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Keep an eye on the prize for major gifts

Published:  02/19/2016

Originally published in the February 19, 2016 AHP Connect

The following article is based on an AHP webinar presented on January 20, 2016, by Thomas Garrow, president of the Garrow Company, and Jeanne Jachim, president of the Virginia Mason Foundation in Seattle.

Donor-centered philanthropy endeavors to shift prospect cultivation toward the interests of donors rather than the needs of the organization seeking the donation. A donor-centered process can lead to larger gifts and more repeat gifts because it more fully engages and fulfills the donor’s need for recognition and desire to positively affect matters that are important to her or him.

In their recent AHP webinar, Tom Garrow and Jeanne Jachim present an approach to donor- centered philanthropy that emphasizes the value of uncovering what they call “The Prize.” Garrow describes the prize as “that experience of personal attention, demonstration of how much particular people (hospital CEO, doctor, nurse, etc.) value the donor as a person, public recognition and/or proof of impact that combine to reward the donor for making a gift.”

The prize is not material. It recognizes that philanthropy is a behavioral response to a set of needs, ranging from pure altruism to various degrees of self-interest—including the need for friendship, the need for recognition or the need to fulfill a sense of obligation to give back to the community.

Pull vs. push

Jachim characterizes this tactic as a “pull-system”— somewhat akin to the customer-centered experience of shopping in a grocery store—as opposed to traditional moves-management steps by which fundraisers try to push prospects to a point where a solicitation can be made.

“You start with this notion of what does the donor ultimately want to get to—what is their prize—and then you work backward,” she says, “so that you’re saying: What would it take to increase this person’s passion and engagement based on their own personal interest?”

To give structure to this approach, Jachim and Garrow draw on two complementary management methodologies: “LEAN” and “Design Process.” Both originated in the manufacturing and construction industries, but today are finding applications in a host of enterprises—from education and health care to philanthropy.

LEAN focuses on increasing quality and safety, increasing customer satisfaction, decreasing cost, eliminating waste and increasing staff satisfaction by reducing the burden of work. As applied to major gift cultivation, LEAN calls for achieving customer satisfaction by ensuring that the donor’s interest—the prize—is always the central driving factor.

Keeping one’s eye on the prize streamlines the prospect cultivation process. It empowers the major gifts officer (MGO) to more effectively customize and create a plan because what the donor wants has been clearly identified.

Identify unmet needs

So how do we discover the donor’s unmet need (the prize) so we can satisfy it? That is where the “Design Process” comes in—a methodology that starts with understanding and observing a situation, then leads to formulating and testing ideas and prototypes.

The phases of the Design Process proceed on a continuum. For the MGO, this begins by taking steps to understand and observe the behavior of potential donors, as well as gain insight into their points of view, who they are and what they care about. This calls for face-to-face meetings with the purpose of engaging, understanding and inviting prospective donors to take a next causal step in developing a deeper relationship.

Besides providing insight (ideation) into what might delight prospects if they make a gift (their prize), this knowledge helps determine if their giving capacity and interest actually warrant further action. Can you create a “causal path” that leads to a major gift?

If so, the next phases involve generating ideas for further engagement (ideation/prototyping/testing); summarizing progress; and providing detailed information about aspects of the hospital’s programs that interest potential donors, including visits and meetings with key players (physicians, director of medical programs, CEO, etc.).

Develop a plan

A key aspect of the LEAD and Design Process involves systematically documenting observations, steps taken and steps planned. Garrow suggests creating a strategy story board with panels for key players and their related causal moves, as well as dates for when each "scene" should occur.

At Virginia Mason Foundation, MGOs use a “prospect readiness” check list to ensure they cover information about each prospect’s background, interests and resulting “causal interactions.” They also carefully account for each action they plan to take with the prospect that leads up to the invitation to give.

Jachim and Garrow point out that MGOs often experience pressure and anxiety because they feel they are working alone at their craft. These written plans, or “iterations,” provide a structure for MGOs to collaborate and share plans and ideas with colleagues, hospital staff and foundation leadership.

By pursuing the donor-centric route, MGOs can increase the likelihood of delivering immense satisfaction to the donor (the prize) and securing significant major gifts for the institutions they support.

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