Major Gifts Fundraising and the Economy: Managing the Message

2 09 2011

This week’s guest Blogger is Dr. James Daniel. The discussion around case stating will be particularly important in healthcare fundraising where healthcare reform is clouding the issue and at state “funded” institutions.  Hope you enjoy Jim’s thoughtful insights.

The newly released CASE report on campaigns contains some great information. For example: This year the gifts from the top 1% of donors comprise 71% of the average campaign total and those from the top 10% comprise 93%. The trend toward the dominance of major gifts is picking up steam.

 The decades of the 70s and 80s were the age of annual giving growth. Direct mail and telemarketing matured and started into decline. But each created enormous growth in donor rolls and respectable growth in dollars raised. But for the last 20 years we have only nibbled around the edges of growth in annual giving.

The decades of the 90s and 00s represent the age of major gifts driven by technology: database screening, statistical modeling, prospect research and prospect management to name a few. And there seems to be a great deal of upward potential still dormant in the upper tier.

Perhaps the most significant opportunities lie in two related strategies: major gift officer skill development and case stating. As major gifts proliferate we learn more about the giving experience – major donors don’t “give,” they “invest.” Their action stems from an insight, from a vision, that “I can make this difference now, here, at this institution.”

Working from the assumption that major gift work is a behavior designed to stimulate this insight or vision, we can teach ourselves more about how we ought to shape and manage major gift work. We need to figure out is that difference a donor would like to make? Most frequently, if we listen carefully for clues about this “difference” we quickly find that it has little to do a difference in our institution. More frequently, we hear that the prospective donor is looking to see how our institution can make a difference in the community, a difference that will create a better world for his/her grandchildren.

This would be a very good time to re-examine the case that your institution makes for support. Are you talking about you, or about those you serve, or about the larger community that both your institution and your clients serve? Are you talking about needs, or about opportunities? Look at recent major gifts in your environment. Examine carefully and discover what they were really about, i.e., what was it about for the donor? Are you making a case for a purpose so important it would merit this kind of gift? Or, are we making a case only for gifts of a much smaller caliber?

 And ask, if your officers got into a conversation with someone who has an eight-figure net worth, would they be intimidated or would they know how to sustain an engaging conversation? Would they have a sense for the questions they need to ask to learn which problems really consume this wealthy person, which difference s/he would make if s/he could?

 Everyone today, including the wealthy, are concerned about the economy. But, more fundamentally, there is greater concern about why the economy is situated as it is? That is, there is concern about who we have become that we have built an economy like this for ourselves. This is a ripe opportunity for major gifts – if you have your case properly oriented and if you have the staff skills and confidence to deliver this case.

If you found this blog post useful you may wantto click on the major gifts category on the right hand side for more on case stating as well as a post on the economy by Jim.  A special thanks to Jim Daniel for his contribution to the Marshall Art of Fundraising.  Good Luck! — Mark Marshall

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