By: Joe Chickey
Fundraisers know that finding wealthy prospective donors is a vital component to successful efforts. But identifying the individuals you believe have the capacity to become key donors is just the first step. Finding ways to interest and involve these potential donors with your organization can often be a bit more challenging and is central to the process of encouraging and completing planned gifts.
During my time serving a major medical center in Chicago, for example, we developed a successful strategy both to identify potential donors and later to secure meaningful gifts from these individuals, whether current or deferred. During the quiet phase of our capital campaign, we asked our board of directors to take a leadership role in establishing five new health “Institutes” designed to highlight specific healthcare programs. Each Institute was chaired by a board member who worked with the development office to identify six potential committee members
who were the board member’s peers and qualified prospective donors.
Well-focused charitable intent is critical to any fundraising initiative.
Cultivation is key
Over the course of the next two years, we were dedicated to the cultivation of these newly involved committee members. We organized quarterly visits to the hospital with each group to highlight our strengths and illustrate our needs. We asked committee members what issues were important to them and then designed the tours with the committee members’ interests in mind. For example, each visit by members of the Heart Institute featured a different cardiologist with a specific area of expertise.
At the end of this cultivation period, our board leaders served as “natural partners” and solicited each committee member personally in a peer-to-peer format. Our development team worked with them to determine the right amounts for each gift solicitation. The board members were more than willing to help. Only one board member initially indicated he would prefer not to be the solicitor; however, after the first “yes” seemed so easy, he willingly took over in the second meeting.
Having a board member ask a peer for a gift worked really well. For instance, our Heart Institute committee was chaired by the CEO of a major company, and his committee included other CEOs. Having one CEO ask another CEO for a gift was very effective. As an added bonus, we were able to ask this group for both corporate and individual gifts.
Creating committed donors
Each of these individuals made gifts directed to the Institute he or she had been a part of. These donors helped create the program and consequently felt invested and wanted to do what they could to help it be a winner. Once the committee members were committed to giving, we had the opportunity to explore the best format for the gift. Thirty percent of the gifts we received from this effort included a planned giving component.
As someone who has spent the majority of my career in the gift planning arena, this experience underscored to me the fact that well-focused charitable intent is critical to any fundraising initiative. The motivation for a gift must of necessity be developed prior to the structuring aspect. The most well conceived gift plan will rarely be realized without first focusing on “who” the donors are and “why” they are most likely to give. With major and planned gifts in particular, the decision to give is often emotional in nature and is typically restricted to a specific purpose that holds great importance for a donor