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Positioning key for major-gift fundraising

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Mary Teresa Bitti

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International in New York City is one year away from closing out a $1 billion campaign.

“We have generated more than $800 million to date,” says Amy Franze, the foundation’s vice president of major donor and planned giving relations.

The key to a successful major-gifts campaign, she says, is to make sure you are positioned and poised, and have the right foundation in place before you launch.

It’s a strategy that has worked well for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which has funded more than $1 billion in diabetes research grants since its founding in 1970.

Last year alone, it awarded grants totaling $137 million to hundreds of institutions around the globe.

No matter the size of an organization, the critical pieces to any major-gifts campaign remain the same, Franze says.

Set an aggressive but achievable goal

“If you don’t know where you are going, then you don’t know how to get there,” says Franze. “Within that goal, you need leadership gifts.”

That means, prior to launching your campaign, you need to have donors already willing to give at a significant level, she says. Then you need to sing it from the rooftops.

“Make sure every time there is significant progress, or new major donors sign on, you communicate it,” she says.

Understand your donor

“What makes us successful are the relationships we build,” says Franze. That means creating a partnership with the donor to establish opportunities where they are comfortable investing.

By giving a donor information about your organization’s activities, and taking the time to understand a donor’s own goals and vision, you can ensure there is an alignment between both parties.

“That is a driving force to solicit and secure gifts,” she says.

Target the right donors

Nonprofits need to find those donors who have not only a connection to the group, but also an affinity for giving, says Franze.

That’s particularly important when looking for significant gifts.

“When we think about people who may want to make an investment with us, a good portion of them have a connection with the mission — finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes,” she says.

But examining a donor’s giving history is important, too.

“It’s important to look at all those facets as you start to build your program and look at the donors you have giving to you,” she says.

Steward your donors

Donors need to feel valued, and that’s where stewardship comes in.

“All of the relationships we have across the country really do start at the local level, based on a connection they’ve made with a local volunteer or relationship manager,” says Franze.

From that foundation, the organization is primed to build and grow these different partnerships, she says.

“Cold calling is ridiculous in this case, and certainly something you don’t want to do,” she says.

Build a strong reputation

The foundation’s solid reputation is one of the greatest assets to its major gifts program, Franze says.

“When people are investing at a very high level, they want to make sure you are taking care of their dollars,” she says. “Reputation is key.”

At the end of the day, a major gifts campaign, like any successful fundraising campaign, is about people reaching out to people.

That means taking the mystery out of a process that can seem confusing and complex to donors.

“It’s about connecting with people, understanding how they want to give, and providing opportunities for them to invest in a way they feel comfortable and that aligns with our mission,” Franze says. “It really is about relationships.”

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