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A Major Gifts, Fundraising-Results Perspective

With 40 years in philanthropic fundraising – 1/3 on staff and the balance as a campaign, major gifts, strategic planning consultant – what are the lessons I’ve learned and try to impart to others?

First, some background.

My first-ever fundraising job was as a contract consultant to turn around a stalled endowment campaign for the Ravinia Festival (summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra).

I was completing my doctorate at Northwestern University, we had a small daughter, and I needed a job. My advisor, Bernie, brought me into his office and announced I had a job interview with the Ravinia Festival in 5 days. He described the need to complete their challenge campaign – there were in a 3rd and final year of a $1.5 M NEA challenge grant to raise endowment and hadn’t made any progress at all. I told Bernie that I didn’t know anything about fundraising. He said: “Read a book; and get ready for your interview.” I found a great book in the Northwestern University library – Cardinal Principles of Fundraising.

Six days later I was Ravinia’s endowment campaign consultant on a 3-month revolving contract.

One year later we achieved the goal and I was officially a philanthropic fundraiser.

What did I learn?

1) Focus on major gifts
♦ 80% to 95% of a capital campaign’s gifts come from the top 20% to 5% of your donors
♦ I see all fundraising through this major gifts lens

2) Fundraising is a process not just about asking for money
♦ This led me to develop The 6 I’s of Philanthropic Fundraising

3) Pay attention to fundraising books like Principles as fundraising is the school of hard knocks
♦ I reread Principles every 3 months that first year and more books and magazine articles – this inspired my book, Winning Gifts: Make Your Donors Feel Like Winners (Wiley)

4) Keep your eye on the goal line and gently, but aggressively seek fundraising results
♦ Be a closer; remember that for most donors a “no” means “not yet”
♦ My experiences in arts fundraising where I was responsible for more than half of the operating budget has stayed with me throughout my career

5) Involve fundraising volunteers as nothing surpasses the peer ask
Use current and past operating and foundation board members and others willing to invest their time and money in your success
♦ Their ownership and involvement will lead them to give more
♥ And, remind them they need to give first before asking others

6) Create and continually polish your case for support
♦ Use a pitch deck to show donors the power of your story and their investments with you
♦ Listen deeply and interactively to feedback from your fundraising volunteers and donors
♥ Their values and perceptions are all that matters

7) Set your own personal metrics and monitor them weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly
♦ If a staff leader, be the role model to help your team members grow professionally
♦ If on staff, be an island of excellence
♦ Track your time to ensureyou stay focused on donor relationships and $

What lessons have you learned over time?

Please send in your comments and stories.

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