By Paul Johnson, Partner
When I was a Major Gift Officer at Columbia University during The Campaign for Columbia, their first billion dollar effort (actually $2 Billion), we had very clear measurables against which we were evaluated — 200 face-to-face visits with prospects/donors every year. Of those, roughly a quarter had to be qualification visits, a quarter stewardship/cultivation visits, a quarter solicitations and a quarter visits to close gifts.
As none of the twelve of us had management responsibilities, staying focused on these goals was made slightly easier. We all essentially treated airplanes like taxi cabs, and while on the road would try for 4 to 6 visits a day. Those visits were sometimes on our own and sometimes with a Dean or a faculty member, depending on where the prospect was in the solicitation/stewardship cycle.
The thirteen of us (if you include the Director of Major Gifts to whom we reported) sat in 13 offices situated along the corner of what was known affectionately as UDAR — University Development and Alumni Relations. One day, the Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations was wandering the halls and wandered into our corner of the world.
It was there that he posited the question “Why are there 12 offices for 12 Major Gift Officers? Shouldn’t there be 4 offices that you share (three per office), as none of you are supposed to be here anyway?!? You can’t raise money sitting at your desk!”
You can’t raise money sitting at your desk…
For the past 25 years, this “philosophy” has never left me and is one that I have tried to apply to all my subsequent positions. And it hasn’t been easy.
As our careers progress and we are given greater and greater responsibilities — including managing large development offices, interfacing with trustees and attending countless internal staff meetings — it is easier and easier to be separated from on the ground fundraising. If you’re like me, the face-to-face fundraising is what I love most about this profession and it fills my gas tank when I go out and actually do it.
What I tried to do every couple of weeks or so was to take a look at my calendar and see where the holes were.
What foundation program officer could I invite to lunch and to see the current special exhibition? What long-time Annual Fund donor could I invite to coffee? What donor could I invite to breakfast? And what Planned Giving donor could I do a stewardship call on over afternoon tea? (My friend Bill Wackerman, the Publisher of Condé Nast Traveler magazine, has a breakfast meeting every single morning five days a week with an advertiser or potential advertiser. A lofty goal, indeed.)
So the next time you’re sitting at your desk eating last night’s leftovers or that tuna salad sandwich from the café, take a look at your calendar and see if there might be a more productive way you could be spending your time.
Get up from behind your desk and do some development. I think you’ll be very happy that you did.
One last note about this: Nothing supplants the effectiveness of a face-to-face visit with a donor.
Not a phone call, not an email exchange, not a Skype call. The conversation you’re having with your prospect is a serious matter and commands the respect that an in-person meeting implies.