All-Staff Fundraising - More Askers = More Money Article


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All-Staff Fundraising - More Askers = More Money Article

  1. 1. More Askers = More Money: An All-Staff Approach to Major GiftsBY ANDY ROBINSOND eep in the heart of every development director you’ll find an enduring fantasy: volunteer board memberswho ask for big gifts face to face. This vision is so pervasive meeting with community groups, and organizing both formal and informal networks of residents to fight corpo- rate and government misbehavior.and persistent that an entire industry — books, articles, After five years of building their major gifts program,workshops, consultants — has emerged to promote and Toxics Action now raises $110,000 per year — one-quarterservice it. As a member of that industry, I can report that of its annual budget — from individual major gifts of atdemand never ends and business is brisk. least $250. Using the time and talents of eight staff mem- This worthy fantasy can come true, but progress is bers, only one of whom is a full-time fundraiser, theusually measured in small, incremental steps. However, organization conducts 250 to 300 donor visits each year ingiven all the challenges associated with board members’ homes spread across six states.participation in fundraising, it surprises me how feworganizations turn to the other available “human ALL TOGETHER NOWresource”: their staff. At Toxics Action, the first rule of fundraising is that To raise money successfully, nonprofits need at least every staff member participates. If you’re on the payroll,three things: a strong case for giving, prospective donors you meet with members and ask for big gifts. solicit, and people to do the asking. Grassroots activists Everyone is trained together (regardless of previous experi-tend to assume — incorrectly — that they lack the second ence), everyone works the phones together, and everyoneelement — prospects for big gifts. However, most donors schedules appointments during the same weeks. This egal-can and will give much more than you think. For example, itarian approach leaves no fundraiser (or prospective majorpeople tend to contribute five to ten times more money donor) behind. Here’s what makes this strategy work.when asked in person than they 1. A campaign modeldo when solicited by mail. Ifyou can’t or won’t meet with Most donors can and will give with specific goals, dead- lines, and a very tightyour supporters, you’re leaving much more than you think. calendar. Twice a year,money on the table. in January and Septem- For most organizations, the biggest barrier isn’t, in ber, Toxics Action shuts down most regular activities forfact, a lack of donors, but rather a lack of askers. Perhaps two weeks to concentrate on major donor’s time for a different approach to major gifts — one that The first week of each campaign is dedicated to staff train-deploys your human resources in a different way by focus- ing and phoning donors to set up appointments. On theing a little less on your board and putting a lot more second week, everyone hits the road for donor into training and motivating your entire staff. Staff can and will do a bit of their normal work during this Consider Toxics Action Center (, period, but for two weeks, fundraising is the priority.which works in neighborhoods across New England to Conversely, organizers and support staff do very littleaddress the human health impacts of pollution, pesticides, major donor fundraising between campaigns, so when it’sworkplace chemicals, and other poisons. They use a tradi- over, it’s really over.tional community organizing model: canvassing neighbor- A third campaign is organized each May to follow uphoods by knocking on doors, sitting at kitchen tables, with remaining major donors and prospects, but this one12 MAY /JUNE 2007 • GRASSROOTS FUNDRAISING JOURNAL
  2. 2. is limited to a few senior staff. The rest of the staffcanvasses through the summer, improving their door- Sample daily schedule forknocking skills and building up the membership base. the first week of the campaign 2. Devotion to the numbers. During the campaign, all 8:45 – 8:55 AM Introductionsgoals are stated and tracked numerically (see the campaignanalysis chart on page 14). Each staff member begins with 8:55 –9:15 AM Phone practicea list of between 55 and 70 members and is expected to 9:15 –10:30 AM Phone callsreach half by phone during the first week, with the goal of 10:30 –10:45 AM Debriefscheduling 15 to 18 visits for the second week. These num- 10:45–11:00 AM Breakbers are tallied and discussed at the end of each work day, 11:00 AM –noon Storytelling workshop:so a dose of daily accountability is built in to the process. How to collect and shape our stories 3. A commitment to storytelling. Everyone is encour- noon –1:30 PM Donor meeting training: Puttingaged to tell and develop their own stories — why they’re together all the pieces for the first askpersonally involved, why they do the work — and trained 1:00–2:00 PM Lunch; write confirmation notesto elicit stories from the members. They all learn and tell for scheduled meetingsorganizational success stories. According to consultantValerie Reuther, who helped Toxics Action to develop and 2:00–3:00 PM Phone callsperfect this approach, even the pitch —“why you need to 3:00–3:15 PM Debriefgive now” — is framed as a story. 3:15–3:30 PM Break 4. A “culture of practice,” in the words of executive 3:30–4:30 PM Donor meeting training: The close anddirector Alyssa Schuren. Training week feels a bit like boot second askcamp: a typical 12-hour day includes repeated role plays 4:30–5:00 PM Approaching renewals (previous donorinterspersed with actual donor phone calls, sharing stories visit) vs. upgrades (never been visited)from the organizational “story bank,” point-by-point 5:00–6:15 PM Phone callstraining on conducting donor meetings, followed by more 6:15–7:00 PM Dinner; write confirmation notesphone calls and role plays (see daily schedule). for scheduled meetings Every stage in the solicitation process is discussed,modeled, and practiced. “We break it down into very 7:00 –7:15 PM Phone practicesmall pieces,” says Schuren. “We learn them one by one 7:15 –9:00 PM Phone callsand then we put the pieces together.” 9:00 –9:15 PM Debrief; review daily and running totals Picture this: a series of practice stations encircling the of calls made, meetings scheduledroom dedicated to the most common telephone excuses— “I don’t have time to meet with you,” “Just mail mesomething,” and so on. During one training session, solici- 6. A culture of mutual support. Everyone is account-tors spend more than an hour rotating through these able for both individual and collective goals, but the cam-stations, practicing their responses until they feel prepared paign leaders — Schuren and development director Miato address any objection they might hear on the phone. Scampini — are encouraging and even gentle in their cri-After such rigorous training, the actual phone calls are tiques. People laugh a lot, especially at their own behavior.much more manageable. While facing difficult work together, a tangible esprit de 5. Persistence powered by a dose of realism. During corps is modeled and reinforced by the leadership. Mutualtraining-and-telephone week, staff members spend about support is built in at every15 hours total on the stage. For example, duringphone with the goal New employees are told that they will be donor visit week, three con-of scheduling their ference calls are scheduled15 to 18 appoint- accountable for raising money, and that so everyone has the chancements. That’s about they will also be trained and supported. to share notes, commiserate,one appointment and inspire each other.per hour, during which they also confront a lot of voice 7. Transparency in recruitment. Before they sign on,mail, the occasional wrong number, and a taste of rejec- new employees are told that they will be accountable fortion. Everybody is given clear expectations from the start: raising money, and that they will also be trained and sup-one meeting per hour is a good result, so keep working ported — and everyone, regardless of job title or seniority,your way through the list. If you make enough calls and will be doing the same work. Once hired, nobody cantalk with enough people, you’ll reach your goal. credibly complain that “Fundraising isn’t my job.” GRASSROOTS FUNDRAISING JOURNAL • WWW.GRASSROOTSFUNDRAISING.ORG 13
  3. 3. 8. The courage to ask for much bigger gifts. Toxics TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?Action members who have sent in $50 checks are gener- This model, which works very well for Toxics Action,ally asked for $1,500 during the meeting; those who have also has its quirks and disadvantages.sent $100 checks are asked for $2,500. The result: during Lots of time, no dependents. All current employees arethe fall 2006 campaign, the average gift was $538. These under the age of 35; none have children or other depend-visits can lead to even ents. (This hasn’t always been the case —larger contributions toward the end of his tenure, the formerover the years, as Each donor meeting is, in effect, executive director was raising three kids$500 donors increase an organizing meeting. — but the staff has always been rela-their gifts to $1,500 tively young.) Yes, they have lives outsideor more. of Toxics Action, but they also have enough flexibility to Scampini tells a typical story: “It was a working-class participate in a two-week fundraising blitz with severalneighborhood. The family had previously given $45; 12-hour days and lots of travel. Of course parents canthe man was a surveyor and his spouse worked as a home- travel and put in long hours — many do — but with youngmaker. Looking around their house, Ihad my doubts, but they had both beenactive in our local campaign, so I asked Fall 2006 Campaign Analysisfor $1,500. The husband said, ‘We werethinking about $500, so why don’t we In this chart showing the results of Toxics Action’s fall campaign, themeet in the middle and we’ll give you wide range of individual results — average gifts ranging from $85 to$1,000.’ I was blown away — but this $1,716 — reflects a variety of factors, including the previous giving historyhappens to us all the time.” of the donors, the difference in response rates and gift size from donors who 9. Embracing the wisdom that had been visited previously compared to those being visited for the first time,fundraising equals organizing. If you and the varying levels of experience, comfort, and aptitude of the solicitors.calculate staff expenses in the cost per At Toxics Action, the usual practice is to pair the most generous donorsdollar raised, the Toxics Action model with senior staff, who in many cases know them personally from previousstarts to look less profitable. But this campaigns. In this instance, the executive director focused on top-tieranalysis misses the larger point: every renewals, generating more than half the money raised (and skewing thecontact with constituents is a chance to averages in the process). This approach provides a kind of insurance policydeepen commitment, strengthen rela- for the organization — it makes sense to match your best solicitors with yourtionships, and encourage members to best prospects — but the unintended consequence is a harder slog foraccept responsibility for the health and everyone else. It might make sense to team up seasoned staff with lessgrowth of the organization. Each experienced askers when going out for some of the bigger gifts, for a two-on-donor meeting is, in effect, an organiz- one approach. Although it would take the less experienced staff away froming meeting. Fundraising provides some of their own visits, this approach might propel them into more suc-another opportunity to sit with mem- cess. Nonetheless, even when the two primary fundraisers (executive direc-bers in their homes, ask about their tor and development director) are removed from the equation, the non-concerns, discuss how they want to fundraising staff averaged $243 per visit — a very respectable result for aparticipate to address those concerns, grassroots organization.and involve them in the work. This method also helps the staff to PROSPECTS YES, MEETINGS TOTAL AVERAGE GIFTbecome better organizers. They STAFF POSITION TO CALL WILL MEET NO MAYBE COMPLETED RAISED MEETINGimprove their listening skills, discover Executive director 26 25 1 0 22 $37,755 $1,716the value of persistence, and learn to Development director 100 27 25 2 25 $11,430 $457speak about the organization in a com- State director 57 19 17 1 16 $9,630 $602pelling way. If for a similar campaign Organizer 70 17 12 1 17 $1,451 $85you wanted to recruit board members Organizer 58 15 16 2 12 $3,860 $322and other volunteer leaders to join Organizer 61 16 22 3 12 $1,270 $106the campaign, they would gain the Organizer 57 13 26 0 13 $1,770 $136same skills while expanding the poolof askers and potentially reducing Administrator 61 13 17 2 11 $1,735 $157your costs per donor reached and Totals 490 145 136 11 128 $68,901 $538dollar raised.14 MAY /JUNE 2007 • GRASSROOTS FUNDRAISING JOURNAL
  4. 4. children at home, it could be challenging to honor this • Recruit a smaller staff team. Rather than takingcampaign schedule. every staff person off their other work, you could focus on Staff turnover. The flip side of employing a relatively development and executive staff. According to traineryoung and childless workforce is that they tend to relocate Valerie Reuther, you can reach “critical mass” for a cam-more frequently than the general population. New staff paign like this with as few as three or four staff solicitors.must be recruited and trained all the time, which means Other lessons from the Toxics Action approach canthat donors often be applied to your fundraisingmeet with different program even if your program doesn’tsolicitors each year. You can reach “critical mass” for involve such concentrated campaigns.However, the group’s a campaign like this with as few Here are a few:major donor income • Share the numbers. For thosealso rises each year, as three or four staff solicitors. who don’t do it every day — and forso although this situ- some who do — fundraising is myste-ation is a challenge for the group, it does not seem to be an rious. Require time at staff meetings and retreats to talkobstacle to the success of the campaigns. about where your money comes from. Discuss the pros Limited board involvement. Toxics Action has had and cons of various types of nonprofit income. The mes-limited success in engaging its board or other volunteers sage: by providing more money, especially unrestrictedin these campaigns. Because most of their board members income, a successful major gifts campaign benefits every-have jobs and family commitments, it’s hard for them to one, regardless of job title.join in such rigorous schedules. However, board members • Collect and share stories. Successful fundraising isdo provide prospect names, contribute money themselves, based on compelling stories. Every organization needs aand occasionally participate in donor visits. “story bank” that details the group’s history and accom- plishments along with the individual and collective storiesADAPTING THIS APPROACH FOR YOUR of the participants. All staff members can contribute, evenORGANIZATION if they do no direct fundraising. Although the Toxics Action model may seem daunt- • Build a fundraising component into everyone’s jobing — very few nonprofits can shut down the office for description. Even if you can’t corral your entire staff intotwo weeks while the entire staff raises money soliciting big gifts, how can— perhaps you can redesign it to meet the Successful fundraising is based you match theirneeds and circumstance of your group. Hereare a few suggestions to spark your thinking: on compelling stories. talents and pas- • Reduce the time commitment. Spend two sions to yourdays on training and phoning, and three days on visits, for fundraising needs? Perhaps they could participate in aa total of one work week instead of two. This approach donor visit by sharing a story, and then listen and learnmight work well for local groups where most constituents while someone else does “the ask.”live within the neighborhood, city, or county. The When fundraising is left solely to the developmentfundraising days don’t have to be consecutive — you could staff, it reinforces three all-too-pervasive myths: thatdo training and calling one week and schedule donor fundraising requires specialized skills or a unique person-meetings for the following week, with a few days of regu- ality, that it’s not the “real work,” and that it’s somehowlar work in between. demeaning or corrupting. Let us pledge to destroy these • Spread out the time commitment. For example, you myths once and for all. Requiring that everyone on staffmight dedicate half of everyone’s work hours for a month, participate would be a great way to start. GFJwith scheduled time for collective training, phoning, anddonor visits. As a variation, you could devote four or five ANDY ROBINSON IS A CONSULTANT AND TRAINER BASED IN PLAINFIELD,consecutive two-day-per-week blocks of time to this work, VERMONT. HIS LATEST BOOKS ARE BIG GIFTS FOR SMALL GROUPSsay every Wednesday and Thursday for a month, divided AND GREAT BOARDS FOR SMALL GROUPS, PUBLISHED BY EMERSON &among training, calling, and donor visits. If any of your CHURCH. YOU CAN REACH HIM AT WWW.ANDYROBINSONONLINE.COM. SPECIAL THANKS TO VALERIE REUTHER FOR HELP WITH THIS ARTICLE.board or volunteers can make a regular time commit-ment, this might be a viable strategy for involving them. GRASSROOTS FUNDRAISING JOURNAL • WWW.GRASSROOTSFUNDRAISING.ORG 15