More and more often, a small number of lead gifts determine the ultimate outcome of a campaign or any other major fundraising effort. The 2011 CASE Campaign Report noted that the top 10% of donors contributed 95% of total funds raised in their campaign sample, up from 84% a decade ago. Even more crucial to campaign success, the top 1% of donors contributed 77% of campaign funds.
JGA’s own work would affirm this trend. In our experience the 80/20 rule of the past has clearly evolved to the 90/10 rule, if not the 95/5 rule.
As fewer and fewer donors are impacting campaign success, we are also seeing that the challenges of attracting lead gift donors remains significant for many organizations. So what factors seem to be most important for success in attracting lead gift donors?
The president, the board, and advancement staff – all working together.
The saying goes that “people give to people,” but more importantly, “people give to presidents” in particular. The ability of the president to forge personal relationships with high capacity donors and to articulate a vision for the future that is motivating to donors is critical. Donors expect a certain level of intimacy and access to the president. But the personal connection alone is hollow without a compelling vision for the future. If asked to invest six-, seven-, or even eight-figure gifts in our institutions, donors want to see how their giving will make an impact. Presidents should have 10 to 20 significant prospects under management at all times and they should work hard to match donor passion with institutional needs.
The president cannot do it alone. The board plays an essential role in giving, but the members of the board must also accept their role in identifying and cultivating potential lead gift donors. Opening doors for the president, leveraging relationships on behalf of the institution, and telling the institution’s story to anyone who will listen are key roles for board members. This process begins with choosing board members wisely and then building their engagement and commitment continuously. Fundraising isn’t every board member’s cup of tea, but every board member can play a role in fundraising; finding the most effective role is vital.
Securing lead gifts begins by building and managing relationships, and advancement staff are best positioned to handle the ground level work of supporting the work of the president and the board. The advancement staff provides the support that undergirds the stewardship of nearly all donors. Significant staff turnover disrupts donor relationship and causes a loss of intelligence about donors, but long tenure alone is not the answer. Advancement staff members must be held accountable for their work but they are not simply sales people that can be inserted interchangeably and expected to sell major gifts. The advancement staff that is built to last is a balance between proven professionals who are dedicated to your institution and metrics-driven performers who can reliably raise money for your institution.
In summary, lead gift donors are most likely to invest in your institution if they can see a clear vision for the future, if they connect personally with the president as the CEO, and if they know their gifts will be well used and make a difference. The job of identifying lead gift prospects and cultivating them is the collective responsibility of the president, board members, and advancement staff. Advancement staff members are best positioned to support the process of prospect management and to be true partners with the president and the board. Together they can make a powerful team.