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Three Fundraiser Fundamentals to Master

Vice President (FORMER)

Fundraising, the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization, is an essential, metrics-focused activity conducted by both professionals and volunteers. As degree programs, professional associations, and academic research in the field become more prevalent, the result is an increased professionalization and sophistication of our work. But as we strive to evolve with the changing environment, we would be remiss to forget the foundational components of a successful fundraising practice. Whether you are new to the field, a volunteer, or an experienced pro, here are three fundamentals to master along your fundraising journey.

Be Prepared

While you’ll never know everything about your constituents, there are a number of key questions to consider as you prepare to engage with a donor or prospect. What do you know about them? What is the objective(s) of your email/phone call/meeting? Where do you hope this relationship will lead?

Here are some key criteria to review before contacting or meeting with your donor or prospect:

  • Constituent’s name
  • Affiliation(s) to your organization
  • Spouse/partner’s name
  • Location (city/state)
  • Number of years of giving
  • Lifetime giving total
  • First gift (amount, designation, and date)
  • Largest gift (amount, designation, and date)
  • Most recent gift (amount, designation, and date)
  • All existing contact reports
  • Google search (do a quick Google search before outreach or visits to identify recent headlines and/or to uncover additional information)
  • LinkedIn (do a quick LinkedIn search to see if you have any contacts in common)

Write Contact Reports

The number one lesson in Development is that a donor’s relationship is with the institution, not with you. So it is important to document that relationship for your tenure at the institution and beyond. Not only will your current and future colleagues appreciate your dedication to this practice, but you, also, will be better prepared for second, third, and fourth donor visits when you can reflect on your notes from the first.

The key to writing effective contact reports is to do them right away. Easier said than done, right? To stay on top of this practice, focus on jotting down key points in a bulleted list with a consistent format immediately following an interaction. You won’t always be by a computer, so get in the habit of using your smartphone’s notes app (or even old-fashioned pen and paper) to draft contact reports.

Here is a practical format that you can use to make writing contact reports simple yet informative:

  • Donor Name and Affiliation: John Smith, alumnus
  • Meeting Date: 2/16/23
  • Meeting Location: Peet’s Coffee, New York, NY
  • Meeting Objective: Thank John for loyal annual fund support and solicit $100K endowed scholarship in honor of parents.
  • Meeting Outcome: John will discuss the endowed fund with his wife and would like to speak again in two weeks.
  • Next Steps:
    • Send John sample endowment report
    • Email a thank-you note and schedule meeting for the week of 2/27
    • Let Professor Gold know that John said hello (ask if he’ll drop a line to John)
  • Details (note key indicators of wealth and inclination):
    • Kids are both doing well. Freshman and junior in high school this year.
    • Jodie (wife) is working again and loving it.
    • John was recently promoted to partner at his law firm.
    • The celebration of life for both of John’s parents was incredibly special and attended by nearly the entire town.
    • John and Jodie are looking forward to celebrating their 25th anniversary with a Viking cruise through Eastern Europe in May.
    • The entire family plans to attend John’s 30th reunion on campus this fall.

Say Thank You

The form and formality of expressing gratitude are often in relation to the size of the gift and the donor’s wishes. But it is important to remember that every interaction with a donor or prospect is an opportunity to express gratitude – to thank them for their time, for their recent gift or their many years of giving, for sharing their insights and experiences, or for making a connection.

Philanthropy is a choice, and your donors, prospects, volunteers, and supporters do not have to choose your organization. So when they do, you want to leave them feeling like their choice was worthwhile.

The key is both to operationalize and personalize the way your organization thanks your various constituents. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Establish a system for immediate acknowledgment of gifts received. Identify a threshold at which gifts of a certain amount receive a personalized note or signature from an organizational leader.
  • Produce an annual donor report, either in print or online. (Ensure you have policies in place for how you list names and recognize donors who prefer to be listed as anonymous.)
    • To personalize further, send a few copies to your donor noting the page where their name is listed. This will make it easier for them to find, and they may be inclined to share copies with family or friends.
  • Circulate daily or weekly gift reports to your Development team to ensure managed prospects are personally acknowledged with a note or call.
  • Partner with your communications, marketing, and/or stewardship teams to produce stories, highlights, or events recognizing and thanking donors for their contributions. When appropriate, incorporate the donor’s motivation and gift amount to inspire others.

When it comes to achieving success as a fundraiser, practicing, revisiting, and mastering these fundamentals are critical steps to authentic engagement and increased support for your organization.