Is Your Organization “Million Dollar Ready”?

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In the planned giving world, countless studies and articles are written about what motivates “Million Dollar” donors to give. The information often provides helpful insights on what makes major donors tick that you can incorporate into your planned giving program.

But what about the nonprofit organization itself – are there things that you can or need to do to attract the “Million Dollar” donor? An interesting study conducted by Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and Johnson Grossnickle and Associates seems to think so.

The study, called Million Dollar Ready, researched and analyzed over 1,400 colleges that had received gifts of $1 million or more. (Interestingly, less than a third of all colleges and universities in this country have received gifts of $1 million or more since 2000). Rather than looking at what caused donors to give, the researchers tried to identify what characteristics make an institution more likely to attract major gifts. Although this study only researched higher-education institutions, I thought there were some great takeaways that could be applied to any nonprofit organization:

  • A great experience – Does your organization provide a great experience to you membership or donors that will cause them to love or deeply appreciate your organization? In the case of higher-education, it was about providing social clubs and activities first to students and then later to alumni. Does, or could, your organization provide powerful experiences or activities with the potential to forever engage your supporters?
  • Long-serving Leadership – In the study, college presidents who had continuously served 10 or more years were more likely to receive million dollar donations. Donors want to see organizational stability fostered by quality leadership.
  • Generous Board Members – Board members who set a philanthropic example spurred others to give.
  • Growth Matters – Donors want to see growth. In the study, schools that increased student enrollments also increased their percentage of million dollar gifts. What is your organization doing to demonstrate growth? Do you have a strategic plan and vision statement? Are you sharing it with your members and donors?
  • Organizational Wealth Matters – Institutions with endowments received more million dollar gifts. Government funding for the institutions was also positively affected by organizations that had an endowment. Does your organization have an endowment? If not it might be time to start thinking about this differently, for it demonstrates stability which can help attract major gifts and government funding opportunities.
  • Long-Term Strategic Planning – I personally added this characteristic, since every college almost certainly has a well-publicized strategic plan (so the study may not have even asked the question.) But what about your nonprofit – does it have a well-promoted strategic plan that will assure donors you intend to fulfill your mission for years to come? If not, this needs to be added to the top of the list.

So what about your organization? What are you doing now – and what else could you be doing – to become “Million Dollar Ready”?

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