Transcending the Status of Development Officer to Philanthropic Advisor

8 10 2013

Every so often, development officers transcend their title and move into a special status with select donors and prospects – philanthropic advisor. This is not a title that someone puts on their business card or a simple marketing gimmick, it is the result of a high level of professionalism, commitment to philanthropy, and respect for the people with whom you are honored to counsel as they make meaningful gifts to benefit their schools, hospitals, and other non-profit organizations.

Go from "development officer" to "philanthropic advisor".

Go from “development officer” to “philanthropic advisor”.

Striving to reach this important relationship does not mean abandoning important metrics like number of donor visits, dollars raised, proposals, etc.  Nor does it mean that you buy into some unique selling system that runs contrary to good development.  While there are many similarities between sales and development work, we are not selling gift annuities, hospital rooms, laboratory space, or scholarships. Not every gift fits every donor – our task is to help each donor impact the world through philanthropy in a way that is impactful to the organization and fulfilling to the donor.

You will know you have reached the status of philanthropic advisor with a donor when they pull back the veil on themselves and their giving.  While each donor grants this differently, it usually occurs when these donors engage you in open conversation about their finances, their family, and most importantly their hopes and dreams. Furthermore, you will often find yourself at the table with their other trusted advisors: family members, lawyers, and financial planners.

While there is no magic formula, those development professionals who achieve this status with donors consistently possess the following attributes in themselves and their relationships with donors:

  •  Professionalism – Represent yourself and your organization to the highest standard – all the time.
  • Genuineness — Your interest in the donor or prospect should be real and be committed to helping them make the best possible gift they can.
  • Transparency – Always retain the right level of transparency with your donors and prospects about who you work for and what your ultimate goal is in that relationship.

It is an intense honor for donors to grant you this status. I challenge you to earn it.

Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall


“You see it all around you, good (planned) givin’ gone bad….”

20 12 2012

WillWell that is a (admittedly bad) paraphrase of the .38 Special song Hold on Loosely and it is an important issue as many people are working hard to find creative gift solutions. I have heard discussions suggesting that the 90s were the golden era of planned giving, whether that’s true or not I don’t know. What I do know is many people are working harder than ever to make gifts happen and occasionally a good gift goes bad.

I had the good fortune or misfortune (depending on perspective) to have to steward a charitable gift annuity several years ago. The gift had not been well conceived by the organization and as a result, the charitable remainder that would exist for charity would have been surprisingly small – within IRS guidelines, but small. That donor’s words have echoed in my mind ever since “why didn’t they tell me….I would have just given them the money”.

We need to make sure that first and foremost we are honoring our donor’s charitable intent. To do that and be good stewards we should do the following:

1) Expectations – Ensure that the gift meets the donor’s expectations which should include final impact, financial comfort, and timing (e.g. a deferred gift that won’t be realized for 30+ years when they hope to see their money at work).

2) Knowledge – While you are NOT the donor’s financial advisor, you should have a strong understanding of the actual vehicles you are suggesting.

3) Good Business – The financial arrangement should be good for your institution and the beneficiaries of your work. These include no undue financial burdens, risks, or long term commitments.

Planned giving remains an important tool for philanthropy, but with low interest rates, various commercial gimmicks, and some prospective donors with no charitable intent it is important to be vigilant. We need to be able to ensure it is good for our donors, organizations, and our community.
Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall

A Quick Guide to Fundraising in the Wake of a Disaster

31 10 2012

In the wake of hurricane Sandy many non-profits can toss their annual plan out the proverbial and possibly the actual window. A storm of this magnitude will have an impact on countless organizations around the country, not only in the affected area. A thoughtful, but quick re-evaluation of your program is essential.

1) What has the storm done to your case for support and organizational priorities?

Facilities that suffered significant damage may have to change plans to expand, launch new programs, etc. Be prepared to reassess priorities quickly and authoritatively. Membership, annual giving, etc. is likely to be impacted significantly. This will be a double whammy (technical term there) – your donor base may be affected as well as there is a strong sense of urgency around disaster relief. You will need to decide if the impact increases or decreases your sense of urgency.

2) Are your prospects affected?

Regardless of where you are situated in the world, your prospects nay be affected. You will have prospects in the affected regions and if not they may have family, friends, or business interests in those areas. Donors (including foundations) may shift priorities. Like the great recession, you may need to reprioritize and reassess your prospect pool.

3) What does this mean for planned activities?

Evaluate any immediate events planned in the area for the next 60-90 days immediately. This includes fundraisers, cultivation events, and even prospecting trips near the area. Contracts may force you to make certain decisions, but make decisions to move ahead or cancel with eyes wide-open and engage volunteers on the ground to read the situation properly. If you do move ahead, its likely the tone of the event will change.

Finally, a few quick to do’s:

■Contact any individuals with whom you have a strong relationship and check on them!

■Immediately suspend any telemarketing or direct mail efforts to the area (unless you are disaster relief organizations).

■Be sensitive!

■Be prepared to redraft a plan!

■Keep the folks on the east coast in your thoughts and prayers.

Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Fundraising: It’s a contact sport! Helping your natural partners be successful.

14 06 2012

“I don’t want to shake your germy hand, I just came here for your money” says Dr. Sheldon Cooper of television’s Big Bang Theory – the Benefactor Factor Episode.  Now the show is some seriously good humor and that particular episode is a must see for development professionals who enjoy a little crass humor and this particular episode doesn’t necessarily paint a great picture of fundraising. In all seriousness Sheldon, misses what some faculty members, physicians, program managers, and non-profit leaders (sometimes called natural partners) have a hard time grasping – the need for partnership with donors.
Meetings with donors should be an opportunity to “bear witness” for their project, institution, or program.  Too often we try to guard the donor or the faculty member, when what we should be doing is down playing the fundraising discussion and helping them share with prospective donors what makes their work matter.  Unlike the crew on the TV show, we don’t trade our morals to donors, but we do need them to share their passion for their work.
Tips for preparing your natural partners to engage donors:
1) Put them in an environment they are comfortable in (not everyone does the cocktail party well). Meetings in labs, classrooms, exhibit halls, etc. can make the experience seem natural.
2) Share the strategy and focus on their role (e.g. make it clear their role at this moment is not to ask – unless it actually is!). Define success for this meeting.
3) Role play – What possible questions might the prospect ask? Do they know the two or three key points that should be articulated to the prospect?
4) Know the limits of your partner – how long is the right time to have the engaged?
Most of our partners don’t react like Sheldon for the purpose of thwarting fundraising efforts. As one highly trained surgeon said to me “I don’t know how you can do this fundraising job it is stressful!”  In many ways this is a tremendous compliment to our profession. Our job is to help them play their role in the fundraising process whether it is through grateful patient program, donor dinners, tours etc. Their involvement is critical to your success.
And yes…every once in a while you have to shake a germy hand or two – it’s good for you.

Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Development Officers: Are Your Call Reports and Donor Related Emails Appropriate?

10 10 2011

I often challenge gift officers to this simple litmus test about their call reports. (I have now already made the assumption that call reports are actually being completed!) If someone read your call report would they be offended and angry?  In all fairness, they might not be thrilled that we created a record of the visit, BUT there is a significant difference between being offended and being unhappy.

The unspeakable may happen at Brown University as they are being asked to turn over donor records as a result of some civil litigation. This court order includes “unredacted” employee email that is being requested.  The issue is not about Brown, but about how development staff everywhere retains data. Reflect for a few moments about your own call reports and emails – how would they withstand the litmus test?

This is not the first run at donor records, but it is a serious concern.  Like wikileaks, some of the damage may be collateral.  Many public universities, museums, etc. have had issues with their state’s open meeting and sunshine laws.  These laws essentially create complete transparency of many donor records and select communication. In states like Minnesota, laws were passed to exempt the University and other state institutions from having to open donor related records.

Additional issues exist for development staff members who keep “other records” whether at their home, on their hard drive, or in writing in a file.  Such documentation is “discoverable” in court issues, is most likely something that should never be written down, and often lies outside of the organization’s record keeping policy.

Some quick guidelines for call reports and work emails:

1)      If you wouldn’t say it to the donor or prospect – don’t write it down, electronic is a permanent record. Use the litmus test – “If the prospect saw this…”

2)      Create a working guide for your organizatin about what is appropriate: a brief summary of the contact, pertinent details, next steps with the relationship, and a plan.

3)      Avoid judgmental comments about personalities – little good can come from them. Make decisions about the situation instead.


Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Succession Planning: It is Just Good Business for Fundraising

3 10 2011

Do you have a succession plan? A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article highlighted the number of presidential turnovers that will occur relatively soon at major institutions. It is not just the president’s departure that causes issues for fundraising across the non-profit community, but board member and development professional departures as well. This is exacerbated when there is the confluence of continually high development turnover and a best practice of board term limits is a real threat to the relationships with our best prospects and donors.

Years ago, a vice president I worked with saw his retirement and some transition coming, he ensured that the relationships with those prospects and donors would be secure.  This gentleman looked at his staff and wisely thought about who would be there in five years.  The next step involved his engaging stable staff in those relationships that could be an important bridge to the future. Did he just hand those relationships over?  Of course not, but when he retired, not a single donor was lost. He ensured that existing relationships could be built upon to serve the organization for the future..

Do a check up on your organization?

1)      How secure are your top donors or prospects? How many relationships with your organization do they have?

2)      What would happen if you had turnover – the CEO, Chief Development Officer, or a key volunteer?

3)      Five years from now, are we positioned to have stronger relationships than we do today?

Think about the following:

1)      Include members of your team in key relationships that will bridge your best donors to the future.

2)      Ensure each important prospect or donor has multiple contact points with your organization.

3)      When there is transition in your organization, make a priority of maintaining those relationships (including gift officers, boards, and presidential transition teams).

Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Major Gifts: Staying Focused on Your Prospects – All the Millionaires

19 09 2011

To paraphrase one on my colleagues, “Do you know what the all major gift donors have in common? They had the money to give!”  If you think about it, it is a pretty rock solid concept.  One of our challenges in fundraising is that we will run after new shiny objects.  For example, last week Forbes published an awe inspiring article about America’s Millionaire Capitals which talked about concentrations of wealthy individuals. It might be a good plan to check your prospect pool for anyone who lives in those communities.

I want to encourage everyone not to get too distracted by the big houses, fancy cars, etc.  While there are many generous donors, who live in these houses I am always struck by the other donors I meet and am convinced no one would think they have the resources that they do based on their life style — often a very middle class or upper middle class existence.  Note this guy’s house in Omaha (note: Omaha was not on the Forbes list) I found on the web, admittedly a nice house with a taxable value of $690,000. Most people would not assume that the world’s 3rd wealthiest person and a great philanthropist lives there – Warren Buffett.

What is the point of showing you Mr. Buffett’s House? Stay focused on the people you have had a relationship with and believe can make significant gifts.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go off hunting for mega-gifts, but don’t do it at the cost of abandoning existing prospects.  About once a month you see the article about the little old couple down the street that shocked everyone with a $13 million gift to their alma mater or hospital.

Prospect research is a powerful thing, but it is not perfect.  Check your prospect list and examine individual donors through personal interaction:

  • Why do I think this prospect may have resources? Where would they have come from (inheritance, investments, income)?
  • How does their lifestyle mesh with resources acquired?  High income, but simple lifestyle. Modest income, flashy lifestyle. The list goes on…but be a detective.

Stay focused on your prospects no matter where they live.  Millionaire’s have capacity whether they conveniently congregated for development staff to find them or whether they are living in middle class neighborhoods.  Good Luck!

–          Mark Marshall