Five behaviors of top fundraisers

Happy Tuesday everyone!

In this previous post we talked about attributes and personality traits that are commonly found in top frontline fundraisers. But many fundraisers without all of those attributes can be very successful. Likewise an individual can possess all the qualities of a great fundraiser and have low results because his behavior leads to weaker relationships and lower gift income.

So, for part II of this series we will talk about what activities and actions set the top fundraisers apart from their colleagues and industry peers. When we look at portfolio yield and performance metrics as well as donor feedback we find that there are five areas where a top fundraiser sets himself apart from the rest. The strongest fundraisers:

1. Make more calls:  The most effective fundraisers are rarely in the office; they spend a majority (at least 60% of their time) making calls, visiting prospects, and networking. Think of it this way: if a fundraiser has a portfolio of 130 prospects, with 25% of those prospects being a high priority and capacity, he should expect to meet with each of these top prospects at least 3x per year. To meet the minimum commitment for just a quarter of this portfolio would then require an average of ~8 calls per month (not including phone contact, scheduling, events, etc).  Presumably the remaining 3/4 of his portfolio will also need to be seen or engaged at some point.  Major gifts are successfully solicited through relationships; if a fundraiser is aggressively setting meetings and reaching out to prospects then he will be more effective at relationship building and bringing in new gifts.

2. Make the ask earlier: Soliciting prospects is a common problem area for many organizations. Let’s face it – asking for money can be uncomfortable and awkward, no matter how willing and engaged the donor may be. So, what some development officers do (whether consciously or subconsciously) is postpone asking for a gift, delaying solicitation by months and even years. Top performers on average make the ask in 3-5 less visits than their peers. This behavior allows them to meet with more people in their portfolio and increase the total number of solicitations in a year. If a prospect is properly cultivated, an earlier ask will help to set the precedent for their giving as well as offer the clearest picture of the prospect’s overall giving intentions (useful for those of us who have held out for a seven figure gift only to discover at solicitation that a prospect’s intentions are more at the $25k level). Moreover, because top fundraisers make the ask earlier they are reinforcing their own role and relationship with the donor; it is easy for those lines to become blurred when a prospect is not asked for a gift after 18 months of visits and meetings.

3. Follow-through on closing the gift: Solicitation is the beginning of the process. It is unfortunately common to meet with constituents and prospects who intended to make a gift to an institution, but never received the follow-through to secure the gift. The best development officers not only commit to closing a gift but prioritize their time to actively focus on securing a gift within 60 days of the solicitation.

4. Strategically include institutional leadership: It can be difficult to have spent 10+ months meeting with an individual, building rapport and becoming close with a prospect, only to be expected to hand off the “climax” of the process to someone else in the institution. Egos can easily get in the way. The strongest fundraisers, however, know that leadership can help elevate giving in way that a DO simply cannot.  Bringing in project leaders or institutional administrators heightens the stakes of an ask for both donors and fundraisers. When it is successful it will frequently increase the size and perceived prestige of the gift, as well as build a multilateral, stronger relationship with the donor.

5. Keep in contact with donors after the initial gift: Our colleagues in the area of annual giving know all too well the cost of an initial gift and value of retaining donors; entire analytics models are build around this concept. For major giving, where the gifts are larger and the timeframes longer, one can lose sight of what’s ahead once a significant gift is successfully secured. Successful major gift officers are more attuned to what it takes to get the next gift, even if that gift is 3+ years in the future. For top donors the central efforts of stewardship may simply not be enough to keep their interest and inspire them to give more; philanthropists will notice the drop in interest in them once a gift has been secured. Your best fundraisers maintain their relationships with donors between gifts, communicating those messages of partnership and transparency that high net worth donors have shown repeatedly to  value.

Some food for thought after looking at these five categories is: (1) how do you know when fundraisers are doing the activities above that will make them more successful? and (2) how do you encourage these behaviors in the fundraisers that you already have? Over the next couple of weeks we will try to answer those questions.




Want to learn more? Part III(Six best practices top development shops offer to set fundraisers up for success)  is now up!


7 thoughts on “Five behaviors of top fundraisers

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