Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Tycely Williams, Director of Major Gifts at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington.
Here’s a snapshot of our conversation, including some additional commentary to help you improve your own major gift giving.
Question 1: Most Exciting Major Gift?
AE: What was the most exciting major gift (not necessarily the biggest) you ever received and how did it come about?
TW: It was for $1 million — for the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) to increase awareness of educational options, such as charter schools. What made it exciting was that it gave the organization an opportunity to innovate and increase programmatic offerings. It is always exciting to create something new.
The gift came about as a result of an existing relationship between the chair of the board and the Gates Foundation. There was mission match and a good possibility of getting a grant.
What was great about that gift was that it sparked the confidence of the board. It let them know that those types of gifts were truly within reach. It helped to fuel their interest and enthusiasm, and sparked their interest in hearing more strategies on how to leverage the gift.
A major gift of this kind also ignites a desire within other funders to affiliate with your good work.
AE: Congratulations! What an exciting gift
Although not everyone has connections with the Gates Foundation, I think Tycely’s story has two important lessons:
- First, the board chair who connected you with the Gates Foundation had never raised that kind of money before and doubted he could, but there’s a first time for all fundraisers raising major gifts.
- And, second, the importance of a gift of that nature to leverage other gifts and reignite the confidence of your board members! Such important lessons.
Question 2: Tools and Techniques?
AE: What tools and techniques do you use to stay motivated and motivate your staff?
TW: I think it’s really important to adopt measures of success. I like to set quantifiable goals that are not just financial. Remember, fundraising is a relationship centered process. On the other hand, you can make gains that cannot always be quantified.
AE: Can you provide some examples?
TW: Yes. It’s important for people who supervise fundraisers to remember the significance of research, to understand that before you execute, you must have a strategy, and often times that strategy has to be delicately implemented, and that it takes time to cultivate.
Managers must ensure they understand how to support the fundraiser during those stages – that they are in a position to increase the probability of getting to a ‘yes.’ Also, fundraisers need volunteers to help and should understand that they are not always to be the one making the ask.
If you adopt that type of approach, then you need to adopt more training of volunteers and that can be measured.
Here at the YMCA, we track the engagement of volunteers. Staff members’ work is evaluated based on how effective they are in engaging volunteers in the day-to-day work.
The culture of the Y is one that creates volunteer opportunities for the members and the community. We ensure volunteers are able to help us advance our departmental goals.
Volunteers also help with connectivity.
AE: I love that! Being measured on how well you engage volunteers! All good fundraisers know that volunteer engagement leads to giving. What a terrific and natural strategy for the YMCA to have.
TW: Always be mindful that you are in a partnership – it’s not just about what the donor is doing for you. Shift your way of thinking to ensure you are adding value to them.
With all of our major donors – we have a stewardship and implementation plan, and we monitor what we are giving to them on a quarterly basis. It’s important to always go above and beyond with added value – it could be on social media, or corporate sponsor benefits, or even going to support your donor at their events.
Question 3: Greatest Major Gift Challenge?
AE: What do you find most challenging about raising major gifts?
TW: What I find most challenging about raising major gifts is the ability to maintain competitive advantage. I am not the only charitable organization cultivating relationships with my prospects. Some of them have larger budgets, bigger staff, more resources, and they are able to do more with the prospect and fuel their operations differently.
The challenge with that is you feel (may or may not be real) that it’s a competitive landscape. My efforts are being measured by how others are doing.
We must remain compelling and demonstrate impact and affect change in a way that’s real and that people can see. That’s ultimately what levels the playing field.
AE: Yes, I agree that great programs and services are what level the playing field.
However, I also believe there is an abundance of resources, and plenty of donors who are interested in every cause. The fundraiser’s job is to find the people who are interested in the organizations for which they are raising funds.
In other words, I don’t think there’s a limit on resources, or that fundraisers are competing with one another, but that a fundraiser’s challenge it to find the people who love their cause or mission and are able to make a strong case for support.
Question 4: Any Major Gift Advice?
AE: What advice do you have for others who are trying to raise major gifts? In other words, what do you wish you had known ten years ago?
TW: I wish I would have known that it’s really important to know that soliciting major gifts isn’t any different than soliciting a smaller gift.
There’s something in our psyche that leads us to think that since it’s bigger, than it’s harder, but it’s not. It’s often the same strategy, centered on communication and genuine relationship building.
Raising major gifts isn’t something to be fearful of.
The only exceptions are with planned gifts. However, it’s important to know that you aren’t expected to know everything (or anything) about planned gifts. It’s completely acceptable to have external resources to help with technical knowledge.
If I had known that it was acceptable to seek and secure advice, then I wouldn’t have thought I needed to have more experience before trying to raise major gifts.
AE: That’s a great place to end. Thank you so much for sharing your insight, Tycely.
I want to encourage readers to go out there and solicit major gifts. It’s not as hard as you think, and you’ll be so glad you did!