Successful major gift officers have flexibility, patience, and excellent communication skills. Writing for University Business, Harriet Meyers shares tips for becoming a development all-star.
Break down silos
If you want to excel at fundraising, you need to learn all you possibly can about the state of development on your campus.
Kim Winger, director of development at Colorado State University's (CSU) College of Health and Human Sciences, keeps tabs on everything fundraising-related at her institution. She attends the dean's cabinet meetings, campus events, and faculty presentations to get a sense of CSU's fundraising needs.
"I have to understand and be passionate about what our college is doing to communicate effectively with donors," she says.
Make strategic partnerships
It takes a village to raise funds for an institution. Fundraisers must enlist the help of high-level administrators to capture donors' attention.
"People give to people," says Katie Turcotte, EAB's lead advancement researcher. "You can help the donor connect to the institution by bringing out the faculty person, researcher, or administrator who can share wonderful stories about their work."
Use language donors understand
To connect with donors, think from their perspective. What would make them excited to donate their hard-earned money to your institution? You need to be able to answer the "so what?" and "who cares?" of your request, Winger says.
Related: Is the "phone-a-thon" still relevant in today's multichannel world?
Expand your network
There are plenty of people out there with the resources to make major gifts to your institution—it's just a matter of finding them. Teri McIntyre, senior director of development at San Diego State University's (SDSU) Fowler College of Business, is always on the lookout for networking opportunities.
"I constantly put myself in situations where I'll meet people," she says.
Get on the same page as donors
In EAB's report, "Gifted and Talented," researchers note the importance of "behavioral and linguistic flexibility" for fundraising. That means you need to adapt to the wide range of donors you will encounter.
"Our fundraisers are required to talk to donors who are very different in personality and background," says Brett Anderson, vice president of university advancement at CSU. "One day they meet with a rancher and the next day with a Wall Street billionaire—and in each case they must come across as sincere."
Read the "Gifted and Talented" report for more insights about what makes a top fundraiser
Show you care
A little effort goes a long way toward making donors feel appreciated. Virginia Commonwealth University offers donors little tokens of appreciation such as personal thank-you calls from students and invitations to visit campus.
Find donors' motivations
It's not just about what you want for your college or university. Fundraisers must determine what makes a donor tick? What does he or she value? These questions will help you determine the best way to connect with donors.
Top fundraisers "find about the prospect's passion, then figure out what we are doing on campus that matches that interest," says Myrna Hall, a senior consultant and principal at Marts & Lundy.
6 ways to connect metrics with incentives and boost fundraiser performance
Don't beat around the bush
Be straightforward with donors. If a gift isn't a strong fit or must be adjusted, you have to let the donor know. Building trust is of the utmost importance when it comes to fundraising.
"You must be very direct with people. We promise only things we can deliver that genuinely reflect our strengths," says SDSU President Elliot Hirshman.
Fundraising isn't a matter of taking checks and never following up with those generous enough to donate to your institution. You need to invest effort in creating long-lasting relationships.
Fundraising takes "patience, perseverance, tenacity, and determination," says Marti Heil, vice president of development and alumni relations at VCU. "Your fiscal year-end deadline is not relevant to the donor (Meyers, University Business, 10/26).
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