About a year ago, a colleague recommended that I look into The Cycle, Michael Kaiser's management method for running high-performing arts organizations. At the time, I was just starting up my practice and needed to focus on other things, so I put a mental pin in it. This spring, after finishing up a house renovation and moving in, I was hungry to focus on some meaty professional development while *not* thinking about the miles of trim that I have yet to paint.
I was DELIGHTED to see that The Cycle isn't just a book now -- it's a free online course on Coursera. And WOW. It's excellent work well worth the time to watch the lectures, if not complete all the exercises.
Who's Michael Kaiser? He's the executive director that brought Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater back from the brink. And then he ran the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, for about 13 years. He started a management institute there, honing this method of focusing tightly on making great art (the easy part!), marketing institutionally, and building relationships with what he calls the "family." Guess which part is my favorite? As Kaiser acknowledges, the lessons apply to all sorts of organizations beyond arts and culture - that just happens to be his bailiwick.
The institute how lives at the University of Maryland, and has expanded its scope. I can't say enough about the quality of this course. And hooray for free!
Here are the documents from the Making the Major Gift Ask training session. Thanks again for participating. Feel free to reach out with questions.
I've been working with a nonprofit in ABQ that wants to improve the attention they give their top sponsors once they've signed on. This type of stewardship work is critical to making sure your sponsors find value in their support and want to renew with you next year. While it's natural to focus on creating VIP-only events - and those are terrific - there are other ways to give extra attention without a huge drain on your resources. Here are a few favorites:
1. High-touch RSVP outreach: Any time you invite a key VIP to any event, give them a personal call or email a few days before the RSVP deadline. Top donors are super busy and they'll appreciate the heads up in advance of the respond date. (Avoid reaching out the day of the deadline. My experience is that VIPs feel guilty for not being on it sooner.) Simply share that you hope to see them attend. If they can't, let them know they'll be missed. It's a warm, genuine interaction that boosts your VIP engagement, and you decide exactly who and how many to reach out to. You can even delegate this one to another staffer and it still works beautifully.
2. Think logistically: Any time you extend an invitation to a VIP, whether formally or not, think through the logistics that they'll have to negotiate to show up - and clear the path. Chances are they'll be running through a hectic day and getting stuck along the way will only have them showing up late or frustrated. Are they unfamilar with this venue? Need parking? Is there valet right outside? Do you know if construction down the block will snare traffic? Will coat check take more than a minute? Share the useful details upfront, either in the invitation if it's a quick and tidy explaination, or after they RSVP. Everyone loves it when someone else saves them time and aggravation.
3. Treat their assistant like family: An assistant is far more than a gatekeeper. That person at the other end of the line is more like an extension of the family, often running your VIP's personal affairs as well as their office. They can't live without that person, and neither can you if you want to build a strong relationship with them. In my experience, assistants run the spectrum from efficient air traffic controllers to quirky, quirky, quirky. It's your job to figure out how to work with each one best. Build trust with them, and think to offer them an occassional perk along the way, and it's a win-win-win.
Emilie, Principal and Owner