The first week of the year is usually a bear at work. But not in 2009. A large national foundation made a significant gift earlier this week to a Midwestern nonprofit organization I’m counseling. The $500,000 gift will benefit the organization in several important ways.
It qualifies the organization for consideration by the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation in Tulsa, which makes challenge grants to capital campaigns in select states. Mabee requires organizations to have raised half of their capital dollars before submitting proposals, a threshold the Midwestern organization has met as a result of the recent national foundation gift.
The significant commitment also will enable the organization to leverage other important potential gifts. Beyond the Mabee Foundation, the nonprofit now is clear to approach the Sunderland, Walker and Kresge foundations, all of which have encouraged it to apply after half of its goal has been raised and – ideally – for support in response to other significant gifts.
Even the uninitiated fundraiser would know $500,000 gifts aren’t secured overnight. Whether from individuals, corporations or foundations, they require significant education and cultivation. The Midwestern nonprofit cultivated the foundation that granted it $500,000 earlier this week for more than two years.
My counsel to it and other organizations seeking major gifts always emphasizes the importance of patience. But I also encourage them to be thoughtful and strategic about what they do in the period that can truly set them apart – the time between their initial contact with the prospective donor and the point at which they submit a formal proposal.
The Midwestern organization distinguished itself in three ways:
It kept the prospect informed. Just because you’re not ready to formally solicit a gift doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with a potential donor. Let him or her – or your contact at a foundation or corporation – know about other significant support. Include in your updates information about who helped you secure the gifts, how they will advance your campaign and where you’re focusing next. Such updates keep prospective donors informed and build a sense of ownership, both of which will bode well when your formal proposal’s being considered.
It expressed appreciation. Let prospective donors know how much you appreciate all the good they do. I call this unrelated acknowledgment, because you’re acknowledging good deeds and qualities in ways that are unrelated to your formal proposal. Look for good news in newspapers and magazines, listen for it on the television and radio and keep your ears open in the community. Then clip the article or record the good news and send a note of appreciation to the prospective donor.
It enlisted peers. As chance would have it, a member of this Midwestern organization’s campaign volunteer leadership team is a longtime friend of a decision maker at the foundation that gave $500,000 earlier this week. At key points during the proposal preparation and consideration process, she made contact with her friend and encouraged her consideration. One of the greatest assets volunteers bring to the fundraising process is relationships. Take time to learn about and use them for your organization’s benefit.
Gifts of $500,000 don’t happen every day. Many nonprofit organizations never receive them.
Regardless of your fundraising goal, the strategies above can lead to significant philanthropic support.
Give them a try.
Matt Beem is president of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.