There’s a saying in fundraising that it is just as difficult to properly plan, cultivate and solicit a gift of $10,000 as it is $100,000. Often times, finalizing a major gift of any size will require the same amount of work and attention by your fundraising team. Assuming this is true, the real work for any development professional will come in the form of determining which story about the organization or impact of the gift will inspire a donor to give at their highest capacity. That story inevitably lives in your organization’s strategic plan.
The strategic plan is the biggest story you can tell about your organization. It tells where you are, where you want to be and how you plan to get there. It outlines your objectives and strategic priorities, identifies the stakeholders involved, and provides multi-year guidance on reaching goals. Most importantly, it highlights your current and future impact and vision – the good you’re doing through your work, the lives you’re changing, or the way you’re making the world better.
Telling the story of your organization from the standpoint of your strategic plan is also very different than telling the story from the standpoint of your day to day activities. Your organization’s day-to-day activities are governed by programmatic goals and priorities, and largely, those activities are funded by annual giving to the organization. While many people give to your annual fund program, it can be difficult to move donors from annual to major gift donors when the request is in the context of “You give more, we do more.” The story that inspires major gift donors has to be bigger than the actions of the organization – it has to speak to the vision and impact of the organization. And that story lives in your strategic plan.
How can you tell your story in a way that inspires donors? Here are some things to keep in mind.
Identify compelling offers for major gift prospects within the current strategic plan
A strategic plan is a great cultivation piece. It provides an opportunity to present your organization’s vision for the future, and embeds all of the topics which are appropriate to discuss with a major donor prospect. In evaluating your strategic plan to determine those components which can drive major gifts, stick to the big picture initially. Each of your strategic priorities tells a story in itself. The priorities for the next few years might be widely varied (operations, programs, growth, technology, capital expansion, etc.), but different priorities may inspire different donors. Have the priorities of the strategic plan in mind as you learn about each donor to determine which organizational priority may be closest to their heart.
Allow conversations with major gifts prospects to provoke strategic planning – with a caveat
Many organizations have strategic plans that provide a guide for three to five years into the future. However, we all know that circumstances can change drastically from year to year. Be sure that, regardless of whether you have a three or five year plan, you are updating it every year to account for those changes. Revisiting your plan annually allows you to consider questions or interests that arise through interaction with major gift prospects and donors; many times, they are questions or interests which your organization hasn’t thought of. Additionally, whether a donor prospect is raising novel ideas or not, engaging donors in the strategic planning process increases donors’ sense of leadership and participation with the organization, providing an extra cultivation touch point.
** Allowing donors to have significant input on your strategic plan does not mean acquiescing to any and all requests from donors. There is a difference between being donor driven and being donor responsive. Don’t let donor drive lead to mission creep.
Involve your fundraising team in the strategic planning process
Your fundraising team is connected to donors and hears frequently about donor’s funding priorities, their desired impact, and how they want to connect with the organization. Be sure to involve your fundraisers in the strategic planning process to ensure that the implementation plan for the overall strategic plan is something they feel will resonate with donors.
Raising the sights of your donors begins with telling a story worthy of your prospective donors’ increased attention, and with engaging your prospects deeply in relation to the emotional and due diligence thought process they will go through before making a gift. Your strategic plan provides that starting point. Go take another look at your strategic plan today to identify where you could utilize its story in your major gifts fundraising.