Are You Reading Your Major Donors Correctly?
I was recently alerted to a wonderful passionate giving series about the power of showing up. What does this mean? It means we must remember that major gifts work, necessarily, is about showing up – every day – and doing the right thing. There are some boring brass tacks strategies that are tried and true, and chasing around the perimeters will not substitute for embracing these fundamentals. In other words, we avoid the hard work – and daily grind – at our peril.
I’ve been writing a lot lately about marketing communication strategies that are essential pre-conditions to fundraising. Today, I just felt like going back to the basics. Of course, this begins and ends with passion – ours and that of our donors. Engaging that passion, however, takes some fundamentals. So, for all you tried-and-true major gift fundraising and one-person office development practitioners, here is some food for thought.
What’s in a name? Often, it can be an attitude or a culture. And if that attitude is all about you, then there’s trouble ahead. I’ve often thought about the problem of calling folks “Major Gifts Directors”. Who wants to get a letter from this person? It’s too easy for folks to deduce that all you care about is their wallet. And many folks do not self identify as ‘major’ donors. I’ve changed job descriptions to something more donor friendly, like “Director of Philanthropic Gifts.” At least that places the emphasis on the ‘love of humankind’ being demonstrated by the donor. Even better would be “Director of Donor Experiences”, but I’m not sure we’re ready for that. That’s what we really do if we’re doing our jobs!
What’s in a list of duties? Often, way too much. For a staff person to really focus on building relationships with an assigned portfolio, they must not be distracted. They must get out of the office. They must do nothing else.
Make sure your major gifts officer has support staff, or you’re going to spend most of this person’s time on administration. It’s pennywise and pound foolish. One gift can pay for the support person. But only if you let your staff focus on getting the gift!
It’s always good to keep in mind the Peter Drucker wisdom: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”Major gifts work is challenging, and requires perseverance. There’s no magic bullet. Leads must be uncovered. Research must be done. Contacts must be made, and renewed, and made again. Follow-up is essential. A major gifts officer must really love connecting donors with the joy of giving. This work is not about going through the motions.
Show them you know them. Reach out to them and listen to them. It’s the only way to truly know what inspires them. And, really, that’s our job. Build the relationships and make the personal calls. Don’t rely on efficiency; be effective. Thank them. Be honest and transparent. In essence, if we want them to adopt us as their ‘children’ (and maybe even leave us a bequest), then we must honor them as ‘parents’. We must tell the truth, respect their wishes and return their love.