The Weekend Briefing

Rob Cummings is a fundraising consultant. He guides capital campaigns, coaches gift officers and helps nonprofit organizations build strong, sustainable fundraising programs. You can reach him at
One of the most important skills required of a chief development officer is the ability to look into the future, whether an hour away or a year away, to imagine the worst thing that could happen and to be ready if it does.
I’ll admit, I got to be very good at that.
I had coffee this past week with a friend who sells homes for a living. Engaging, smart, a hard worker; all the skills of a gift officer, actually.
My friend and I were talking about the November presidential election. I thought out loud, “Will donors be preoccupied and will this impact our major gift results? Bloomberg is advising investors now on “reducing election risk.”
I asked my friend if she thinks it will impact her work.
“O, Rob, at our office we’ve pretty much written off October and November completely. People don’t make big decisions when they’re nervous or preoccupied.”
My friend is right.
The crazy thing is, I haven’t seen anything about this in the fundraising literature or on social media up to now. Not anywhere.
That seems odd. I’m looking ahead and thinking that major gift prospects of ours are going to be VERY preoccupied this fall. We might want to “get the show on the road” right now to accelerate the process of securing those gifts.
I thought I’d ask a few friends what they thought. But not just anyone. Friends who have been at the very top of our business. The best fundraising minds I know.
Dan Reagan was Associate Vice President for University Relations for the University of Notre Dame and the architect of two campaigns in excess of $1 billion:
“Rob, a very interesting topic . . . here is what I am seeing . . . the election looms to be sure . . . it is on everyone's mind but remains in the background in polite conversation (emphasis on polite) . . . Am just finishing up one campaign with a client and starting another with a second . . . the one finishing is relieved to be complete before the election . . . now the organization just starting a campaign feels pretty good about its start - economy still in their favor and I think they would list the election as just one of the headwinds they have to be concerned about - perhaps not the top but among the top two or three, with the possibility that it  moves higher on the list as we get closer to November, know who the democratic challenger will be etc. 
“The key to their success will be (and you would be the champion of this): can they deepen existing relationships and begin new relationships as the election drumbeat grows louder - I think they can, but it will take persistence without being obnoxious - an emotional, logical case - and patience . . . like during the recession, stick with their donors, understand and empathize with their distraction (at best) or their fear (at worst) and find the right time to frame the "ask"  . . . we are in somewhat uncharted waters with the wind picking up but we can still move ahead . . .it will be slower though . . . just my take.”
Randy Holgate served the University of Chicago as Senior Vice President for University Resources:
“Hi Rob. I agree that donors (and everyone) are nervous and unsure about the upcoming election. That will preoccupy minds leading into the fall. People may delay gift decisions to “wait and see” or just not be thinking of philanthropy.

“That said, there is never a bad time to keep connected with donors and prospective donors. Now is a good time to reinforce relationships, especially to get an early sense of ‘state of mind’, to plant the seeds of major gift ideas and to make requests. But the timing is everything and always the donor’s. We just need to be as prepared and connected with them to know when their time is right.

“I also think this is an important year to keep track of gift timing for an institution’s high end annual fund supporters. Maybe get out ahead to secure renewals and increases before the drama of the fall hits.

“Just my thoughts.”
Jon Heintzelman was Associate Vice President for Development and Director of Major and Planned Gifts for Northwestern University, followed by more than a decade as Senior Vice President for Advancement at Loyola University Chicago and the leader of a $535 million campaign:
“Rob — interesting take — I think there might be a temporary freeze in pulling the trigger on a major gift but most of the really major gifts have a much longer gestation period than a couple of months in the fall around the election and the truly committed donors I think have much more faith in the mission and future of the organization to which they are committed than to the vagaries of a particular political election, even given how disruptive this administration has been on our collective psyches.
“I think the election might create a temporary pause in the decision making process but not likely to derail the ultimate decision, particularly if the advancement officer stays on top of things — for example, if the prospect might be close to a decision, it might even be a good strategy to say let’s wait unit the new year when all of this election noise has died down and reconvene and reconnect in January (unless of course the prospect needs to year end deduction) — we are in a profession that requires us to be optimists at heart and so we must have faith that the sun will come up post- election.”
You heard it here first. A tad better than what you’ll read on Twitter.
Next Sunday night, while all of this uncertainty is swirling about, the one thing your donors are craving for, from you.
Have a good week, my friends.
"Winning: The Five Truths of Fundraising" is available now in print, Ebook and audiobook on 

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