July 20, 2011
In today’s tough economic environment, many not-for-profit organizations are struggling to grow donations. For many, the impact of a relatively weak economy has affected the quality and quantity of gifts. Taking a more strategic approach to donor development has never been more important. When our principals meet with those seeking donations, we hear common themes of why many are struggling to find new opportunities. See whether any of these reasons apply to you:
- No time—Most of those responsible for development are busy. Even the best are bogged down with multiple organizational tasks (returning calls and e-mails, attending conferences, stuffing envelopes, to name a few). Not-for-profit employees wear many hats, and just keeping existing donors happy can be a stretch.
- Not sure whom to target—Taking a shotgun approach to calling on “everybody who has a heartbeat” or cold calling potential donors rarely results in producing quality prospective donors who are ready to write a check.
- Prospecting potential donors is a low return activity—Given the amount of time involved in prospecting for new donors and the difficulty in landing a good prospect, many responsible for development question whether the effort provides a reasonable return. (Note: Some development officers equate prospecting donors with “cold calling,” which is usually a waste of time. We believe there are other, more productive ways to attract new donors—see below.)
- Prospecting new donors is frustrating—Nobody likes rejection. The research is pretty clear: donations have decreased over 25 percent from 2009 to 2010; many donors are not in the mood to entertain giving money away.
Getting new donors is tough. Making sure you have done everything possible to make it easier is not to say it will be easy. Here are some techniques being used by some of the most successful organizations:
- Make sure your organization is targeting the right prospective donors. The responsibility for providing clear direction starts at the executive level. Organizations need to understand the necessity of creating a target profile that gives staff and volunteers clear direction about the types of industries and individuals that provide the best opportunities for developing partnerships. If you don’t like pizza parlors for donations, say so. If you overdepend on doctors for donations, say so. But also be explicit about what the most desirable industry segments are for the organization and why. Time is a very precious commodity; wasting time on the “wrong” donors’ takes away time from the “right” donors.
- Help people identify the best opportunities to target. Although those experienced in development can often produce a decent prospective donor list on their own, the staff executive needs to become more directive on this. “Here is a list of 75 names. I’d like to meet with you next week and decide on 50 that you’ll focus on. If you have some others you’d like to add, bring them to the meeting.”
- Build a plan for consistency and committing to the long haul. Prospecting new donors is a marathon, not a sprint. Success is about making multiple calls and getting back in the door. Many times, it’s about continuing to pursue a prospective donor after losing on a proposal.
- Select the right approach to get the first appointment. The best strategy is to ask satisfied existing donors for help. If that isn’t a viable option, the staff executive needs to coach people on how to make it through the maze of gatekeepers, voice mail, and telephone objections.
- Prepare effectively for the first and second meeting. Visit the prospective donor’s Web site (if they have one) to identify tidbits of information that can be beneficial in connecting with the prospective donor. Develop a written call plan with questions designed to uncover, develop, and prioritize needs.
- Reinforce the process. Prospecting new donors is a team sport. Forget freelancing. By creating opportunities for your organization to share market intelligence, effective calling techniques, and successful strategies, you build a process that can be managed over time. And you improve their chances for success.
Now is the time (not to find the time, but to make the time) to examine what processes you have in place at your organization for retaining, expanding, and acquiring donors. For many organizations, having a consistent process has never been more essential.