Happy new year! Having spent my holiday in in Monterrey California, soaking up the Pacific Ocean and losing all professional focus, enjoy my first guest post courtesy of Kevin Mahler. Kevin and I spent 18 months together working on a capital campaign to build a new theatre in Omaha, and he learned most of my tricks. Kevin is terrific fundraising and newly installed at the Omaha Conservatory of Music. Enjoy…
The Ten Fundraising Commandments of Jeremy Hatch
By Kevin Mahler, Omaha Conservatory of Music, Omaha, NE
My name is Kevin and I worked with Jeremy for a year and a half on a capital campaign. Here are 10 things I learned from Jeremy as we poured over spreadsheets, drank coffee, and watered the plants together at the BLUEBARN:
1. There is no better medium to raise money than face to face: Organizations pour blood, sweat, and tears into grant applications, direct mail initiatives, and let us not forget life-zapping, resource-draining events. And they raise, say, $40,000. Here’s what Jeremy told me: skip the Postal Service bureaucracy delays and the three-hour meetings about seating charts and, as Jeremy would suggest, “go ask four loyal supporters for $10,000.” And if that doesn’t work, ask four more. Then four more. You’ll still save time, energy, and money.
2 Renewable, reliable. So the old lady down the block left you a big chunk of change in her estate plans? Congrats; you closed this year’s budget gap. Your board member’s friend’s sister who lives 5 states away matched her sister’s gift? Congrats again. But the clock starts again on July 1 and then you’ve got to plug the hole again. People only die once and that board member’s friend’s sister hasn’t been in touch. When cultivating donors and celebrating significant gifts, ask yourself, “How can I make this happen again next year?” The first step might be in educating donors and members of your tribe on what an “annual fund” is.
3. Piecemeal fundraising is for the short-sighted; develop an annual fund program. “Our annual Moliere Fest is coming up in April and we need 20 wigs. Hey Mr. Arts Patron, would you be willing to underwrite our wigs for $2,061.63?” He says yes. You miss out on the greater opportunity to receive a larger gift if you had sat down with him for a meaningful conversation. He got you through April, but it would have been nice to have something to last through May—or June. In the arts, it is tempting to just ask for funding for the next big thing on your calendar and sacrifice the opportunity to receive more substantial gifts. Regardless of the wealth of your donor base, you will always be in what Jeremy referred to as “a mindset of poverty” if you do not think beyond whatever the next big event is.
4. Board members can open doors. Even the ones with minimal personal financial wealth. Even the quiet ones. Even the ones you’re afraid of. Even ones your boss is afraid of. One of the first things Jeremy taught me was that people are on boards because they believe in your organization’s mission, and one way they can demonstrate their belief is to introduce you to their philanthropic friends. And he was right.
5. There is always a way. When a donor says no, ask them at least three questions. Ask about delaying fulfillment, ask about multiple installments, ask about decreasing the amount. A no is only a delayed yes. Jeremy encouraged me to use creativity in crafting agreements that maximize the overall gift by offering options and timelines.
6. Take one for the team. So Mrs. Arts Patron likes to tell you long stories about her glory days in the USO and her antique paper doll collection? While many fundraising professionals may delay making these appointments, Jeremy’s answer to these uncomfortable meetings is “take one for the team.” If people need to feel connected with the organization by leading you down a tour of suggestions and musings before making a gift, the role of the development officer is to clear the path for that check to be written. Even if it means hearing about the “glory days.”
7. Make direct asks in direct mail. People don’t read their mail, they don’t open their mail, they move and forget to change their address, the post office drops a letter in a puddle, they put their mail in a pile and then their spouse trashes the pile. To overcome all these obstacles, you need to put the ask front and center. Direct mail is not the time to be coy. As I imagine Jeremy saying, “that’s why it’s called direct mail.” If you write a bunch of fluff that does not drive the desired action, you’ll just get those same $50 checks year after year after year from the faithful, uninformed few. Meekness begets meekness. Meanwhile, your operating budget climbs.
8. Spell out terms explicitly. Jeremy has watched me—and many others, I’m sure—spin my wheels about vague commitments from donors and not know what to do to when faced with the challenge of reporting fundraising progress. (“Do we count Mrs. Arts Patron’s pledge or not?” “Did he say $50,000 for the first year or $50,000 for every year?” “Was that for capital or operating?”) When you try to manage multiple commitments without writing things down, time garbles donor intent and then you don’t know what’s what. Jeremy’s advice? Write them a formal agreement that they can sign and remit. Right now. Don’t be afraid. They made the commitment. Spell out what you remember them committing to and then open the door for them to clarify, while thanking them and showing sincere gratitude.
9 Be a pirate. Like a lot of development officers working in small arts institutions, I did not have a robust record keeping process when I worked with Jeremy. My protocol was to just come to the office in the morning, check my email, head out to my lunch appointment, come back to the office with a fat check, and repeat the process the next day. One day Jeremy asked me question about the annual fund goal and how much money I had out in proposals—was I tracking any proposals? I said I didn’t know. He said that was unacceptable. I made excuses. He said, “You’ve got to start owning the money, watching it come in, watching it add up, tracking whose owes us, all that.” I said “But I don’t have access to the accounting software program. My coworker has that information and you know our computers are not linked.” “Look,” said Jeremy, “every successful development person I have ever known has been a pirate. Successful ones can’t wait to get at the mail stack—they get at the mail before anyone else does—and anything that looks like it could contain a check – rip it open and see what’s in there and log the amount.
10. Put ego aside. The first time I met Jeremy, he witnessed me lamenting the fact that I was not invited to a meeting with a foundation executive. He told me that I was not going to be involved in most of the major gifts at my organization. “But you need to be there before the meeting or after the meeting,” he told me, “to document, to help write a letter, to help with follow-ups.” Since working with Jeremy, I have come to understand that sometimes simply introducing the organization’s leader to a donor is all that is necessary.
Well, there they are. The 10 Commandments of Jeremy Hatch. Go raise some money for the fine arts!
Thanks Kevin – I got a huge kick out of this. #5 and #6 are my favorites. All the best on your new gig. You’ve picked up some good habits for 2014.