By Andrew Robison, President of Petrus Development
The key ingredient in every great development officers recipe for success is the same…a relentless focus on face-to-face visits. There are certainly a number of other annual targets and goals, but if you can get in front of donors and prospects at least 180-200 times per year (or even more), all the rest of the goals will fall into line.
So why are face-to-face visits so important for successful development efforts? It all comes down to a process called Moves Management. There are four types of visits which constitute the process of Moves Management: Qualification, Cultivation, Solicitation and Stewardship. Regularly meeting with donors and prospects for visits is what allows development officers to intentionally develop strategies to move them closer to a major gift to the organization. That may sound a little complicated (or to some, calculating) but it’s really quite simple. Getting to know your donors and learning about their passions and capacity will allow you to more fully engage them in financially supporting your organization.
So let’s discuss these four classifications in more detail.
It all starts with Qualification visits (also known as Discovery or Introduction calls). These types of visits are, generally speaking, your first contact with a prospect or donor. The purpose of these visits is to meet with an individual and determine if there is enough interest and major gift potential to invest more time and energy developing the relationship. All of us have limited time and resources and at some point, have to focus on the people with the interest and the capacity in making a major gift. Essentially, in these calls, you are qualifying them as major gift prospects or not. How would you go about doing that? It’s all about the LIA: Linkage, Interest and Ability.
Asking questions about how your prospects and donors are connected to your organization will help determine their Linkage. Are they an alumnus? Do they have children or grandchildren who were impacted by your programs? Have they given to your organization in the past? Asking questions about what they love or hate about your ministry will help uncover their Interest. Do they understand your mission? Does the vision and programming of your organization resonate with them and spark their passion? Finally, asking strategic questions, and oftentimes just simply through observation, you can learn a lot about most people’s Ability. What kind of car do they drive? What line of work are they in? Do they vacation overseas very often. This is not to say that all wealthy people will generously support your cause, and that people of simple means can’t be your most committed donors, but in the Qualification process we are trying to determine potential and a person’s financial Ability is an important piece of that equation. As Tara Doyon, Director of Stewardship and Development at St. Paul Catholic Center at Indiana University and Petrus Consultant, explained it, “A qualified donor is an eligible individual or institution who CAN and WILL make a donation to your organization.”
The second stage in Moves Management is Cultivation. These visits can look wildly different from organization to organization and even from day to day. A Cultivation visit is really any step that moves a donor closer to making a major gift. Cultivation visits can be one-on-one meetings with a prospect, but they don’t have to be. Over the course of my career, I have met with individuals in offices, living rooms, baseball games, football games, Mass, Advisory Council meetings, Happy Hour and even once at a cattle auction. There are no rules regarding where you can conduct a Cultivation meeting. As long as the personal relationship between development officer and donor moves forward and they learn something more about the organization, that is a cultivation visit.
A common question that new development officers ask is how many cultivation visits a prospect or donor needs before they can be solicited for a gift. Well, it depends (Ha! Typical consultant answer, right…). Some individuals need very little cultivation before they are ready to make a major gift. They understand the need, they have the desire and they want to make a difference now. I once worked with a donor who made a $1M gift within four months of meeting him for the first time. He knew what he wanted to do and it was just a matter of matching his pursuits with the right project at our institution. For individuals who may not be as far along as that, that is where the role of the Cultivation visit comes in. These occasions should be spent in genuine relationship-building mode. Development officers need to be prepared to learn about our donors families, what sports their kids play, what schools they graduated from, where they like to vacation and more. They need to be able to learn about their donors’ interests and passions. And they need to know how they can best match the needs of their organizations with their donors’ desires to make a difference. Mark Randall, Executive Director of Advancement for the Pontifical North American College defines cultivation as, “The long process…of building a relationship…that will sustain a request…to invest in your mission.” I think this perfectly captures the idea of this piece of the process and the importance for long-term success.
Now we get to the heart of development work, the Solicitation. As development officers, we are asked to do a lot of different things. Write letters, send thank you notes, plan dinners and galas, and more. However, none of these activities will ever be as effective or as meaningful as sitting down with someone one-on-one and asking them to prayerfully consider a major gift to make a significant and sometimes transformational impact in your ministry. Sometimes, “making the ask” can be intimidating, but looking at this step with the right perspective can change this act from something scary to something beautiful and meaningful. Going on meetings, inviting people into our lives, building relationships is our ministry. This is how we invite people into partnerships with our organizations when they can’t be physically present. Believing that we are offering opportunities and not asking for money can truly change this experience for both parties, and we owe that to our organizations and to our donors.
So what does a Solicitation meeting look like? These appointments can be conducted anywhere and in a number of different ways, but a real Solicitation means that an individual is asked for a specific amount of financial support for a specific purpose. I typically advise development officers to utilize a written proposal when making a solicitation. This accomplishes a couple things. One, it gives newer development officers the confidence to go through with an ask even when we are nervous about it. It also demonstrates professionalism to our donors and shows that this request was given significant thought and preparation before being made. And it gives our donors something that they can take home and read through later if they are not ready to respond immediately. A proposal can be one page or it can be twenty pages…it just depends. A few things to consider would be the culture of your organization, the specific project you’re pitching, the personality of your particular donor and your own style. The important thing to remember is that the proposal can be an excellent tool to make the Solicitation more effective but should not be used to replace the personal connection between development officer and donor and the power of that personal appeal.
A final point on making the ask comes from Peter de Keratry, CFRE, Executive Director of Stewardship and Development for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and CEO of Petrus Development, “Use short, clear sentences and then…BE VERY QUIET. Once you have made the request you must let the Holy Spirit work in the silence. If you are nervous, your natural reaction may be to talk more. But, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel, you must, respectfully, let the potential benefactor speak first.”
The final classification (and possibly the most critical for building sustainability) is Stewardship. These types of visits can be as varied in style as Cultivation visits, but the key element is that you as the development officer are expressing gratitude for the donors gift or gifts. We do these Stewardship visits because they are the right thing to do for showing gratitude and accountability, but there is also a very practical side of Stewardship. Taken from the 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Project, “only 46% of donors make a gift the year after their initial donation; so increasing your retention rate just 10% could result in 100% growth over four years, EVEN if they only give the same amount.” Going back to my earlier example of the $1M donor, working with him moved pretty quickly from Qualification to Solicitation, but after he made his commitment, we then spent the next several months and years Stewarding him and his gift. By investing in the relationship after he had signed his pledge form, we showed that we were serious about the project that he was funding and not just happy to get a gift. That went a long way in solidifying the relationship and giving him the best possible giving experience. Some development guides recommend thanking your donors seven times for every gift. That may be a bit of overkill, but the sentiment is right…be overly thankful for gifts that your organization receives and you will receive more gifts.
So now that you understand the terms, let’s talk numbers. How many visits should a full-time development officer plan to go on in a year? And how many of each type? A good goal for number of face-to-face visits in one year is 180. This doesn’t mean seeing 180 unique individuals, as we’ll very likely meet with some people multiple times. For development officers who have support staff and aren’t required to also handle gift entry, annual fund and stewardship activities, that goal should be at least 200 and possibly even 240. As for how many of those visits should be Qualification, Cultivation, Solicitation or Stewardship visits, every year is going to be a little different. Ideally, we would be attempting to split these four types of visits equally with 25 percent in each category. That said, new development officers will be heavy on Qualification visits because they don’t know anyone yet. However, in year two and year three, development officers can ramp up their number of solicitations because they have been working to move their donors through the process and now they are ready for a proposal. So the specific numbers and ratios will change from year to year, but the overall goals should remain the same. Committing to these goals will ensure immediate and long-term major gift success in ways that no other activities will.
So in closing, Moves Management is more than just a set of rules and steps. It requires adopting a philosophy and mindset that the most fruitful activity that development officers can do every day, every month and every year is to get out of the office and meet your prospects and donors. This will lead to stronger relationships between donors and organizations and a more fulfilling giving experience for everyone. Mike Perkins, President and CEO of Heroic Media, says, “True philanthropy is giving with JOY in our hearts.” As development officers, when we know and understand who our donors are, we have the distinct privilege of being part of that joyful giving process in a special and profound way. I challenge you to treasure that responsibility and be the kind of development officer who works hard every day to meet your donors and help make their giving experience their greatest one ever.
Andrew N. Robison is President of Petrus Development. He has worked for over 13 years in development roles in Catholic campus ministry, higher education and academic medicine. Andrew works with organizations of all sizes to build sustainable development programs that allow them to better serve their constituencies.
"In a conference, what I'm really looking for is the practical TOOLS on how to do your job well and the MOTIVATION to go out and be ready to get back to work. I've gotten both of those things from Petrus. I'm really excited to get back home and HUSTLE and really put my all into it."