Once the Leaders Partnership stations decided to focus on major gifts, SRG launched a national search and the
stations interviewed major gift experts from several firms. The decision was to hire Results Group and its
principals Claudia Chouinard and Carol Eddy.
The Leaders Partnership’s major gifts program began with a multi-year plan for laying the foundation that would
sustain and institutionalize major giving on an ongoing basis. Consultations were targeted to build a capacity
for major gifts solicitation at Leaders Partnership stations and integrating this work into the core of each
station’s long-term organizational plan and budget.
During these planning sessions a central element of a successful major gift effort emerged-the substantial
commitment of time and organizational focus that a major gifts effort requires. Five partners decided to take
the plunge for a full tilt effort: WBEZ, WBUR, WRKF, WUWM and Vermont Public Radio.
Project activities included the following high points:
- Most stations completed their first-ever board solicitation for annual gifts. This marked an important
step for the stations in developing the role of their board members in fundraising-both in making annual personal
gifts themselves as well as in cultivating and soliciting others on the station's behalf.
- General managers learned new professional skills that enabled them to ask individuals face-to-face for gifts
of $1,000 or more. Some found this transforming in terms of their role at the station, their level of personal
confidence, and the way they understand the productivity of their station’s overall fundraising efforts.
- Development staff, again largely for the first time, defined specific annual line item income goals for board
gifts, large gifts from top prospects, and major gifts from donors segmented as a group from the membership pool.
To enable this goal setting, each development department established new processes for projecting expected gifts
and for establishing solicitation strategies on a donor-by-donor basis. These are powerful first steps in
diversifying income sources and establishing accountability for more aggressive income goals.
- The station solicitation teams identified and trained last January hit their stride in most cases and began
to make face-to-face cultivation and solicitation visits with targeted donors and prospects in varying
staff/board combinations. Pairs of team members handled most visits, though staff members occasionally handled
preliminary visits on a solo basis.
- Small gatherings to cultivate major donors and prospects, the first most stations had ever attempted, were
held at the station and/or in the homes of board members. These got a very positive reaction in all markets, and
the stations and project teams seemed quite buoyed by the positive feedback. These events helped stations
experience the powerful nature of face-to-face contact with prospects and donors, something most stations appear
to have resisted in the past.
- Each station planned a schedule of cultivation and solicitation mailings to major donors for the fall months,
with follow-up phone calls and notes by staff and board members, to obtain increased year-end gifts from all
prospective major donors.
- Development staff made concerted efforts during the last quarter of the calendar year to make personalized
solicitations with individual "ask" amounts to their prospects. Most stations did well with their
year-end appeals, though providing adequate follow-up remains a challenge for most overworked stations. Improved
follow-up would very likely improve results in future years.
- Analysis of successful and less-than-successful visits helped stations identify where they most need to
improve skills to make their solicitations more successful. Stations are now comfortable enough to share
experiences with their peers in the Leaders Partnership and to elicit suggestions from the group as well as from
Results Group counsel.
- Several stations began to explore the power of electronic database research by Target America on the wealth
and assets of prospects. This hard data can be a powerful lever to help general managers and board members
overcome lingering reluctance to begin visiting and asking for gifts.
- By midway through the project, it became clear that a number of SRG members were interested in pursuing a
major gifts development program along the same lines of the Leaders Partnership—a strong testimonial to the early
results and enthusiasm of the participating stations. SRG's board of directors, and subsequently its membership,
approved proceeding with the design and development of such an initiative. Today, a number of stations are ready
to launch these activities through SRG's Major Gifts Initiative.