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Caitlin Fillmore

Caitlin Fillmore

Editor, Major Gifts Today

The Power of Fundraising Basics

Susan Koza believes in the power of fundraising fundamentals. Why? Because in her nearly 30-year career, Koza has achieved remarkable feats of fundraising with organizations facing tremendous challenges. For Koza, staying diligent about the basics leads to consistent fundraising success. From 2015 to 2020, Koza helped lead growth from $1.8 million to almost $3.9 million in revenue.

Start with Thanks

“If it was a new development officer trying to build a program for my nonprofit,” Koza began, “Holding a fundraising event would be very low on the list compared to working with major donors and finding a way to connect with mid-level donors.”

Koza knows this from experience. In 1993 she began her development career with the Monterey Symphony, then worked for the SPCA of Monterey County for nearly 20 years. Koza now serves as the Senior Associate Director of Development for Arizona Public Media managing an 80-member major donor portfolio.

“To me it’s really focusing on the basics. I don’t think there’s any kind of magic bullet out there,” Koza said.

When Koza began at the SPCA for Monterey County, the organization was in “poor financial shape” and struggling to meet payroll. She describes a facility that was falling apart, with leaky roofs and rusty kennel doors secured with leashes.

“I just started making phone calls to people who were making gifts of $500 and up; calling them to say thank you,” Koza explains. “Many of these people told me it was the first time they received a phone call (to say) thank you.”

Build Your Team

Koza points to building a culture of philanthropy within a nonprofit as one crucial aspect of building a successful major gifts program. Keeping employees informed of the larger impact of their work and their contribution to the mission inspires staff members of all levels in the organization.

“Having a solid team in place is so critical,” said Koza. “It’s just as important for staff to trust the Development department as it is for donors to have that trust.”

During facility tours or other opportunities to build relationships with donors, Koza invites key staff members. After a gift is made, the Development department follows up with the employee to express thanks for helping make the donation possible.

“It wasn’t long until staff started to see that a donor tour means a gift, and that means I can do more in my department,” Koza said. “It was such a success that a donor would call our Wildlife Center supervisor to ask about an animal. That donor felt completely comfortable calling another staff member. That, to me, was incredible.”

Reach Out and Connect

Now that employees are inspired and donors are thanked, it’s time to dive more deeply into relationships with your major donors. Koza emphasizes exploring your donor’s individual passions and interests to unlock a more meaningful connection.

“When we started talking to donors about what they were interested in … that’s where you really develop deep relationships with the donors. You’re speaking to their passion,” Koza said. “Donors want to save lives, change lives, and they’re looking for that vehicle that will allow them to do that. Nonprofits are the vehicle.”

Koza also celebrates the power of diligently contacting donors. She employs a layered communication strategy, following up with an email, phone call, and handwritten notes to donors in her portfolio.

“It just takes that tenacity,” Koza said. “Donors will feel more comfortable with you because you have been slowly making that connection.”

Koza described a recent lunch with a donor she had been trying to meet for the first time. Koza considered the lunch a success because the donor agreed to consider increasing their annual gift and to consider learning more about the capital campaign.

“I asked for permission and she gave her permission,” Koza said. “Things like that, that’s when you know it’s working.”

Celebrate Who You Are

As a development director for an animal shelter for nearly 20 years, Koza knows it can often be an “easy for you to say” reaction to her success. After all, what’s easier to raise money for than puppies? But Koza explains every nonprofit has the potential to pull heartstrings and inspire.

“I want people to understand that if they have belief in the work they are doing, they can find a way to communicate that to their donors,” Koza said. “Donors will appreciate that you are taking them on an insider journey. The trust level is going to increase and therefore the contributions will increase.”

In her early days at the SPCA, Koza remembers the anxiety of inviting donors for a tour.

“Even when I think back to how frightening our facility must have looked, people loved those tours,” she said. “They saw beyond the rusty kennels and leaking ceilings and saw the work we were doing for the animals. Nine times out of 10, donors would say they had no idea how much work you do.”

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Koza credits her professional success to disciplined adherence to fundraising basics. No surprise here – that definitely includes sitting down and calling donors.

“Put it on your calendar that one hour a day you are going to make phone calls to donors,” Koza said. “You’ve got to be disciplined. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time.”

To combat confusion and overwhelm, Koza suggested contacting loyal donors first. Review your database to see who has been giving consistently for several years. Koza advised fundraisers to write a script to help reduce anxiety. Structure the first phone call as a thank you and to ask them why your agency is so meaningful to them.

“I equate it to stage fright, but you have to get used to it,” Koza said. “It’s about having a belief in the work your agency is doing. If you don’t believe in the work, you should find new work.”

By the Numbers

Consider the recruitment opportunities for your organization that these stats indicate:

  • About 63 million Americans (25% of the adult population) volunteer their time, talents, and energy to making a difference.
  • These people spend an average of 52 hours/year volunteering.
  • 72% of volunteers are involved with only one organization, while 18.3% are involved with two.

Random interesting stats presented monthly from various sources.