Have you noticed that giving at the leadership level makes up anywhere from 70% to 85% of your Annual Fund? Yet how much time do you spend on strategic cultivation and solicitation of donors who can give $1,000 or more (or whatever your base level is for leadership gifts)? Too often we spend the majority of our time developing direct mail pieces that will inspire people to start giving. Or that mail piece that will move our alumni participation up several percentage points. We worry about what to put on the outside envelope to get people to open the package. We divide and segment until we are blue in the face. We put time in organizing a phonathon and recruiting volunteers. We worry about good addresses and phone numbers and having follow-up material for our phone calls. All of these are time-consuming activities and are important. But for all the effort put in, the results are much less impactful than our leadership gifts.
So what should we do? First, don’t stop mailing and calling. These donors provide the base from which leadership gifts come. But do start spending time on these leadership donors. Here is how:
- Screen your annual donors and develop a list of leadership prospects. Remove these prospects from the regular mailing and phone routine used with other donors. Don’t forget to screen new additions to your constituency as they are added, particularly new parents for educational institutions.
- Plan to see as many as possible of your leadership donors in person to ask for their gift, particularly if you are asking for new leadership gifts or for an increased leadership gift. Ideally each donor would have a personal visit at least every 3 or 4 years. To encourage that process, you could ask for 2, 3 or 4-year pledges at the same level (or increasing). This allows you to work on pledge fulfillment instead of a new gift every time.
- Ask for a specific amount. Encourage prospects to join a particular level with a gift of a particular amount or to consider a gift in a particular range. This helps the prospect understand exactly what you are asking.
- Host an annual or biannual stewardship event for the leadership society. If your donors are largely local, an annual dinner can be an excellent way to honor their contributions and keep them in touch with the organization. If most of the donors are out of town, a weekend for those donors with the focus on your institution can help to build solid and continuing relationships.
- Consider an occasional letter from the CEO to these donors to keep them informed about your institution and to engage them further. Sometimes called an Insider’s Letter, the content can be upcoming news so they are the first to hear. It could be a more in-depth presentation of something in the regular magazine or newsletter. Or it could be something only they will know.
Careful and focused attention on your leadership giving society can reap rewards not only for your Annual Fund, but for future capital, program and endowment campaigns and opportunities.