Refocusing Your Philanthropic Lens

By: Susan Holt

By: Susan Holt

The recent release of the Giving USA 2014 Report [1] underscores the continued generosity of Americans and our commitment to the noble work of countless nonprofit organizations.  As giving edges up towards being on par with pre-great recession contributions, one fact remains unchanged: support from individuals is where the real action is, whether personal gifts, gifts through family foundations or through bequests.   In fact, as reported by Giving USA, the largest contributing factor to the continued increase in philanthropy was another nearly $10 billion from individuals!  Think about it! That fact alone should be one of the single most important guideposts for our plans and work.

Now is the time to redouble your efforts to focus on individual giving.  Remembering that foundation and corporate constituents, as well as other agencies, probably play a unique role in every setting, sound relationship building with individuals will have a lasting impact on every fundraising program.  As we meet with colleagues around the country, it is not unusual for us to hear about the challenges that many are having when staff time, attention and focus becomes diluted.  Results can really suffer not only in the near term, but also in the creation of true long-term philanthropic investments.

Here are a few tips for sharpening your lens and helping others in your organization to stay in focus, even in the blur of summer’s rays:

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1.     Leadership:  Ask your CEO or President to start his or her day everyday by thinking about one person …. Only one….. who deserves a call that day, not necessarily to solicit, but to continue to shape the relationship or steward a gift.  What a difference that will make!

2.     Partner:  Help your CEO out with this request!  Provide five suggested names at the beginning of each week, with a couple of bullet points for the call, and of course the call number.  Encourage phone calls over email! Then, circle back.  Find out how the calls went.  Not only are you building confidence in perhaps an activity that does not come naturally, but you are also building an effective partnership!

3.     Staffing:  Take another look at your individual giving staffing plan.  Is your individual giving officer(s) asked to divide their activities amongst too many other non-relationship building tasks?  If so, contemplate reconsidering priorities and the opportunity cost. 

4.     Metrics!  I use to hate metrics!  Okay, I said it… but I did!  However, the numbers don’t lie, and I had to reconsider my own thinking.  Metrics are not everything, that’s for sure.  But, its true.  Increased, well thought out, planned and timed activities drive results.  I’ve seen it born out time and again.  The more meaningful, authentic and strategic visits you, your President, your staff and your Board chair and development committee are making, documenting and following up on, the more relationships you will build and the more successful your philanthropy program will be.  Of course, metrics won’t make up for the lack of clear funding priorities or a strategic plan, and a compelling, urgent case!

5.    Portfolios:  At least once a year, if not every six months, conduct a thorough portfolio review of all prospects assigned to you, your major gift officers and your President or CEO.  (S/he should have an assigned portfolio that you, the CDO, help to manage.)  All too often, some prospects can get lost in the rush and demands of the day.  It’s important to keep the portfolio fresh. This is a time to rethink strategies and potentially reassign, if necessary.  Use this activity as an opportunity to review some of those assignments with your CEO, when it makes sense, and with your Board or Development Committee Chair(s).  People are not static.  Life circumstances change.  Make sure your gift plans are not relying on old information or assumptions!

6.    Stewardship:  This final point could just as easily be at the top of this list as at the bottom.  It cannot be said too often….. stewardship, stewardship, stewardship.  Enlist everyone, not just the development staff or donor relations officer, in this opportunity (versus task)!

[1] Giving USA 2014, Giving USA, The Giving Institute.