Rhodes College and calls Dallas, Texas home. Pressley can be found at pressleypeters.com.
The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota is expanding its outdoor nature play adventure opportunities for children and families through philanthropy. The museum is a compelling example of how intentionally following the steps of a donor cycle – especially adding cultivation and stewardship strategies to your solicitation process – can reap larger gifts and repeat donors.
Speaking of nature, you can think of a donor cycle as analogous to the water cycle of our planet, where rainwater feeds land, streams, and oceans, and the sun continues the process via evaporation. Just as the water cycle ensures the planet’s sustainability, following all the steps within the philanthropic gift cycle—donor identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation, closure, and stewardship—can ensure the health of your nonprofit ecosystem.
By following CFA’s Guide to the Major Gifts Cycle, nonprofits can shepherd donors through the stages of philanthropy to build sustainable, long-term relationships. While the major gifts cycle contains distinct steps, the stages of cultivation and stewardship encompass ongoing activities that are integral to retaining a donor network with recurring and increased gifts. Employing cultivation and stewardship strategies can allow your organization to execute a more predictable and sustainable fundraising plan.
Donor Cultivation Strategies
Cultivation is the process of relationship building with a donor or prospect leading up to an ask. Cultivation includes personal visits, calls, emails, and events to engage the prospect and help match their interests with the needs of your organization. In addition to the executive leadership and development staff, board members play a pivotal role in the cultivation process by helping to champion your mission.
There are many ways to engage donor prospects through cultivation. A board member, executive director, or development officer can, for example, invite and accompany a prospect to an upcoming event and introduce them to the organization’s key constituents; organize a coffee or lunch with a prospect to share targeted updates on the organization’s programming and progress on strategic planning milestones; and/or send periodic formal communications, such as newsletters or annual reports, to prospects accompanied by a handwritten note for a personal touch. The cultivation stage can be lengthy and there is no need to rush it. There is a need, however, to track your moves. Consistently communicating the current status of each prospect as you progress through the gift cycle provides structure and consistency within your fundraising team.
Stewardship refers to how an organization thanks donors and communicates how their generosity made an impact on the people and community an organization serves. While a prompt acknowledgment letter (mailed or electronic) is essential for tax reporting purposes, an organization can also engage with donors on a more personal level through handwritten notes, phone calls, donor appreciation events, and one-on-one meetings. Thoughtful gestures such as these are appreciated, especially with major gifts.
Donors are attracted to visionary organizations and are personally rewarded when they can see the demonstrated impact of their contributions. Ask community members or other stakeholders who have been directly impacted by your organization to share their gratitude through a direct phone call or personal note to the donor. If your organization has completed a campaign to build or renovate facilities, invite donors to an insider tour. If you have created a donor wall or naming opportunity for their gift, invite donors to an unveiling. Personalized attention will show the measure of your gratitude, and staying in touch will keep a donor informed of their continued impact. Remember, your next gift is a well-stewarded one.
Donor Cultivation & Stewardship Case Study
The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota (CMSM) is a one-of-a-kind museum, and its creative approach draws visitors from all over the Midwest. CMSM engaged CFA to conduct a Development Assessment as they sought a more sustainable platform for raising money. One of CFA’s recommendations was that board members become more invested in the relationship-building necessary to garner larger and repeat donations. Specifically, we suggested segmenting appeals into two seasons, adding a dynamic major gifts strategy, and hosting donor appreciation events. With CFA’s guidance, CMSM set forth a new leadership giving group, the Ignite Society, named after the driving force of CMSM’s mission “to ignite the curiosity of every child.”
CEO Lou Dickmeyer joined CMSM in 2019 and shepherded the organization through a pandemic closure and reopening. She said, “There’s so much support and passion for the Museum, it’s an easy ask, but we had not been sophisticated about telling our story. Our new Ignite Society has led us down a path where we more deeply engage our donors and increase conversation of what their dollars can do.”
As part of cultivation and stewardship efforts, CMSM offered a special donor event for Ignite Society members, a newsletter with behind-the-scenes details on exhibits and programs, and an in-person preview of the museum’s new exhibits. The Ignite Society grew to over 140 people within its first year.
“Working with CFA has deepened my understanding of how important it is to cultivate relationships and keep donors informed of what we’re doing,” Dickmeyer added. “We now have a clear line of sight to what success can be and how to get there. They helped us ready ourselves for a bold and strategic move to the next level.”
It is exceedingly difficult to secure multiple gifts from the same person or organization without the personal touches involved in cultivation and stewardship. If you are eager to learn more about how CFA can help your organization succeed through cultivation and stewardship, please reach out.
Jake Muszynski, Principal
Since joining CFA in 2018, Muszynski has headed more than 20 projects throughout the country, including multi-year engagements with Dodge Nature Center, New Mexico School for the Arts, Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota, Grief Club of Minnesota, and School for Advanced Research. Muszynski also has led more than a dozen clients through CFA’s campaign feasibility study process, testing over $150 million in potential campaigns.
Muszynski began his career in higher education, serving as a major gifts officer at the University of Northern Iowa. He moved to the University of Minnesota where he led fundraising efforts for the Arts Quarter of the College of Liberal Arts. A native of Perham, Minnesota, Muszynski holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from Concordia College. He and his wife have two children and share a love of folk and jazz music.
Dodge Nature Center kicked off its largest-ever fundraising campaign in September 2020. This was as the United States was six months into the global pandemic and people throughout the country were feeling great economic pain.
And yet, this environmental education center headquartered in a small suburb of St. Paul launched the public phase of a $40 million campaign, with nearly 75% of the funding already secured. How did they do it? According to Dodge Executive Director Jason Sanders, the key was listening to the right people.
“Our initial intention was to raise $15 million for a new property in Cottage Grove, Minn., in order to build a new preschool facility there and make improvements to our main property,” Sanders explains. “After listening to our most committed donors, board members, staff, and expert campaign counsel, we realized we could and should do far more than we ever thought possible. The vision for the campaign significantly expanded from modest capital improvements to securing funds to ensure this 52-year old institution would be vital for another 50 years and beyond.”
Sanders and his team partnered with Creative Fundraising Advisors throughout the development and launch of the campaign called Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature. Given that much of the campaign was developed pre-pandemic, Dodge’s experience pivoting its plan and adjusting to a virtual environment for prospect cultivation and solicitation can be a case study for organizations considering a major campaign.
Start with a Solid Vision
In the fall of 2018, Sanders and the board were considering plans for Dodge’s Shepard Farm property. Since receiving the property in 2013, they had been maintaining it and making small upgrades. However, they knew it could be more closely aligned with the other properties, and they started contemplating a capital campaign.
“We were getting real momentum internally for the idea of building a preschool there,” says Sanders. “Our West St. Paul preschool is hugely popular, and it was appealing to replicate that program at Shepard Farm.” Sanders and the board asked CFA to help explore the idea. “CFA was knowledgeable about conservation and education, but they had enough distance from our normal operations that they were able to challenge assumptions, to bring perspective, and to ask hard questions.’’
“It’s really important to get boards and leadership teams aligned before kicking off a big campaign,” says CFA Vice President Jake Muszynski, who led the work with Dodge. “In order to do that, we stepped back from the campaign idea and held a workshop to help all the major stakeholders come into agreement around the future of Dodge. And what we found was, opening a new preschool in another community was not central to their shared vision.”
“The vision workshop was really enlightening,” Sanders says. “We did a lot of small group work to be sure that everyone’s voice was heard. Collectively, our priorities are to expand and impact the lives of thousands more visitors, to preserve and protect the original vision of our founder, Olivia Irvine Dodge, and to be a significant force in educating future generations about environmental education. A new preschool in a new community might be a priority at some point, but we realized it wasn’t where we wanted to start.”
Sanders worked with his board and leadership team to expand on the vision they had established in the workshop. Based on those discussions and recommendations from CFA, Dodge decided to test a $15 million campaign focused on growing Dodge’s endowment, investing in capital improvements, and supporting the annual fund.
“We were focused on the endowment because we know we don’t need big buildings,” Sanders says. “We exist to get people outside, and we don’t want to devote big dollars to buildings and drywall. Because we knew our ‘Why,’ our priorities for the campaign were clear.”
Validate Your Case with Donors
Sanders then asked CFA to conduct a feasibility study, which included conversations with top donors to see if the goals of the campaign were compelling. “Feasibility studies are all about fact-finding, understanding potential investors’ support for the vision of the campaign, and positioning the organization for success,” Muszynski says. “Organizations discover how motivated their donors are, and sometimes they find out that they won’t attract major gifts.”
For the study, Muszynski and CFA President Paul Johnson crafted a summary of the case for the campaign, screening and interviewing potential donors. It soon became clear that the board’s vision and campaign goals were right on track.
The feasibility study had another powerful outcome: a $22 million lead gift from a long-time supporter. This gift changed the entire dynamic of the project and led Dodge to increase the scope of the campaign to $40 million.
“We really appreciated CFA leading us through that feasibility study,” Sanders says. “We knew we wanted to talk to our nearest friends, and it was incredible to find out that we could secure a lead gift that was larger than the initial scope of the campaign. Because of the study, we knew we could ask for enough to protect our endowment, to secure our annual fund, and to invest in capital improvements as dictated by our strategic planning, not limited to a specific site. This all will help us ensure that Dodge is healthy and able to serve the community for at least 50 more years.”
“A rigorous feasibility study is absolutely critical for a successful campaign,” says Johnson. “You get rich input from your supporters, uncover unrecognized needs and opportunities, and sometimes you learn enough to know you’re not really ready to go forward.”
Ask for Major Gifts
By mid-2019, with an ambitious plan developed and a significant lead gift secured, Dodge was ready to move into the quiet phase of its campaign.
After the lead donor, the first significant gift conversation was with Minnesota philanthropists Si and Vicki Ford. Vicki is the niece of founder Olivia Irvine Dodge, and in 2000, the Fords had established the preschool in West St. Paul. They had been part of the feasibility study and had expressed interest in contributing to the campaign. “But when we went back to them with our vision and showed them our path to $40 million, they became even more inspired,” Muszynski recalled.
They found the vision so compelling that they committed $5 million to the campaign, and Vicki signed on as a campaign co-chair. “The size and scope of our campaign, and our ability to show how we would get to the $40 million, really drove their interest and their level of commitment,” Muszynski says.
Plan For Anything
When the U.S. started feeling the effects of the pandemic earlier this year, there was significant concern about moving forward with the campaign. In March, as schools and businesses shut down, the team stopped soliciting major gifts.
After the first few weeks, people were encouraged to get outside. “You couldn’t gather but you could get outside safely, so we saw people coming to Dodge,” Sanders says. “We were seeing new people on our trails, and we had great attendance at our online “lunch and learns” with our naturalists. Our mission was right in line with what people needed. We knew we had a responsibility to protect our ability to do that, which meant pressing on with the campaign.”
Increased attendance was proof of Dodge’s value to the community, while the organization also had data from the feasibility study that confirmed the great level of commitment of their donors.
“When the team considered whether to delay or to lower the goal, we had the data,” Muszynski says. “We kept showing the numbers and our fundraising pipeline. With that assessment we could move forward confidently, knowing that our ask was not tone deaf and that donors would prioritize Dodge.”
While Covid-19 forced shifts in operations, the fundraising program was able to continue largely as planned because the campaign was so clearly connected to the larger vision for Dodge. Not every organization is in that position, and that uncertainty can make planning difficult.
“The best solution we can offer for that is scenario planning,” says Johnson. “We work with clients to think through their long-term plans and to consider what they would do if there is no vaccine, or if a completely new disruption were to hit. When we imagine how we would handle major disruptions, we are able to be nimble, no matter what comes at us. And we account for those possibilities as we approach our strategic plans and feasibility studies.”
Support the Development Team
The launch of the public phase of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature was slated for Sept. 17. It became an online event rather than a live gala, with videos, remarks from Sanders and other campaign leaders, and an online auction. As planning progressed, Dodge’s Development Director moved to another organization. Fundraising veteran Tony Grundhauser had recently joined CFA and stepped into the vacant seat on an interim basis. “He had a great background in environmental work and was a natural fit for Dodge,” Muszynski says. “He really reenergized the campaign from the inside during its quiet phase.”
The CFA team was able to lead launch efforts so seamlessly because of the close alignment it had with the campaign from the beginning. Also helpful was having in-house design capabilities and writers.
Ensure Top-Notch Execution for Public Phase
While Grundhauser worked with Sanders to call donors and secure large gifts, Muszynski focused on leading the planning for the public launch. He scripted and oversaw videos, arranged for the online auction, and coordinated design and web production along with CFA Creative Services Director Sara Johnson. “My primary focus was that we were going to be able to announce a very successful campaign,” Muszynski says.
The public launch of Nourishing Everyone’s Need for Nature took place, as scheduled, on Sept. 17, 2020, with its virtual gala and online auction. Remarkably, nearly 75% of the campaign was already secured, while the gala raised another $150,000 for Dodge (See the campaign collateral).
Executive Director Sanders is immensely pleased with the results of the campaign, for the funds it has raised so far and for the sense of focus the team has developed in the process. “We know who we are and what mission we’re serving,” Sanders explains. “Now we can look at our decisions more firmly through the lens of why we exist and how we protect our ability to give people access to nature.”