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Living and Giving:

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Spring Cleaning for Fund Raisers

By Leo Ramirez Posted on April 11, 2016

By Jim Eskin

It might not feel like it yet in some parts of the country, but spring is here with March 19th marking the beginning of the season in 2016. Many people associate the start of the season with the labor-intensive practice of spring cleaning. This is a time for opening windows, letting in fresh air, and toiling to turn our homes into more attractive, happy and efficient spaces. A major task is attacking clutter.

Spring cleaning is also a prudent practice for our development operations. They too will benefit from a thorough scrubbing and purge of unneeded and outdated elements.

Don’t overlook that successful fundraising doesn’t require a complicated structure. Quite the opposite, simple approaches are effective. Less can be more. So spring cleaning can boost fundraising results.

I like a simple framework that organizes fundraising around four distinct phases:

Discovery: What are a donor/prospect's values, priorities and interests?

Cultivation: What are we doing to forge a personal and emotional bond?

Solicitation: When, how much, and for what are we asking?

Stewardship: What are we doing to thank donors for the last gift?

Let’s take a closer look at each of these four phases.

  • Discovery: This initial phase identifies the prospects most likely to contribute, and pertinent background information. The focus is on financial capacity, philanthropic nature, and interest or potential interest in the mission, as each prospect is rated for a stretch yet realistic gift. Guiding questions include: (a) Who among your annual donors is a good prospect for a major gift? (b) Which non-donors can board members, current donors and other friends introduce to the organization who are good prospect for a gift?
  • Cultivation: This phase pays enormous dividends and is tantamount to success. A cultivation program engages prospective donors so they form a personal and emotional bond to your organization, a prerequisite in achieving a successful solicitation. Best practices can include tours, program visits, small luncheons asking for advice, and guest lecture invitations. Everything that happens in the life of your organization represents a potential cultivation opportunity. Guiding questions include: (a) What are the most effective ways to give prospective donors a genuine sense of appreciation of the mission? (b) Who from your organization can most effectively convey the story and key messages?
  • Solicitation: The solicitation of a gift can and should be an uplifting experience for everyone involved. Preparation of senior staff and board leadership allays fears and instills confidence. Guiding questions include: (a) Who from your organization will be credible and effective making asks? (b) In addition to the prospective donor’s home and office, what strong venues does your organization have for making the ask? (c) What collateral material and data will reinforce the request?
  • Stewardship: Stewardship confirms the donor’s wisdom in making the gift and draws him or her closer to the organization. A system needs to be devised so donors are promptly acknowledged and thanked for their gifts, a prudent step in gaining continued and larger gifts in the future. Rule of thumb—donors should be thanked at least seven different times during a year. Guiding questions include: (a) What public events does your organization hold that could be used to recognize donors? (b) What print, digital and electronic tools does your organization have that could be used to recognize donors?

A good start in the spring cleaning process is simply having board members, development committee members, senior staff, and others discuss these questions and capturing the responses on paper. Then a leadership group can collate and refine a consensus document that provides a blueprint for a spot-free resource development plan.

Don’t be tied to practices simply because you used them in the past. Keep them only if they continue to provide utility and empower your organization for success.

Spring cleaning means work, but at the end we all agree that it’s well worth the effort. The toughest part is just getting started. So don’t procrastinate. The sooner you start, the sooner your organizations can reap the rewards.



Jim Eskin's leadership roles span more than 30 years in fundraising, public affairs and communications in the San Antonio area. Fundraising benchmarks include establishing records for gifts from individuals at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) and Alamo Colleges Foundation. In 2009, he began current responsibilities as Executive Director of the Alamo Colleges Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the community college system with an enrollment of more than 60,000 credit students per semester, more than all the other colleges and universities in Bexar County combined. Since then, foundation assets and scholarship dollars awarded have tripled. He has authored more than 100 guest columns that have appeared in daily newspapers and business journals across the country. He also publishes Stratagems, a monthly e-newsletter exploring timely issues and trends in philanthropy, advocacy, and image. He can be reached at jeskin@aol.com and cell: 210.415.3748


Author: Leo Ramirez

Leo is the co-founder and CEO of Encast, an organization dedicated to improving the way CSR professions create, manage, and measure CSR programs. Leo is passionate about the role that culture plays in business success. Leo has launched and managed social ventures, lead multi-disciplinary teams, and built solid relationships with civic and corporate leaders. His 25-year career has spanned executive management, business development, consulting, nonprofit management, technical support and engineering positions with Southwest Key Programs, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Coremetrics, Trilogy and Apple.

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