Major Gifts Initiative


The most efficient forms of fundraising activity, at least in terms of the amount of institutional resources required versus the return in donations ultimately received, are usually Major Gifts and Planned Giving.  Unfortunately, most institutions do not have the luxury of time required for a Planned Giving program to fully mature, though; so for most, Major Gift fundraising is the most effective option for increasing fundraising revenues.  Major Gift fundraising involves intensely focusing cultivation and solicitation efforts on the top 10% to 20% of donors who, the fundraising literature continually tells us, usually account for 80% to 90% of the total funds donated to a institution.

In terms of the experience of ESR's Annual Fund, it is interesting to note that it raised a total of $1,940,288 in the 10 years between 1992 and 2002, from an average of approximately 700 donors per year.  Of that amount, $568,430 was donated by the top 10 givers in each year (i.e. 30% of ESR's Annual Fund donations came from 1.5% of its donor base).  Focusing on an intense cultivation and personalized solicitation of these top donors and other top prospects for major gifts presents the most effective fundraising option for ESR in the short term.  It is also a good way to prepare for entry into a major Capital Campaign, should that be an option that ESR eventually decides to take.

With these factors in mind, ESR has been actively pursuing a Major Gift initiative since late 2003.  This initiative essentially rests on four interrelated activities: establishing a set of Regional Development Committees; writing a comprehensive Case for Support; developing a Communications Plan; and finally, sounding out interest and working toward a Capital Campaign to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the School in 2010.  These activities are related below in greater detail.

Regional Development Committees

Between October, 2003, and May, 2004, Jay Marshall and/or Marty Sulek traveled extensively to the eight parts of the country from where ESR derives its greatest levels of philanthropic support.  Listed from east to west, these areas are:

  1. Philadelphia, PA;
  2. Greensboro, NC;
  3. Wilmington, OH;
  4. Richmond, IN;
  5. Indianapolis, IN;
  6. The "Lake Michigan" area (encompassing Chicago, northern Indiana & south-west Michigan);
  7. Iowa; and
  8. Whittier, CA.

In each of these areas, the top donors to ESR have been invited to serve as volunteer members of the Regional Development Committee for their area.  The overwhelmingly positive rate of response to these invitations (well over 90%) has been inspiring.  The very few who opted not to served did so largely due to old age and the accompanying lack of mobility.  Appendix I contains more detailed information on the structure of the Regional Development Committees, including:

  1. Roles and Responsibilities of the Committees;
  2. A Roster of Committee Members; and
  3. An Itinerary of Committee Meetings through 2004 and 2005.

ESR development staff now regularly meet each month with the Regional Development Committees (RDCs) on an eight month rotation.  The first round of these meetings, between June, 2004 and March, 2005, primarily focused on two activities: identifying prospective leadership for enlistment onto the Committee; and conducting prospect identification and review.  A list containing all ESR Constituents in the catchment area of each RDC was generated and distributed to its members.  Committee members were asked to provide corrections and updates on the information contained in this list, to the best of their ability.  They were also asked to provide feedback on the giving ability and interest of constituents in relation to ESR.  In the second round of meetings, which began with the Central Indiana RDC in April, 2005, there are three main items on the agenda: continuing the process of conducting prospect identification and review; developing enlistment strategies for leadership prospects, and reviewing an initial draft of ESR's Case for Support.

In future meetings, the RDCs will continue to follow up on the work begun on old items introduced in previous meetings.  From there, they should begin to work on the subsequent activities outlined in the Roles and Responsibilities for the RDCs, as contained in Appendix I, and more or less in the order in which they're listed in that document.  In terms of old items, this will include: leadership enlistment, prospect identification and review, and reviewing the draft of ESR's Case for Support.  In terms of subsequent activities, this will include: developing and implementing cultivation activities targeting top prospective donors; advocating for ESR in their local community; advising in the development of communication and solicitation materials directed at major donors; assisting in the solicitation prospective major donors; and evaluating the effectiveness of ESR's development efforts.

Case for Support

A Case for Support contains the sum total of reasons why a charitable institution merits the philanthropic support of its constituent communities.  Its primarily intended audience is the volunteer leadership of an organization whose responsibility it is to implement development strategy.  To this end, ESR's Case for Support has been divided into four sections.  The first section outlines the history and present status of the Religious Society of Friends, the primary constituent group of ESR, with an emphasis on Friends' present leadership needs.  The second part outlines the history and present status of ESR, with an emphasis on the contributions it has made to Friends.  The third part outlines those programs for which ESR is seeking philanthropic support so as to allow it to better serve Friends.  The fourth part, finally, outlines a proposed strategy for how ESR intends to garner these additional philanthropic resources.

In the latest round of RDC meetings, a preliminary version of the Case for Support is being circulated to elicit feedback and comments on its content.  At this point, ESR staff is looking for three things from the RDCs in regard to the Case.  First, Committee members are being asked to review the document and analyze it in terms of its strengths and weaknesses.  Later, ESR will want to take the large, present version of the Case and boil it down into a more concise document intended for a wider audience.  The input of Committee members on what is essential, and what might be best left out, will be an important consideration in this process of condensation.  Finally, Committee members are being asked to indicate what is important to them that has, perhaps, been left out of the Case or not given sufficient emphasis.  ESR has striven hard to ensure that this Case is a comprehensive document, but ESR is far too complex an institution to include everything.  An even smaller brochure sized document for an even wider audience should also be developed that encapsulates the content of the Case in its final form.

Another crucial task coming out of the completion of the comprehensive Case Statement will be to take the various program areas described in Part III for which funding is being sought, and produce a stand alone proposal for each of them.  This proposal should take the form of a mini case-statement that begins by defining the need for the program in terms of ESR's mission of providing ministerial leadership after the manner of Friends.  It should then expound on the institutions need for the program, ending with its financial requirements, including a more detailed budget.  Finally, a customized section should be composed for each donor to which the proposal is submitted that includes detailed information on planned and deferred giving options, and donor recognition.  From here, ESR should begin shopping these proposals around to its top prospective donors to determine who expresses the greatest degree of interest in each program element.