Note: Katy’s tips will be put into practice in the Major/Blended Gifts Track at the National Conference on Philanthropic Planning. Major gift officers who need gift planning practice—and planned gift officers who train major gift staff—will work together with the faculty (including Katy) to analyze the motives and options for a loyal donor seeking increased impact.
You’ve hired the right major gift officers. Inundated your new soldiers with information about your institution. Marched them out the doors into the arms of your donors. But have you equipped each one with the tools they need to be successful in securing planned gifts?
I interviewed 28 major gift officers serving higher education institutions across Colorado to learn about the hurdles that prevent them from having planned gift conversations. Here are the top five tools you can deploy to help your major gift team close more planned gifts:
Tool #1: The Confidence Helmet
While development officers are comfortable saying, “I don’t know” about a great many things, philanthropy is their craft. When opening a planned gift conversation, they fear not having all the answers, not using the right language, and getting caught in a conversation too technical for their expertise. Define for your development officers what they need to know (and what they don’t). Show them that they can confidently talk the talk without being an expert in the details.
Tool #2: Maps with Coordinates
We all want driven development officers, and we reward those who close big gifts often. Planned gifts can present a twist in this typical roadmap. Major gift officers are reluctant to introduce anything that might slow the gift conversation down: various giving vehicles, long time horizons, different funding assets. Provide your team with clear metrics to reward, not discourage, future gifts that will pay off decades after your development officer has marched off to his next position.
Tool #3: Build a Better Bootcamp
Training sessions that dive too deep too soon will actually stop major gift officers from having more planned gift conversations with donors, especially when things sound too complex or scary (or slow). Train therefore through case studies, recent stories, role play (everybody hates it, but it works), joint visits, and one-on-one prospect strategy sessions.
Tool #4: ID the Friendlies
Gift planners and development officers need to know which prospects they should be meeting, but don’t cram all those prospects on a single List. This List will join the other Lists that development officers pile on (under) their desks after little (no) review. Segment your prospects into bite-sized chunks (1-3 people at a time), and assign these to specific officers. Then offer to help develop individualized strategies for each prospect. Then offer to go on first visits together. Then check in every three months or so, re-strategizing and evaluating progress. And even then, don’t be afraid to take back names when you don’t see activity. Some officers just can’t be won over – until their colleague celebrates the big win that could have been theirs at the next all-staff meeting.
Tool #5: Define Home Base
Planned gift donors live in between now and later. Where or who is their home? Everyone and everywhere! Make stewarding current planned giving donors a commonplace, packaged procedure, like calling home for the holidays. Set expectations for the role your officers should play, versus donor relations staff, executive directors, board members, and other partners. Create an annual stewardship plan for your largest or most important secured planned gifts. If at all possible, incorporate this stewardship activity into your gift officer’s metrics. If it’s not measured, it won’t get done.
For more Ideas to Strengthen the Major Gift and Planned Gift Partnership, access a one-page printable handout here. For the full research paper, including quotes and additional interview analysis, click here.
By Katy Herbert Kotlarczyk
Director, Gift Planning and Leadership Giving, University of Colorado