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Season 2, Episode 57

Never gotten a million-dollar gift? If your organization has never received a really big gift, why would you think you can have a successful campaign? Campaign experts Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt tell you why.

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Amy Eisenstein:
Never gotten a million dollar gift? If your organization has never received a really big gift, why would you think you can have a successful campaign? We’re going to tell you.

Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein and I’m joined by my friend and colleague, Andrea Kihlstedt.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Hi, everybody. Good to be here with you.

What Are Leadership Level Gifts?

Amy Eisenstein:
Today we’re going to talk about leadership level gifts and why they are the key to successful campaigns. But what should you do if you’ve never gotten a gift that’s six or seven figures? Organizations that have not yet raised big gifts can be successful. We actually see it all the time, and many of our clients prove that to be true again and again and again. So if you’re wondering how they do it, you’re in luck. We’re going to tell you.

Let’s start with a definition. When we discuss leadership level gifts, we mean the top 10 gifts that will total 50% or more of your campaign goal. Andrea, why don’t you give us some examples?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah, let’s just take a minute and imagine. Let’s imagine that your organization is going to build a new building, and maybe add to your endowment and maybe start a new program. And all together you need to raise $10 million. That’s a nice round number, the math is pretty easy on it.

If you have a 10 million campaign goal, you’re going to need a gift at the top of that campaign. The biggest gift you need is going to be at least 20% of $10 million. Well, to be safe, let’s say 25% of $10 million. So you need a two and a half million gift if you’re going to raise $10 million. That’s a big gift. You probably have never before gotten a gift of $2.5 million. You’ve probably never before asked for a gift of $2.5 million maybe.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Why you’ve never done it? Because you’ve never had a project of this size. But in addition to a $2.5 million gift, you’re probably going to need a couple of gifts of a million dollars and maybe three or four gifts of a half a million dollars, maybe five or six gifts of a quarter of a million dollars.

Now if you were to add all those gifts up, I promise you it’s going to come to well over 50% of your goal. And those gifts, at those levels, six and seven figure gifts, are what we refer to when we talk about leadership level gifts.

Amy Eisenstein:
Excellent. And, of course, they can be scaled up or down. If you are doing a million dollar campaign or a hundred million dollar campaign, just add or subtract to zero.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
It’s all in the zeros, right. It’s all in the zeros.

How to Attract and Secure Leadership Level Gifts

Amy Eisenstein:
It works the same way. Alright, so let’s share a few things that listeners need to do to attract gifts of that size and scope. What should they do?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Alright. The first thing that you’re going to need to do is you’re going to need to have a project that is big enough and exciting enough to attract the energy and enthusiasm of your donors. The reason your donors probably haven’t given you at that level may not be that they don’t have the money, but because you’ve only asked them for annual operating gifts and that’s not particularly exciting. It wouldn’t make sense for someone to say, “Oh, you’ve asked me for $10,000 for an annual operating gift. I think I’ll give you $2 million.” That would make no sense.

But now you have a project, you have an exciting project, and the project is big enough so you actually can ask some of these people for really big gifts appropriately. One of the ways to start by doing that is to make a list of the people who might be your top donors, top level donors, and engage them in developing your campaign plan.

Actually you might be even engage them in thinking about what your project is and get their advice on it. A feasibility study is a standard way to do that with top level donors, but there are many other ways as well.

Amy Eisenstein:
You can actually get some of these donors and leaders in your community involved, even before you’re ready for the feasibility study, sort of in pre pre-campaign conversations as you develop a plan. And then you really test the plan and the case with them through the feasibility study.

But either way, as you go along the process, the point is, bring those donors in early in the planning process. Get them involved, engaged, ask for their feedback, and they’re literal and figurative buy-in.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
The second thing you’re going to want to do is to put together what we call a gift range chart. Now the numbers I was talking to you about before are the beginning of a gift range chart, and this chart, you’re probably familiar with it, shows the numbers of gifts you need at what levels in order to get to your goal.

Now many people see that chart and don’t pay it much attention, but it’s actually incredibly interesting and important. Almost no donors want to think that they are the only people contributing to a campaign. And when you put together a gift range chart that shows how many people are going to be giving at what level, it gives a level of security to anyone who decides to make one of those top-level gifts. They see they’re not going to be alone in doing it, and they see the numbers that you’re going to need in order to reach your goal.

So that gift range chart that shows one gift of 2.5 million, two gifts of a million, four gifts of a half a million and so on down, is incredibly important as a tool for your campaign. You’ll come back to it again and again to help you not only secure those top-level gifts and make your donors understand where they fit in that larger community of donors, but really to help organize the entire way you move through the campaign from top down to the bottom.

Amy Eisenstein:
I think you explained that perfectly. I mean, often you talk about a gift range chart as the roadmap to your campaign, and it’s true. And when donors see the gift range chart and where they fit in in the context of other people’s giving and the context of the campaign, it really points the way forward.

Excellent. Alright. Our third point or way to attract gifts of that size is being fully committed to engaging and asking people in a personal one-on-one way. Sometimes we’ll get people calling us, they want to do a campaign and they think they’re going to send out a mailing to raise the money, or that they can do a series of events to raise the money.

There’s nothing personal or one-on-one about sending bulk mail or emails or having events, and that is not the way to the leadership level gifts, to identify, to solicit the leadership level gifts.

You really need to make sure that you have people at the top of your organization, your board chair, your campaign chair, your executive director or CEO, and a development director, who are competent, capable, willing and able to solicit those top gifts in a personal and meaningful way. You’re just not going to get them otherwise.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Amy, I have a wonderful story about that. One of our Toolkit clients a couple of years ago called us up and they said:

“We have a project. We have to raise about $2 million, and we created a fancy brochure and we sent it out to all of our donors.”

Amy Eisenstein:
This was before they were a Toolkit client that they did this.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
This was before they were a Toolkit client.

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
This was not what we recommended they do.

Amy Eisenstein:
That’s right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
They sent it out to everyone. Now they had a lot of donors, and they sent it at low levels. And they sent it out to every one of their donors, with a letter asking each of their donors to give $10,000. They figured that if some percentage of their donors gave $10,000 that they would reach their $2 million level. They had thousands of donors so they spent a ton of money actually doing that. I mean, just the postage alone was a ton of money.

Amy Eisenstein:
And so I said to them, “Oh, well …” They were telling me the story, I asked them what happened. They replied:

“We got two checks for $10,000.”

Out of that whole mailing they raised $20,000. And they spent more on printing and postage —

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes.

Amy Eisenstein:
— that they did what they got back.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And they said to me, they said, “We need help. This didn’t work. What are we going to do?” We worked with them to create a plan, just like the one we’re talking to you about.

We created a gift range chart. We began to identify the donors. We did some prospect research to identify the donors who could give at the top level. We engaged them in the process. We went and they solicited them individually. And fast forward about nine or 10 months and they actually reached their goal. And they raised their goal and kept right on fundraising. They just kept your approach.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes, it’s so important. These leadership level donors really are the key to successful capital campaigns.

I want to take a quick break for a minute and just remind you, if you’re enjoying this podcast, I hope you will click to follow so that you get notified of all future episodes. You can also learn more about this topic and more on our blog at capitalcampaigntoolkit.com. I hope you’ll sign up to follow us and get lots of free resources that we have on our website. Alright.

3 Must-Do’s to Raise Leadership Level Gifts

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Let’s review the three things you need to do if you’re going to get really big gifts for your campaign, because you’re going to need really big gifts if your campaign is going to be successful.

  1. Engage top donors early
    First of all, you have to engage your top-level donors in your community early on, before the campaign. They have to feel like your campaign is their campaign, and we can’t stress that enough. There are many ways to do that and it is so important. That means you need to be thinking about your campaign long before you’re ready to ask everybody for gifts, because you need to involve these top level donors then.
  2. Develop a gift range chart
    The second is you need to develop a gift range chart, showing the gifts that you need at which levels. Let me say that again. You need to develop your gift range chart, which shows the gift you need at various levels to get to your goal. And that’s not just a chart that’s out there. It’s a chart that’s going to help your donors understand what you need and where they can fit in your campaign. So it’s an incredibly important tool for you to work on.
  3. Engage top donors personally
    And the third is to be fully committed and ready to go out and cultivate and engage and ask those top donors for money for their campaign gifts in highly personal ways. There’s nothing more effective in fundraising than that. And with those three strategies, the chances are very good you’re going to have a successful campaign.

Amy Eisenstein:
Let me just say one more thing about the gift range chart, and that is that the gift range chart, while similar from campaign to campaign, is definitely not one-size-fits-all. It depends on your donor base and your community.

An organization with a fairly small donor base, like maybe a K-12 school, a private school, might have a steeper gift range chart. Fewer donors at the bottom, needing larger gifts at the top. Versus an organization like a Cancer Society that has broad range appeal in your community, it touches many families or most families. You might be able to have a slightly broader gift range chart.

And so it is not one-size-fits-all. And if you want a sample, a gift range calculator, specific instructions on how to do that, we of course have that available for our members inside the Capital Campaign Toolkit, and we do hope you’ll check it out.

Capital Campaigns are Top-Heavy

Capital campaigns are top-heavy. That’s what this topic has been about. They depend on very few gifts at the top of your gift chart to raise a bulk of the money, and we want you to know that simply because someone hasn’t given you a large gift in the past or the size gifts that you’re looking for, doesn’t mean they won’t in the future.

If you want to learn more about this or if you need help with your campaign, getting started on the right foot or moving in the right direction, we hope that you’ll head on over to the Capital Campaign Toolkit website and sign up for a free strategy session.

Thank you for joining us, we’ll see you next time.

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