Rules of Engagement: The Chicken or the Egg?

Does engagement at your organization begin with the “chicken”, otherwise known in development parlance as the donor; or  the “egg”, the prospect?

Frequently, when inquiring about engagement opportunities, clients give me a broad list of annual events.  However, when I ask who is invited, the list sounds pretty safe: Existing donors, past attendees, friends of attendees and the like.

Don’t get me wrong – your organization certainly wants to continue cultivating and stewarding these folks.  But this is a reactive approach.  You are relying on past donor or event behavior to cultivate larger gifts rather than extending your reach.

How about taking a different path?  Let’s put the egg first and invite some new prospects.  Not willy nilly, of course, but with purpose and focus.  Consider this scenario:

• Organization XYZ recently screened their database to identify their best principal giving ($50K+) prospects.  More than 5,000 individuals were identified.  After some basic data mining it was evident that less than half of these individuals had made gifts of $1,000 or more, leaving a large group of “unknown” prospects.

• The organization had an event coming up in a major metro area.  About 300 of the group of unknowns lived within 25 miles of the event.  They decided to invite the group, none of whom had been previously cultivated, but most had previously given at some level.

• Guess what? Five of these invitees showed up!  Furthermore, since the organization had taken the time to have key donors review the attendee list ahead of time, they were able to assign a “buddy” to steward the new friends.  These individuals were treated to a fine evening and had an opportunity to meet organizational staff and benefactors.

• In the end, these five previously unidentified principal giving prospects were “touched” in a very personal way.  It may not seem like much of a dent in such a large prospect pool, but it was a start.  And it never would have happened if they hadn’t included their screening results in their invitation strategies.  They were now ready to plan their next step.

Do you have unknown major or principal giving prospects identified through prospect screening, peer screening or other strategies?  Are you playing it too safe and not proactively reaching out to this untapped potential?  Before you send out your next invitation, think about who you could be inviting.  Chances are you have high and low touch engagement opportunities that aren’t being extended to these individuals simply because you didn’t think about it.  Worried about too many attendees? Wow!  What a problem to have!  Remember, if you expect major donor behavior, you have to extend major donor treatment. Invite these new friends to the party and you might be surprised at what you have started.

Are there under-utilized engagement opportunities at your organization that you have put to better use by inviting a few good “eggs”?  If so, I would love to hear about it.  Comment on this post to share your story.