December “Glass Balls” for Major Gift Teams

Published by Karen Osborne on

We all have to juggle responsibilities. News commentator Leslie Stahl admonishes us to identify our glass balls, those tasks that we cannot drop under any circumstances.  When those balls shatter, the consequences are either dire, or there is a ripple effect and other things come crashing down.

Here is my list of December glass balls for major gift teams.

  1. You are a glass ball. For many reasons, December is a month of extreme stress. Closing end of the year gifts, fitting in holiday parties, increased and broader family responsibilities, gearing up for 2015. When we are exhausted, stretched and stressed, we drop more balls, make mistakes, and frazzle others.  Take care of yourself this month. Set time aside to think and breath. Those moments of respite will increase your productivity, not take away from it.  Get enough sleep.  Drink enough water.  Everyone on your team and all the donors you touch this month will benefit from your calm confidence.



  1. Current donors are more important than potential new donors are. You are down to the wire with limited days to make things happen. Your current donors are your top priority.  Increased gifts from them are easier than a new gift from a stranger.  Sending out volumes of holiday or New Year cards with a scribbled handwritten signature will not yield as much as taking time to write personal, meaningful notes to your most important friends.
  1. Be Donor– I love this list of 35 year-end strategies.  Some you can use in 2015. Some you can use right now.  I especially like number 5. Just as December stretches and stresses you, it is the same for your donors.  Make taking action on your organization’s behalf easy.
  1. Gratitude, appreciation and impact sets up 2015 for success. Ask volunteers, mission-staff, and beneficiaries to make gratitude and appreciation calls, thanking current AND RECENT donors for all they have already invested. Share the impact their investments made. Include intellectual, expertise and time investments. This will help start 2015 get off on the right foot. And don’t forget your internal partners. Make sure everyone on the team who gave and helped feel the love as well.
  1. Focus. I’ve talked about this before so maybe you’re tired of hearing it, but saying NO to some things allows you to say yes to the right things. We are can-do people. This month, more than almost any other time, picking the right things to do makes a huge impact. You’re smart.  You can do this. Here are tips for managing your time, energy, and work while still having a life.
  1. Set up your metrics for 2015. If you’ve not already done this, ask your folks responsible for the database to get the reports you’ll need in January set up now for easy retrieval then. Notice, I’m interested in annual giving retention numbers even though my focus is major gifts. That’s because within your annual giving program are tons of folks with the capacity to give major gifts. If they are walking out the door because of lack of donor care, it will impact your program down the line. If they are staying, it could impact your major gift program as early as 2015 with new major donors as well as years to come! Higher lifetime giving. More bequests. Increased viral marketing.
    • Segmented retention rates

  • Leadership Annual Giving Upgrade rates. Use a similar table as illustrated above. How are you doing? Annual giving upgrades at the leadership annual giving levels are excellent indicators for major gifts.
  • Yes rates for Major Gift Solicitations and Solicitors
    • Number of yeses compared to number of solicitations by solicitor
    • Amount given/pledged compared to amount requested by solicitor
    • Amount given/pledged compared to capacity rating by solicitor
  1. Set aside time in January for course correction or annual plan adjustments depending on your fiscal year. Cross off the days now, so you can dive in once you have your end of the calendar year numbers.  This work takes time, time that is worth investing.  Analyze your metrics, volunteer and staff results, program successes. Think, discuss, make decisions, and then take action.  As you set up your Q1 calendar for 2015, be sure to cross off donor days. Here are some tips to help you in 2015 – Ten Things Great Relationship Builders Do
  1. And oh, did I mention you are a glass ball? I did, didn’t I? Well don’t forget that.  Take care of you so you can take care of everything and everyone else.

What would you add to this list?

Karen Osborne

Internationally recognized as an expert consultant and excellent presenter, Karen receives invitations from all over the United States and the world to make presentations and consult with NGOs, universities, justice, social service, and health organizations. The Council for Support and Advancement of Education (CASE) awarded Karen the Crystal Apple for outstanding teaching and Ashmore Award for Outstanding Service to the Profession. Published and often quoted in industry books, newspapers and magazines, Karen serves on the board of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and teaches a graduate course on philanthropy for Johns Hopkins University.

1 Comment

Top 2014 Blog Posts From The Osborne Group, Inc. - The Osborne Group Blog · December 31, 2014 at 16:04

[…] December Glass Balls for Major Gift Teams. Advice for January 2015 as well! […]

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