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Identifying Donor Prospects

The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

Step #4: Identifying your Donor Prospects

One of the most critical steps in achieving improved development and fundraising for your organization is also one of the most energizing—putting down on paper for the first time a list of actual names that represent potential donors. And truth be told, there are as many ways to identify potential donors as there are donors themselves. While there are a handful of consistent characteristics found in each prospecting model, what is most important is whatever process you choose to identify potential donors, embrace it, use it, work it, and measure the results.

I have found that no matter the fundraising effort, capital campaign, or major gift effort, there are three fail-safe questions to ask to determine if the potential donor is truly a “prospect” rather than a “suspect”:

1.   Does the name in question have the financial ability to donate?

2.   Does the name in question have the willingness to participate?

3.   Is there someone on staff, or do we know someone, who can initiate?

There are situations where a certain person may be a HUGE fan of your organization and the work you do—but they are not in a financial position to donate at the level you may be seeking. Or, on the other hand, the person may have HUGE financial resources but has either shown very little interest in your organization in the past, or perhaps has never been exposed to the great work you do. In both instances, and while this is no reason to exclude them from your target list, it means the solicitation/donation process will be harder and take more time.

Once you have formulated your potential donor list based on the preliminary qualifications of one, they do the financial ability to donate, and two, they do have the willingness to participate (meaning the person seems to have a pre-disposition and affinity for your organization or cause), the third and final filter questions is this, “Is there someone on staff, or do we know someone, who can initiate an introduction to this person, or better yet, help initiate a presentation meeting with the potential donor? Is there a supporter of your organization (Board member/Advisory Board member/existing high-level donor/corporate sponsor) that would be willing to provide an “I know this organization and you will want to know them, too” introduction on your behalf?

With myriad organizations doing splendid work, and an endless array of opportunities for donors to contribute and make a positive difference, what becomes the game-changer in prompting a high net-worth individual or a philanthropically-minded family to choose to investigate and explore your organization? Time and time again that game-changer is the potential donor is familiar with, does business with, or admires the person who makes the call or sends the e-mail on behalf of your organization.

As you further refine your list of potential donors, remember Step #3 (Information is Currency), and begin to search out as much information as you can about those names that have risen to the top of your list. What charitable organizations have they supported in the past? What are the nonprofit boards they currently serve on, or have served on in the past? When they support an organization, is it in name and contribution only, or do they become actively engaged in furthering the mission of that organization?

Finally, if you are the person in your organization who leads the development effort, or you are a member of the fundraising team, remember that you have no greater ally than your active, researched and confidential list of potential donors. As charitable giving is most oftentimes a very deep and personal process and experience for the donor, you must also view the very formulation of your prospect list as not only essential and invaluable, but it must be handled with sensitivity and discretion.

While there obviously comes the moment when the time for preparation is over and the time for action and results begins, the focus, energy and care spent in formulating your list of potential donors will undoubtedly yield positive fundraising results—now and in the future.

Next Installment: Step #5: Get Inside the Door!

This is the fourth part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling

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Information is Currency

Anyone familiar with Commissioner David Stern of the NBA knows that the term “information is currency” is a very important mantra of his. It is his belief that information about every aspect of your organization, information about other organizations with which you compete, information about what programs, initiatives or projects are working—or not working—all of this information is the same as currency. And the more information that you have and hold, the richer you are!

In other words, the more key facts and data you are able to assemble regarding all aspects of your own organization and processes, your competition, and prevailing market conditions, the smarter you are and the better your organization’s planning and decision-making will be.

Well known management consultant Peter Drucker said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” One of the driving forces behind successful companies is the notion that the relentless search for data and information—and the encouragement within an organization to take whatever time is needed to ask the right questions—is as important, if not more important, than the answers that follow.

As a nonprofit fundraiser, where the competition for charitable dollars is fierce and where there are always more requests than there are gifts, it is even more critical that members of a nonprofit development team be prepared and armed with as much key information and data as possible in advance of approaching and meeting with a potential donor.

If I am in the process of approaching a potential donor with a gift proposal, either to my own organization or to an organization I am representing, and in advance of a meeting with that potential donor, pieces of information that may be of benefit to me might include:

  • Is this person known for his/her philanthropic giving? Does (s)he have a history of giving?
  • What types of causes or organizations have they supported in the past? Is there a trend or pattern to the type of causes they have supported?
  • In regard to their past giving, is there information about how much they have given? How much in total, and how much in individual gifts?
  • Is his/her spouse or family involved in the charitable giving? Is multi-generational philanthropic giving important to the family?
  • Is the donor apt to participate and provide support beyond the actual donation? Does (s)he often sit on boards, or does the donor participate in on-the-ground volunteer efforts?
  • Does the person tend to seek recognition for the support (s)he provides, or does the donor eschew publicity surrounding his/her gifts?
  • Does it appear the donor’s gift had the intended impact and results? Was the charitable endeavor a success?
  • Has the donor ever been involved in a charitable gift or initiative that was not deemed successful? And why?
  • Does the mission or purpose of your organization present any present any philosophical or political obstacles that would stand in the way of the potential donor giving?

While the process of identifying a potential donor, making the actual donation proposal, and receiving the formal commitment of a gift may often take many twists and turns, the road is far more manageable with solid information and preparation. It is far better to be over-prepared and not have to use the information you have gathered than to be under-prepared and find yourself in an awkward or uncomfortable situation where you are thinking to yourself, “I should have know that information before I walked in the door!”

Information is indeed currency, no matter the task or the assignment, and the more we have accumulated, the more successful we will be.

Next Installment: Step #4: Identify your prospects

This is the third part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling

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Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Who Are You? What Can You Do?

Who is your favorite charity? What do they provide?

With over 1 million registered nonprofits in the United States and more than 30,000 primarily focused on children’s needs and issues, it is critical that nonprofit organizations are able to clearly and succinctly define who they are and what they do, as well as articulate the services they provide.

But as a nonprofit organization, can you define who you are and what you do? From a fundraising and development perspective you should be able to clearly outline those benefits you offer donors for associating with your organization. Sometimes this is defined as a brand platform, but it can also be as simple as answering the question, “What do we want the public and our target constituents to immediately think of when they hear our name?”

For instance, when any of us hear the words “Coca-Cola,” what comes to mind? What about “Nike” or “GEICO” or “American Red Cross”? It is not a fluke or simple luck that when we hear these organizational names we all generally conjure up the same images, feelings, and expectations.

These organizations have gone to great lengths to define who they are as a brand, the “technical equities’ and the “emotional equities” they own, and how they differentiate themselves from other brands in the same product or service category. This process is no less important to nonprofit organizations who are trying to grow and prosper in a space where the competition for the charitable dollar is fierce.

In James C. Collin’s powerful management book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, Collins suggests great organizations take the time and effort necessary to develop what he calls the “Hedgehog Concept,” which, in short, when applied to nonprofit organizations, asks three defining questions that must be clearly answered:

  1. Can the financial model of our nonprofit organization become stable, sustainable and viable?
  2. What can our nonprofit organization be the best in the world at?
  3. What “lights the fire” of those working for our nonprofit organization?

The exercise of defining who you are, what you are, what you can provide (and be the best at the world at!), led me to a discussion with an associate of mine who founded and runs a billion-dollar, multi-national company. He asked me this compelling question, “If you only had 30 seconds during an elevator ride with a potential donor or client you had been trying to reach for months, how would you best introduce and explain Operation Kids?”

Out of that conversation came our own 30-second “Elevator Speech”:

Operation Kids is the leader in providing customized philanthropic services for individuals, families and companies. For more than a decade, we have managed the charitable giving process for our clients, helping them make informed giving decisions and achieve greater impact. Our philosophy is that by supporting a researched community of charities serving the most important issues facing kids, we improve the lives of more children while increasing the accountability and effectiveness of charities serving them. Our clients know…their giving is “OK.” And because of the ongoing generosity of our founders and supporters, our service is free. This is the charitable gift Operation Kids offers its clients. Your passion, our work, more lives changed.

While many organizations can easily be introduced and explained in 3-5 minutes, it is a very productive and positive exercise to craft an introduction (who you are/what you are/what you can provide) that is deliverable in 30 seconds or less. Not only will having this distilled-down, crystal-clear “Elevator Speech” prepare you for that oh-so-important opportunity with a targeted donor or client, it also becomes invaluable as your organization further defines what benefits it can offer your key audiences, including donors.

As you better understand who you are, what you are, and what you provide, this organizational solid-footing also helps you better formulate and package the benefits you can and must deliver, to either direct-service recipients or to participating donors and supporters. It forces your organization to ensure that what you are offering is a natural extension of who and what you are.

You become an organization that not only succinctly talks the talk, but also effectively and efficiently walks the walk.

In 2 Weeks: Step #3: Information is Currency!

This is the second part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling

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Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations