Moving from Event-Driven to Major Gifts-Oriented Strategy
Adapted from a 2018 Webinar by Karin Olsen, Daniel Otto, Adam Blanchard and Kristin Barsness
What drives the greatest return on investment? Research states a relationship-based major gift donor will provide a greater lifetime value to an organization than the consistent ebb and flow of a lower-level, transaction-based donor. However, organizations continually make special events the heart of their fundraising strategy. Here’s what you need to know if you are considering making a change from an event-driven to major-gifts oriented strategy.
Events vs. Major Gifts
Events typically generate a slow revenue growth. With an event, you can increase revenue by 5-10 percent a year. But a major gift of $25,000 or $200,000 could generate a much larger increase in revenue. The high cost and time-consuming nature of planning events generally result in a low return, while major gifts have been shown to produce a better cost per dollar raised and higher return on investment.
Events are inherently transactional, while major gifts are considered relational. Major gifts are not bound by a timeline, but are built upon relationships. Major gifts are about understanding people’s passions and figuring out how to partner their interests with an organizational priority.
Events are good at creating volunteer opportunities, and in many cases, this serves as a portal for others to join the organization as prospective leaders or major donors. But a major gift strategy allows fundraisers to engage and educate hospital administration members, the board and medical staff. Often, events act as a public relations and messaging platform, while major gifts support the organization’s long-term growth.
Moving Forward with a Major Gifts-Oriented Strategy
So how do you make the transition from events to major gifts? It’s important to note that you don’t have to eliminate all events immediately to implement this strategy. Instead, introduce events as a vehicle and a step in the process, rather than a solution.
Here are six steps that will help you begin the major gifts-oriented strategy:
- Understand Where You’re Starting
The first step is to understand where and why you’re starting the transition to major gifts. Provide data to back up your reasoning and be prepared to present the information to key stakeholders. Do a SWOT analysis (identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), and then develop a plan with a budget and financial projections. Be sure to determine how you will measure the success of the major gifts strategy.
- Build Internal Consensus
One of the most important things to do is train your CEO, CFO and key staff so they understand why it is beneficial to reduce or eliminate events. Speak their language and put your reasoning into terms with which they resonate. Review your analysis, projections and goals to help them get on board with the transition. Think through any potential tough questions and have answers prepared.
- Build External Consensus
Reach out and seek input from all key stakeholders. Building a task force and recruiting a volunteer as your spokesperson can help guide the process of change. Remember to be respectful. Volunteers who feel their power and identity have been swept away without consultation can easily undermine your efforts. It is impossible to please everyone, but make sure you have people on your side supporting the transition.
- Launch Your New Strategy and End the Old
Now is the time to execute your plan. Decide if you are going to eliminate an event or reconfigure it to be more relational. Build your major gifts strategy and program simultaneously. If you wait until the event work is finished, you will not have enough time to build your pipeline. Gather feedback from your key stakeholders and report back on the success of your new strategy. The more you communicate with them about the results from major gifts, the more they will understand the reason for the change.
- Get Some Wins
Don’t expect to see success overnight, but it is critical to get some early wins. Make it easy to involve your CEO, medical staff and volunteers in major gift activities, and make them feel valued for their contributions. Celebrate all major gifts, and recognize those who made it happen.
- Use Events Strategically
Determine what your primary goal is, and use your events strategically to help achieve that goal. Organize pre- and post-event strategies with your major gift team and events team. This will help cross train your events team on the art of major gifts. Develop event strategy with your volunteers, CEO and medical staff. For example, have them placed in strategic ways at your events and have them complete three moves with three different prospects. Be sure to follow up with them after the event to gather any information and use it as a tool to further the major gift strategy.