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Time to Get Serious: 5 Things to do For a Better 2017 (By Andy Reeher)

I was meeting with a group of Vice Presidents from a network of private liberal arts colleges two weeks ago. They asked me to prepare some thoughts on what should be the top New Year resolutions for Advancement professionals. As I went back over the insights that our analysts and customer success team compiled in 2016, I came back to one basic truth – to change a situation, there needs to be a change in effort, efficiency, or resources. For organizations that are already working very hard, and where resource levels are fixed (and in many cases shrinking), it comes down to efficiency. In short, organizing the way that work gets done. This is the primary role of management – to organize the work.

We have known for a while that institutions have vast untapped potential for more major donors. We can see the way that the annual giving landscape is changing. It is an environment where there is great potential to do more. Yet, there is a wide range of basic productivity across an industry that works in basically the same way. As we turn the page on a new calendar year, I’d like to tell you what I told them: given the stakes, it is time to get serious about a few areas where a change in process can lead to big changes in outcomes. I picked 5:

    • Get serious about first time visits – Best in class make over 30 per full time per officer per year
      We know that it takes five first time visits for every first time major gift. We also know that meeting new major gift prospects is one of the harder things to do as a gift officer. With all of the demands on campus, and the comfort of the known and reliable relationships, combined with the fact that new relationships take dedicated effort to identify and establish. Leaders need make sure that this goal receives as much attention as hitting the officers’ “total commitments” target.
    • Get serious about using proposals to manage officers, as well as prospects – It is the backbone of prospect management & gets officers externally focused
      The proposal object in your database is the place where you keep track of the solicitation cycle you are planning to start. It is where you record who and when you plan to ask, much you plan to ask for, as well as the purpose of the gift. Besides providing the basic information for booking the gift when it comes in, when used correctly, the proposal record can be a powerful organizing tool for managing gift officers. When used as part of a structured solicitation process, it can be part of officer planning, pipeline conversations, and is, of course the basic tool for prospect management. Reeher estimates that nearly half of all institutions don’t use proposals effectively. This may be the biggest single step an organization can take toward higher major giving performance.
    • Get serious about simplifying segmentation and increasing focus on likely non-donors – Many organizations could do better with more spending on traditional channels and less focus on young alumni donations and donor acquisition
      The fact that the landscape is changing for Annual Giving is not news. The workhorse channel of phone is changing, and organization spending on direct mail hasn’t keep pace with the market. Day of Giving, and Crowdfunding tools are exciting, but also time consuming, and without more management bandwidth, draw precious attention away from the old channels that still have lots of room for improvement. The most common opportunity we see is an over emphasis on the roles of LYBUNTs and new donor acquisition, while underinvesting in SYBUNTs and Lapsed donors. These can frequently be made more consistent through better targeting. The biggest challenge is that complex segmentation over-solicits some who are far less likely (like the 22 year old LYBUNT who made a senior class gift), and those more likely SYBUNTs (like the 40 year old who has given 4 or 5 times in their life, but cut their land line two years ago).
    • Get serious about the middle of the gift pyramid – It is where most of your officers will make their biggest impact
      Board members want to know who are going to replace them as sustaining major donors a decade or two from now. Most first time major donors are making commitments that are significant to them, but not to you. A $25K or $50K gift doesn’t do much against a multi-million (or billion) campaign goal, but you can be sure that usually there is more money where that came from. This means actively moving conversations through proposal and systematically cultivating those relationships with a long-term perspective. Another important role for someone besides the gift officer (their tenure is typically less than 3 years) since the relationship will need to be stewarded and reassigned through periods of officer turnover.
    • Get serious about talent management/development – You may need fewer officers than you think
      Our research shows that over half of full time gift officers raise less than $500K. Certainly there are many contributing factors, but our data shows that officer performance profiles show up early in an officers tenure, and that through active diagnosis, and coaching more officers can be successful. It also means that you won’t have the cost of the missed opportunities of assigning good prospects to weak officers.

To summarize, there are substantial and important opportunities for organizations of all sizes to raise more money and spend less doing it. It comes down to the focus of management. Let us know if you’d like to learn more about how the Reeher Community is helping our customers unlock new potential.


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