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Year-end development priorities

We know that many of our donors will make their gifts between now and the end of the year. What are the most important activities for our development staff during this time?

For most organizations, the flow of charitable giving is the greatest in December; in fact, that month alone may exceed the total of the other 11 months combined! Among other factors, year-end tax planning clearly drives this reality.

Here’s a list of key year-end priorities for the development office:

1. Get fund letters in the mail on time. Given the holiday season, most experts agree that letters arriving after the first week in December receive little attention. And, it goes without saying that your letter must reflect “best practices.”

2. An increasing number of year-end donors choose to give on line. If you allow such contributions, review your website. Is the case for support clear and compelling? Are all the clicks required to make a gift easy to follow? Do they work?

3. Review the names of your major donors carefully. Which ones tend to give in December? If you plan to personally invite a gift, be sure the timing of your request matches this pattern.

4. Which of your donors would welcome a personal call or visit at the end of the year? Those who have made large gifts are obvious. What about first-time or increased gifts? Others? Make lists, assign them to development team members, and follow through.

5. Have development staff fully available during the holiday season, including the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Answering technical questions, recording gifts and preparing receipts, thanking donors—all of these functions happen in spades in December.


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Assessing campaign readiness

My organization is considering a fundraising campaign. How do we know if we’re ready?

A successful campaign offers a number of benefits, including achieving important priorities that strengthen mission; raising the profile of the organization; building development capacity for the future; and establishing and strengthening relationships with key stakeholders.

A poorly planned and implemented campaign also carries risks, such as burnout of leaders and volunteers; too much emphasis on immediate results; loss of focus on larger mission and vision; a post-campaign fundraising lull; and long-term impact of failing to reach goals.

As these two scenarios suggest, it is essential that “all systems are go” before an organization attempts a campaign. Here is a checklist of key elements that will help you know if a campaign is in your near future:

  1. Do you have adequate commitments of time and support for campaign activities from the board, CEO and development staff? And do they understand and embrace the roles they will need to play?
  2. Do the goals and purpose of your campaign emerge directly from a formal visioning exercise or strategic plan? There must be a direct connection: the sole purpose of a campaign is to support mission.
  3. Are fundraising goals realistic and connected to related plans and budgets? A “pie-in-the-sky” goal helps no one.
  4. Do you have a compelling case for support? Why should donors care about your campaign priorities?
  5. Is competent staff in place in the development office? Staffing a campaign with inexperienced development officers who have no relationship with major donors and other key stakeholders is a tall order.
  6. Can you allocate adequate funding for campaign expenses? Campaigns can require 10 cents of every dollar raised to pay staff salaries, produce communication materials, organize special events, and more.
  7. Will you retain an outside consultant who can help create campaign strategies and guide board, staff and volunteers in implementation? To raise a lot of money in a short period of time, campaigns cannot afford to spin their wheels.
  8. Are you willing to invest in a formal feasibility study that helps determine if volunteer leaders and major donors are available to support the campaign? Particularly in today’s uncertain economic climate, such a study is essential.
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Creating a campaign budget

What are some “best practices” for building an adequate, accurate campaign budget?

When creating a campaign budget, we first stress the importance of careful accounting for all true campaign expenses. Doing so will give your organization the best picture for your campaign’s return on investment and will also help you truthfully answer a question donors often raise.

Campaigns are very labor-intensive. As such, personnel costs are by far the item of greatest expense in a campaign—often more than half of total costs incurred.

Here are the general categories often used in preparing a campaign budget (reference: Indiana University Center on Philanthropy):

a. Personnel

  • Development director
  • CEO
  • Consultant
  • Support staff

b. Communications

  • Brochures
  • Videos
  • Website
  • Newsletters

c. Research

  • Outside firm for grant research, prospect research

d. Special events

  • Kick-off event
  • Fundraising events

e. Printing

  • Letterhead, envelopes
  • Invitations
  • Pledge cards

f. Donor stewardship, recognition

  • Plaques
  • Special events for major donors

g. Volunteer training and support

  • Hospitality
  • Recognition
  • Training materials

h. Contingency

As a rule of thumb, the smaller the campaign goal the higher the percentage required for campaign expenditures. That’s because every campaign has both fixed and variable expenses, and the fixed costs—for example, new software that may be needed—are not affected by the dollars to be raised. Total campaign expenses may range from four to 15 percent of the goal.



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Mentoring for development professionals

Why should my organization consider getting outside help to mentor a new development officer?

For persons new to development, a well designed period of training and support can set the right course in a manner that yields best return with the shortest learning curve. This is especially important for organizations

  1. whose ongoing support relies on healthy relationships with donors.
  2. that are setting up a development department or position for the first time.
  3. that have hired a development officer with little or no previous experience.
  4. that operate on a small budget and can’t afford to sink funds into efforts that prove ineffective.

Advancement Associates specializes in assisting church related organizations to define an appropriate development function and find the right resources to make it happen.

Our approach is relationship centered, teaching fundraising as a service or actual ministry of the organization to its donors. We focus on appropriate techniques for identifying, cultivating and closing gifts in a manner that brings respect and satisfaction to the donor while furthering the mission of the organization.

A major component of the AAI plan is hands-on coaching. In addition to making regular onsite visits through an entire annual cycle of development activity, the AAI consultant is available in between visits for unlimited phone and email exchange.

Our coaching model also includes actual field work. The AAI consultant will spend time in the field partnering with the development officer in actual prospect and donor visits—mentoring, supporting, observing and giving feedback to ensure best relationship building and solicitation skills.

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Uncertain economic times

How should my organization and I relate with our major donors during uncertain economic times?

The key word in this question is “relate.” Creating and maintaining close relationships with major donors is a key activity for CEOs and development directors. And that priority shouldn’t change with the economy.

Think of major donors as your best friends. Yes, they are your largest financial contributors. But they also can support you with their ideas, questions, counsel and prayers.

During tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to know your major donors. As you continue to share the ongoing needs and achievements of your organization, listen with empathy to their concerns as well. They will be honest about their capacity to give, and will welcome your expressions of genuine concern and interest in their difficult, challenging circumstances.

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Visioning vs. strategic planning

What is the difference between visioning and strategic planning?

Visioning, while a critical first step, is only a part of the strategic planning process. If the vision is the desired destination, the strategic plan is how to get there.

To illustrate, when planning a vacation, we picture in our minds a particular experience at a specific destination. If it stops there, it is nothing more than wishful thinking. To make it happen, we need a plan that includes goals and action steps: What date will we leave? What route will we take? What vehicle will we need and who will drive? If we work the plan, we’re much more likely to end up having the desired experience at the chosen destination.

A strategic plan may be divided into a series of one-year plans, each of which outlines the steps to be taken that year. Plans will need to be evaluated and adapted to emerging realities in order for an organization to achieve its vision.

Read more on this topic.

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Board role in advancement

What is the board’s role in advancement?

Board members carry an important role in organizational advancement efforts. In an ongoing way, board members should expect to:

• Designate adequate resources for the advancement program, including personnel and budget, and review results annually.

• Consider potential board members who are experienced in fundraising or well-connected to possible funding sources.

• Partner with the CEO and staff to maintain strong, healthy relationships with all key constituencies.

• Host and/or be an enthusiastic presence at special events.

• As appropriate and comfortable, identify prospective donors, personally solicit gifts and thank individual donors.

• Be regular, generous contributors to the organization.

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Professional development opportunities

What professional development opportunities do you suggest for fundraising officers?

The Fund Raising School at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University offers a variety of valuable courses. These 1-5 day courses are offered in select cities nationwide and, in some cases, online.

A complete course listing is available online.

Fundraisers should also consider participating in a local chapter of the Association of Fund Raising Professionals or the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning. These monthly meetings offer speakers, updates on laws that affect the fundraising profession, networking with other fundraising professionals and potential mentoring opportunities.

Arranging for mentoring from a professional consultant is an excellent way for new development officers to shorten the learning curve and reach contribution goals. This is especially useful for fundraisers who work alone in a small organization.

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Budgeting for professional counsel

How can I justify hiring a consultant when money is tight?

We prefer to think of hiring a consultant as an investment versus an expense; that is, the cost must be weighed against what your organization stands to gain. A worthwhile consultant offers valuable skills and expertise that might be under-developed or untested within your own personnel. Additionally consultants provide objective analysis, accountability for tasks and deadlines, staff and volunteer training and access to other professionals. These are crucial ingredients for a well-run and successful advancement project.

Organizations who are unfamiliar with the consulting process and operating on an already tight budget will likely think twice about hiring professional counsel, especially during times of economic uncertainty. But “worth their weight in gold” describes those consultants who not only offer practical advice and skills, but who also share your values, embrace your mission and become trusted friends throughout the process.