A guest post by Amy Eisenstein of Capital Campaign Toolkit
Are you a monthly giver to organizations you believe in? If so, you know what monthly giving is like. Every month, you see the charge on your credit card. Periodically you get reports—either in print or through email—about what the organization is doing with your money and everyone else’s. Occasionally, you get an invitation to a special event. Toward the end of the year, you get a notice about how much you have given for your tax records.
But rarely, if ever, do you get a call from the DD or a board member or even a thank you note that feels like anything personal. However, you keep right on giving. Why?
Because you know the organization does important work and it would take something big to shake your confidence. Your giving is on automatic pilot.
Now, the naysayers will argue that this kind of giving is bad for major gift fundraising—and capital campaigns are the supreme version of major gift fundraising. They argue that donors get trained to give at amounts that are well below what you might otherwise ask for during a major campaign.
That’s true as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough.
The Same Donors Give Recurring Gifts and Special Gifts
You will understand why monthly giving is good for capital campaigns when you think carefully about the difference between recurring gifts and special gifts. For in that idea is the magic sauce of great fundraising.
Monthly giving is the ultimate form of recurring gifts. Like all gifts that support your annual operating budget, they are needed year in and year out. The concept is that people will give at an amount they believe they can sustain over time.
I first understood this concept when I was standing in front of a donor plaque in the lobby of the athletic facility at the college where my husband taught. I knew many of the donors to the college. And looking at the donor listing on the wall, I saw the names of many of the wealthiest people in town at the $1,000 level. Only when I realized that the plaque recognized people for annual contributions did it make sense.
Those wealthy people who gave $1,000 each year also give much larger gifts to support the college’s capital projects. The same donor listed for a $1,000 gift on the annual funding plaque was also listed at the $1,000,000 level on the donor listing for the capital campaign.
Bingo! Donors give at modest levels for recurring gifts and at much higher levels for special, occasional projects.
The recurring gifts build a long-term relationship and commitment to the institution. The special requests enable them to make transformational gifts every once in a while. Just because a donor gives a monthly gift of $50 or $100 doesn’t mean that they won’t also make a gift that is many times that amount occasionally for a big special project.
Capital Campaigns Don’t Cannibalize Annual Giving
Monthly donors who give to your capital campaign will keep right on giving even when they make a second, very large gift. And that’s why capital campaigns aren’t likely to cannibalize your annual fund.
Again and again, we see that the very same donors who give recurring gifts for years are the donors who give extraordinarily large gifts to capital campaigns now and again. When they are asked for very large gifts for a special project, they understand that you won’t expect them to make that huge commitment year after year. And they calibrate the size of the gift accordingly.
How to Turn Your Best Monthly Donors into Capital Campaign Donors
- Identify your top 50 donors. Capital campaigns depend on a relatively few very large gifts for their success. In a typical campaign, the top 20 donors will give more than 50% of the campaign goal.
Turn your monthly giving into a glide path for your capital campaign by identifying your top 50 donors who are recurring givers and treat them particularly well. Use the many research tools available to you to identify those 50 donors. Look at their capacity, giving patterns, and values.
Select those people for white glove treatment. Invite them to meet your president. Communicate personally with them. Send them insider information. Thank them more diligently.
- Get to know those top 50 better. Beyond better stewarding their support, actively set out to get to know them. Find out why they give and what they enjoy giving to. Learn enough about their history and background so that you develop instincts about them. Learn how they like to be asked for gifts. Determine who in your organization should build a relationship with them.
- Treat those top monthly donors well. Don’t let their monthly giving experience replicate the one I described at the beginning of this post and simply put them on auto-pilot. Pay more and better attention to them even while they are giving at a lower, recurring gift level. Personalize and target your communications to this unique segment.
- Involve those top donors in your project and campaign planning. One of the keys to securing the top gifts to a capital campaign is to find ways to involve your top prospective donors in the early steps of planning the project and your campaign.
You might invite them to a small group meeting with the architects, for example, to give some early feedback about the design. You might invite them to review an early draft of your case for support. You might involve them in the feasibility study—either serving on that committee or being interviewed for the study.
- Ask them in person for a big gift they will want to give. As you get to know those donors you will learn how they like to give. You’ll learn about other gifts they have made. You’ll develop instincts about what size and kinds of gifts they like to give. And then, when the time is right, you’ll be able to ask them in person for a gift to your campaign that fits their patterns.
Use Your Monthly Donor Relationships to Get Ready for Your Campaign
When you ask someone for something they want to do, chances are they’ll say yes. So use the pre-campaign period to identify, research and cultivate your best monthly givers so when you are ready to ask them for a campaign gift you’ll know what to ask them for. It makes simple sense, doesn’t it?
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Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders running successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.