For about 24 days each July over the past seventeen years I’ve gotten up early each morning to watch Le Tour de France. The tradition started because I was married to a triathlete and not only wanted to understand the specifics of elite cycling, I also enjoyed learning about France and seeing the stunning sights and scenery presented on the t.v. screen. This year I’ve been focusing on better understanding the various roles of the team members: climbing specialists grind away on hard inclines; sprinters save their energy for short flat sections throughout the race; time trialists keep speed high over great distances; and domestiques guard the team from rivals and carry food and drink to their leaders.

I’d like to have a domestique for fundraising that could bring me prospects ready for an ask or write a mission funding proposal. That’s not reality, however and few of us have the luxury of a team where each member has a specific role. Instead we perform like general category cyclists, the “Lance Armstrong’s” of the sport, who are good at many roles and work on both their strengths and weaknesses in order to complete the 21-day course in the shortest amount of time. Whether it’s a flat stage or a grueling mountain climb, the general category riders stay at the head of the pack and pay attention to others around them. They think about their daily progress and plan tomorrow’s strategy with an eye for the podium in Paris – not necessarily for the podium at each day’s end.

How do these observations from Le Tour de France relate to major gifts and planned gifts? Here’s my thoughts on the skills that each of us should master.

  • Donor contact which includes prospecting for new constituents who may be ready to transition to larger, more impactful gifts as well as cultivating known prospects for continuing support and special campaigns and projects. The majority of contacts should be face-to-face and concentrate on providing information and understanding the prospects’ interests and goals. Contacts rooted in information foster cultivation, cultivation leads to solicitation which leads to accepted proposals and funding.
  • Proposal writing. Formal proposals are under-used in my opinion. Learning to write a compelling case and request to participate provides the constituent with the most important information necessary and suggests a variety of ways to fulfill a commitment. A considered response will then follow and a in-depth conversation will pursue. Verbal solicitations leave too many avenues open for confusion, delay, misunderstanding, miscommunication and perhaps avoidance; by both the gift officer and the prospect.
  • Use management and leadership in a deliberate way. Every donor wants to feel important and the presence of your leaders sends the message to the prospect that the visit and ask is important, if not critical, to the well-being of the project or the organization.
  • Understand your “hit rate”. This term may be new for you, but it’s a simple concept. Track your contacts and analyze them to understand your success rate. If you issue a lot of proposals that are not answered or are rejected, then you have identified an area for concentration. If you are more successful at getting appointments than other colleagues, you may be in a position to teach others a better way of donor contact. Knowing that for every $100,000 of solicitations that you make, $75,000 on average is actually raised, gives you an important formula for determining your goals and contact patterns for the upcoming cycle.

The goal here is the hone your skills, like the elite cyclist – a Tour de Force, if you will. Over time, you’ll definitely be in the hunt for the yellow jersey!

Katherine Swank is a consultant at Target Analytics. You may reach her at katherine.swank@blackbaud.com.

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