• Columns Fundraising

Gift Planning: Critical Concerns in a Changing Landscape

The landscape for non-profit fundraising is ever-changing. This is true for capital development campaigns that include: annual operating support, program-specific, capital for buildings, endowments (building maintenance, program or operating support), or comprehensive of all types. This landscape is influenced by social media, the economy, tax legislation, technological advancements, board and staff leadership, development team staffing, and marketing efforts to reach out to potential donors.

Early in my career, Peter Buchanan, former vice president for development at Columbia University, shared six crucial criteria critical for the success of a nonprofit organization’s advancement program. By paying attention to these areas of concern, a reasonable review and audit of the development effort can be assessed:

1. Leadership: board, chief executive, chief advancement officer;

2. A clear strategic direction and mission;

3. A positively disposed constituency;

4. A clear, strong, persistent, and sustained message over time;

5. Budget and staff enough to support the face-to-face interactions between advancement leadership and its constituency; and

6. A culture of urgency, in which the organization moves rapidly to achieve its goals.

Interpreting and understanding assessments of these six elements of a program in the context of the changing fundraising landscape is helpful to build off of strengths and shore-up areas needing to be more effective in order to execute a successful capital resource development program.

The role of effective leadership at all levels is essential for fundraising success especially in an environment of constant change. A prudent duty of care is owed by the board of directors to assure that the goals, budget and staffing are appropriate for success. Some boards rely on staff and/or independent consulting counsel for guidance and recommendations relative to key factors of goals, budget and staffing. The chief executive and advancement officers for fundraising manage the process of raising the capital that will support the vision for ongoing mission success.

Board member involvement is anticipated and expected providing their leadership, personal giving, and solicitation of potential gifts. The old adage of “get, give or get off” has been articulated behind the scenes but can be more appropriately stipulated in job descriptions for board members outlining their expectations relative to their assistance in the development staff efforts in raising funds.

Board members who have enjoyed a successful business careers may often compare what they have experienced in corporate sales with fundraising. There are similarities as well as key differences between the sales environment of the for-profit sector relative to fundraising on behalf of non-profit missions. For example, both sales and fundraising rely on building a relationship with the customer/donor. However, the financial “quid pro quos” for the customer, commissions for the seller and other unique sales strategies that are often utilized in the for-profit context are considered inappropriate, unethical or a disqualification for the charitable deduction in the nonprofit fundraising context. Indeed, the Model Standards of Practice of the Charitable Gift Planner (Principle Ten) promulgated by the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners and the American Council on Gift Annuities states that, “Gift Planners shall, in all dealings with donors, institutions and other professionals, act with fairness, honesty, integrity and openness. Except for compensation received for services, the terms of which have been disclosed to the donor, they shall have no vested interest that could result in personal gain.”

The organization’s strategic plan must articulate the goals for the organization that respond to existing and emerging needs in fulfillment of its mission. Ultimately, the strategic plan is created by the leadership of staff and the chief executive officer with review, input and approval by the board of directors.

Development teams have the challenge of delivering on fundraising campaign needs and priorities set by leadership. This invariably leads to the question by leaders and prospective donors as to what funding is truly needed to keep pace with the market. Prospective donors presented with information explaining strategic plans that enhance programs and remain competitive in an ever-evolving environment will decide how they can have impact and make a difference with their support.

If a constituent donor-prospect group is given the opportunity to come to terms with change and perhaps even contribute to the organization’s planning, then change is more likely to be beneficial. However, like anything requiring interpretation and acceptance, if the change process is not well-managed, individuals who have insufficient input may object and decline support.

In our present environment, generational changes in constituent audiences are emerging as high-level potential donors age. For instance, the G.I. generation and the silent generation often had faith that leaders of charitable and nonprofit organizations would use contributions wisely and commonly gave to these organizations through unrestricted support. Today, the baby boomer generation (1946-1964, ages 72-54) may choose otherwise, designating or restricting use of their gifts by personal preference. In addition, these Boomer donors are increasingly using donor advised funds to facilitate their philanthropy. The lesson: knowing your audience, or at least getting to know your audience should be a critical ingredient for success.

How staff reaches out to connect, engage, and involve potential donors is the essential question! Most nonprofit leaders seek an approach to cultivating donor-prospect interest that encourages best outcomes. An approach may focus on building a strong relationship by connecting or reconnecting the individual with mission related current programs and engaging them with first-hand experiences. Such cultivation efforts may lead to the desire to get involved and an appeal for major gift support is a logical next step. Such a gift strategy can include a planned gift component for long term support.

Building the right staff framework and structure will be based on the budget constraints and fundraising environment that will change over time. Fundraising goals for an organization must be approved by the board of trustees following recommendation by the chief executive officer and chief advancement officer leading the outreach to prospective donors. Appropriate staffing that can implement all the ways of giving will likely depend on leadership experience, budget, and current funding needs.

Marketing and engagement efforts that give prospective donors reasons to become involved are essential. Finding the right leaders and budget to build a staff is a starting point. Present-day methods recognize that inspiring donors to make a philanthropic commitment requires an ongoing process of developing relationships. It also acknowledges that funds can sometimes be raised by simply asking individuals for support upfront early in a relationship. Which way is best for an organization is influenced by leaders, as well as by constituent audiences that are to be approached for support.

Constituent engagement over time will require the use of existing and emerging technology, direct mail, and personal visits to connect prospective donors with a mission-focused vision. Involving prospective donors so that they support the vision of the nonprofit. How marketing and communication takes place is influenced by the present environment in which the nonprofit exists and how leadership acknowledges change suggesting impactful adjustments going forward to accommodate the current circumstances. At the end of the day, urgency is what moves donors to act, giving them a reason to want to get involved! By being aware of changing landscape concerns in the environment, subtle adjustments can be the real difference in raising much needed funding for mission success.

Technological enhancements also open new ways to market and communicate with key audiences. It is now possible to track constituent groups and more effectively personalize messages to key groups by levels of interest. Social media is now a popular venue for Generation Z and millennials, who also respond to storytelling.

Obviously, the staffing levels of a development team have a major influence on how work gets done and how we connect with key prospective constituent audiences. Without adequate staffing levels, leadership may take a fundraising approach that is more transactional and less relational. For example, one leader who mandated that staff solicit a prospect by the third visit, whether the donor was fully engaged or not. In that situation, there were significant drawbacks, as some prospects made more modest commitments and others chose not to make a commitment at all. In that instance, the institution felt under pressure to raise funds as quickly as possible.

Change represents many positive aspects when accepted and well-directed. Whether in a campaign for annual operating support, program-specific, capital for buildings, endowments (building maintenance, program or operating support), or comprehensive for all these purposes, addressing new and emerging needs with appropriate fundraising goals and strategies is essential. We must embrace change as inescapable. As noted by philosopher Heraclitus Euripides: “Change is the only thing that is constant.”

Peter J. Ticconi Jr. is a speaker, researcher, author, and senior gift planning consultant for Columns Fundraising, with more than 40 years of experience. He is the founder of the

CANARAS planned giving group and served on the boards of the Planned Giving Group of New England and Chesapeake Planned Giving Council. He retired from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he was the executive director of gift planning and senior philanthropic advisor. In his over 40 years in gift planning, Ticconi has led programs at Connecticut College, Babson College, Saint Lawrence University, Williams College, and The Johns Hopkins Institutions. He has also served as the dean of alumni and development at Northfield Mt. Hermon School.

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