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Season 2, Episode 39

Campaign experts Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt talk about a simple tool that gives you a peek at whether or not your campaign is likely to be successful.

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, May 16, 2022. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Hot topic today, and it’s a topic called depth charts. Some of you may never have heard of a depth chart, and there was a time in my career when I hadn’t heard of a depth chart. I hope that all of you know what a gift range chart is, or some people call that different things, but that’s the chart that shows how many gifts you need at what giving level in order to reach your particular campaign goal. And not all gift range charts are created equal. Not all of them are developed the same way. The size and shape of a gift range chart has a lot to do with the size and shape of your donor base, with how your organization is configured. So some organizations have gift range charts that have a very narrow base at the bottom and they have very, very large gifts at the top.

Some organizations have very broad donor bases and they have proportionately some more gifts at the bottom than these little narrow, narrow charts. So gift range charts, we often think of those as being one of the fundamental tools of a capital campaign. Once you figure out how much money you need to raise, what your working goal is, then the next thing you do is to take that amount of money, that goal, and you create a gift range chart from that. You figure out what the top gift is, and then you figure out how many gifts you need at which levels going down.

Now why am I talking about gift range charts when the topic for today isn’t gift range charts? It is depth charts. And that’s because sometime, not at the very beginning of my career, when I had been doing capital campaigns for a while, a colleague of mine who actually is now a Capital Campaign Toolkit advisor, said to me, “Gee, Andrea, I think you’re missing a really important tool when it comes to capital campaigns, and that is a depth chart.” So I said, “Tell me.”

Amy Eisenstein:
What’s that? What’s that?

What is a Capital Campaign Depth Chart?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Tell me what a depth chart is. So here’s what a depth chart is. When you look at your gift range chart, it says you need one gift of X number of dollars. You need two, let’s say it’s a $10 million campaign. Maybe you need one gift of $2.5 million, and two gifts of-

Amy Eisenstein:
$1 million.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
$1 million, and four gifts of a half a million dollars. I mean, we’re just throwing out numbers, but that’s essentially what a gift range chart does. A depth chart takes that information and flips the axis.

So on the top of your page, you’re going to write the size of the gifts. So you’re going to create columns, and the first column is going to be your $2.5 million column, and the second column is going to be your $1 million column. And the third column is going to be your half million dollar column. You’re going to take the numbers on your gift range chart and put them on the top of column headings going across your page, so that you can see how many … Well, and then you’re going to say, “All right.” Next to those numbers, you’re going to say, “Well, how many gifts do we need? How many gifts do we need of $2.5 million, of $1 million, of a half a million dollars?” Pulling it right from your gift range chart.

Now I’m going to add one more complicating factor and that is that every gift range chart doesn’t just show the number of gifts you need at that level, but it also shows the number of prospects you need per gift because it’s a rare campaign where every person you ask for a gift of a particular size says yes. I actually did have one of those once. I really did. That’s a different story. But mostly what happens is that you ask four people for a gift of a $1 million and maybe one of them will say yes, and maybe two of them will says, “Well, I’ll give you … ” One of them will say, “I’ll give you a half a million.” And one of them will say, “I’ll give you a quarter million.” And maybe one of them will say, “I can’t give at this time.”

So for every gift, you need multiple prospects. All right, so that’s what sets up your depth chart. So again, across the top of your page, you’re going to set up columns across the headings on each of those columns are the same numbers as the giving amounts in your gift range chart. And then you say, “How many gifts do we need for that particular amount and how many prospects do we need to get those gifts?” And then guess what you put in those columns, well, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you put the names of people of your prospects who are qualified for you to ask for gifts at those levels. And when you’re finished filling out that chart, guess what, you have a roadmap for your campaign. Not only do you know what gifts you’re going to be asking for, what gifts you need, how many gifts you need at that level, how many prospects you need to get that gift, but you also have taken a deep dive into your database and you have put in each column who the qualified prospects are for each of those gifts.

If you had nothing more than that for you capital campaign and you were really disciplined about going and soliciting those gifts from the top all the way through your chart, you would have a pretty good structure for your capital campaign.

Depth Chart: How Deep of a Prospect Pool

Amy Eisenstein:
So I just want to make sure everybody understood. I think you gave a crystal clear explanation, and without actually showing it to people, you painted a perfect picture. But let me just add a few things. So Andrea clearly said for each gift that you need in your gift range chart, you need to identify more than one prospect or potential donor for that particular gift. So we estimate that for most gifts in your capital campaign, you need between two and four potential donors or prospects, qualified prospects. And so if you need a gift of $2.5 million as your top gift, you need two, three, maybe four people that you reasonably believe that you can ask and that might actually give that amount, that you will ask for that type of gift.

And so that for each … And Andrea is saying depth chart, it’s how deep of a prospect pool. That’s the depth part. Right?

How deep does your prospect pool go for each gift?

If you need a top gift of $2.5 million, and you can’t come up with any names of people, or companies, or foundations in your community that you reasonably believe might and realistically could give that gift, then you can say you probably can’t get a gift of that size. And you may need to either adjust your gift range chart or scale back your campaign.

If on the other hand you say, “Okay, we need one gift of $2.5 million,” and you can put down 10 names, you might say, “Hey, we might get a couple gifts in this range, and maybe we can raise the goal.” So it really does give you a very specific picture of how you’re going to do right from the onset. You need to have more than one, more than two, for many gifts, prospects for each gift that you need because as Andrea said, not everybody’s going to say yes, and not everybody’s going to say yes at the exact amount you ask. And so this is a tool, the depth chart, along with your gift range chart, that really is the roadmap to your campaign.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So what turns out, once Paula explained to me that this is what I needed, this is what my campaigns were missing, it was like a light bulb went on in my head. It was like, “Oh, of course.” If I were actually to work with my clients to figure out how to populate that chart, that simple columns, that simple set of columns, with the names of qualified prospects, I would have a pretty good roadmap. I would have a pretty good idea what I’m doing. But the question is of course: Where do you come up with those names? How do you figure out what names belong in what column?

Amy Eisenstein:
Good. I was going to say, you’ve used the word qualified a few times, so let’s discuss what qualified means.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Let’s talk about that.

ABC-Qualified Donors for Your Depth Chart

Amy Eisenstein:
How does a donor get qualified to be on that list? And honestly, we use a handy little acronym, it’s not just us at the Toolkit, but lots of fundraisers use. It’s an ABC-qualifying process. You want to start, or you want …

All right, let’s talk about what it means to be ABC-qualified:

  • A = Ability
  • B = Belief
  • C = Contact

A is for “ability.” Do you think they have the ability, the financial ability, to make the kind of gift that you’re looking for? And what might indicate that? Well, they may have given gifts, other gifts of that size, to other organizations in your community. They may have made million or multi-million dollar gifts to the local hospital, to their church, to their university, to other campaigns in your community, so that would be your first indicator that they have the ability to do that. You may know other things about their assets, or finances, or career that might give you an indication, so A is for ability.

B is for “belief,” and this is really important. B, do they believe in the mission, the cause, the project? Can they get behind it? Can they feel passionate about it? Does it mean something to them? Do they care enough to make that kind of a gift?

And C is for “contact.” Do you have contact with them? And this is what sometimes trips people up. These aren’t strangers. These people aren’t out there somewhere that you’re hoping to meet them. It’s not MacKenzie Scott, or Oprah Winfrey, or Bill Gates out there somewhere. You need to have contact with these people. And my rule of thumb is: If you call or email these people, will they get back to you? Right? And maybe not on the first try, but the second try. Right? It doesn’t mean that they have to all you back or email you back immediately. But will they respond to you or somebody else at your organization? If the answer is no, there is very little chance, I would say no chance you’re going to get a gift or a significant gift.

So they have to be ABC-qualified. They have to have the financial ability. They have to believe in the cause. And you have to be able to contact and communicate. C could be communicate with them. All right. Anything else you want to add before we wrap this up?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, I just love the ABC qualification. And it turns out to be incredibly useful, so I want all of you to remember it because when your board members, chances are they have no idea where this money is going to come from. And they probably think that you can somehow find your way to MacKenzie Scott, or to Bill Gates, or to Oprah, or to somebody rich and famous, and that rich and famous people are somehow magically going to give to you.

This ABC formula is a way to help people understand that’s not real. And it’s really simple, you can remember it, ABC. People can remember it. When you explain that you need all three of these for someone to be a qualified prospect, it begins to sink in to board members and other people in a way that I have found nothing else quite does. So then if you’re meeting with your board for example, you can have a … Do we still have flip charts? Do we still meet with people in person?

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes. Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
You can have whatever kind of flip chart you want, and you can get people to put down, okay, let’s have as big a name as possible of the donors in our community. Who do we know who we think of as a donor in our community? Now let’s look and see. How many of these people are A, are qualified A? How many of them have the ability to give? Well, we put them down because they’re donors at a significant level. They’re all A. Now how many of these people do we know have a reason, we think they have a reason? We believe that they’re interested in our mission. That’s B, that they believe in our mission. Right?

And then who in the room knows them well enough to call them up and they’ll get back to them? That’s C. So you could actually add ABC, and all of a sudden, you have a list of qualified prospects. Then of course, you can go back into your depth chart. Yes, that’s what we’re talking about. And you can say, “Well, let’s figure out who’s going to fit in the first column and who’s going to fit in the second column.” You may want to bring in a prospect researcher if you don’t know enough about people. You may want in a room to say, “Well, who do we know in our community who has given away gifts of $2.5 million or more before?” What do we know about so and so? Do we think that they have the capacity to do something like that, and they might consider it? So this is just a super-practical way of getting very, very serious about your capital campaign.

And if you’ve been planning a campaign to raise $10 million and you have no idea who could give you $2.5 million, and no idea who would be qualified to give you $1 million, and no idea who would be qualified to give you a half a million dollars, guess what, the chances are you are not yet ready for a $10 million campaign. It’s really that simple. You don’t need a massive feasibility study to tell you that. Right? You an just look right close to home and say, “All right, we don’t have qualified donors, or we do have qualified donors.” This looks like a good idea. I don’t want to end on a negative note, but this is just such a practical way. And my friend, Paula Peter, who introduced this to me, really just turned my head around to something that was so simple and clear and practical, and it’s sort of where the rubber meets the road about capital campaigns.

How to Find ABC-Qualified Donors

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I want to suggest a flipped … I think there’s two ways to look at this, and you should actually do both. So Andrea’s suggesting starting out brainstorming a list of all the philanthropists in the community, and then figuring out. Do they believe in the mission? Do we have anybody who knows them? So absolutely you definitely want to do that. You also want to run a list of your most loyal and biggest donors out of your database because you know what, those people are already B and C qualified, so they believe in the mission, they’re already loyal donors. They’re already large donors. You have contact with them. They communicate with your organization. They send checks in. They send their credit card. And then you need to research them and figure out. Do they have the ability to make these really large gifts? So you should do it both ways, actually, starting from CBA, and then ABC. You can go backwards and forwards and both ways to identify the best qualified people who are going to fill out the top of that depth chart for your campaign.

So we’ve been talking about these two tools, primarily the gift range chart and the depth chart. And if you’re interested, of course they are tools in our Capital Campaign Toolkit. I would encourage you to visit our website, captialcampaigntoolkit.com, for these and so many other tools. We have examples for free on our blog and other places. But you can join and become a member of the Capital Campaign Toolkit and get all of these resources and our support for your campaign as well.

Case Study: Community MusicWorks

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I want to share one more thing. So many of you heard over these months that I have been working with this organization in Providence, Rhode Island, Community MusicWorks, Hilary is sometimes on this call. I’ve been working with them for just about three years now on their campaign. Right? And I talk to them regularly, just a simple phone call regularly. And the campaign has done very well and I went up there on Saturday. They kick off the public phase of the campaign. They have raised $13 million on a $15 million campaign. It was thrilling to go up there. But when I think about the calls we’ve had, what have we done in these calls for three years?

We have gone through the depth chart one donor at a time, or actually, two or three donors at a time on every call. We discuss two or three donors, and we have done that for about three years now. And it has paid off. They have raised the money, and every one of them has been a careful, strategic conversation:

  1. What more do we need to know about this person?
  2. What’s the best way to approach them?
  3. Who’s going to move ahead in what way?
  4. What [specifically] do we need to do?

And really, when you strip everything else away from capital campaigning, that’s what it comes to, having a clear plan and executing on it. And that’s what my lovely client in Providence did. It was such a thrill to be there and see where the building was going to be. But that’s really exactly what happened. That’s all these years, once a week, one hour at a time. And then they executed on those calls.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. But I just want to make sure. You’re being modest. I mean, they went from thinking they were going to raise around $8 million to now having raised over $13 million. And that’s because —

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That’s how well it works.

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s how well it works. I mean, honestly.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
That’s how well it works.

Amy Eisenstein:
They raised their goal by more than 50% over. They went so far over their goal. And they’re still raising money, and that’s because they’re strategic and thoughtful and intentional and methodical about it, with the use of these very, very simple tools, honestly. That’s what it comes down to. All right, great. That was a great discussion of depth charts. I think we went deep into depth charts.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Deep, deep depth charts. Right?

Amy Eisenstein:
That is excellent.

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