We’ve seen it over and over again – CEOs, Presidents, Executive Directors who actually block progress in the major gift program. And the blocking or lack of progress usually occurs in four areas where the leader…
- …doesn’t really value major gifts as a central fundraising function in the organization.
- …doesn’t think long-term, so it is difficult to gain support for investing in the program.
- …wants to help, but doesn’t know how to relate to donors or do the ask.
- …doesn’t understand what is needed to bring in larger gifts.
As we prepare for the Major Gift Academy, Jeff and I (and our associates) realize that this is an important topic to cover in the Academy’s training – how to get leaders of all types “on board” with major gifts. We will be doing that when the Academy launches in just a few months.
But in the meantime, here is how Jeff and I think about each of these four leadership obstacles, along with our suggestions about what you can do about each one:
Doesn’t value the major gifts program – What we have discovered about this point is that the numbers can do all the talking and convincing. Jeff and I wish that it was about more than that – like having leaders simply value the donors because they are donors – but it really doesn’t happen. It’s about the numbers.
Here is what gets a leader’s attention. If you do the donor analysis right, you can show all the money that is being lost year after year because of a lack of the proper stewardship and caring that a major gift program can provide. The amounts lost are ALWAYS staggering. Just show any responsible leader those facts and BAM, you will have their attention – and they’ll start on a path toward valuing a major gift program more.
When you can show that the current value lost from the same donors, year after year, is in the 30-60% range or more, and that the losses drop to 6-11% with a good major gift program – when you can show that, it is clear that there is a huge source of revenue that can be captured to fund programs. But here’s one problem. You have to show this information to the top decision-maker, not someone down-line.
Jeff and I frequently experience the following dynamic. We show a lower-level person the facts. They are shocked, disturbed and motivated to do something about the situation. Then they try to present the info to their own managers, and they fail to do it properly. So the net effect of all the effort is that the case to show the value of major gifts fails, and we all are back into the same reality where the top leader does not value major gifts as he or she should. You must get the top leader AND the top person in finance (plus the DOD) involved in this presentation of the facts.
No long-term thinking and therefore, no investment – This is symptomatic of the point above. If the top leader doesn’t get that there are funds to be captured from existing donors, he or she will not be motivated to make the investment to harvest those funds. So you have to make the case.
Wants to help, but doesn’t know how – This is the result of a lack of one or more things: lack of understanding on how major gifts works, being uncomfortable with the ask, and a lack of natural or even trainable ability on the part of the leader.
The last one you really can’t do much about, except to talk openly about it and have the leader become comfortable with playing a representative role vs. a functional role in the major gift process. In other words, they will not be DOING anything in the major gift process with a donor except “showing up” when needed.
The other two items are training items. It is important to have your leaders clearly understand all the elements of major gifts and how it works. We recommend you get them into some sort of training, either our Major Gift Academy or training we could do for you on-site, for instance. We have found that when leaders can understand how major gifts works, it clears up a lot of problems.
The last item, being uncomfortable with the ask, is also a leader’s lack of understanding about what the ask is all about. Jeff tells the story of a top leader whom he counseled through this point. After several conversations with Jeff about the topic, this leader was able to understand that asking a donor to fulfill their passions and interests by giving to his organization (the ask) – all of this was a gift to the donor, rather than taking money from her. Once he understood this, it all cleared up, and the discomfort with asking went away. You need to have this conversation with your top leader(s). Or we can do it.
Lack of understanding about how to get larger gifts – This is one of the most common problems in non-profit work today: not having donor offers that can generate six, seven and even larger gifts. The primary reason for this problem is not that the non-profit doesn’t have the program to present, or that the non-profit lacks the donors to make those larger gifts. The problem is that the organization has not packaged their program. It is really that simple. Why it’s not done is beyond me.
If you and I owned a retail store that carried lower-priced items as well as higher-priced items, we would want to sell both kinds of merchandise. But if customers went into the store and found that all the shelves where the higher-priced items were supposed to be were empty, would it be any surprise to you that we weren’t selling any of them? Of course not.
This is what is happening in most non-profits. There are no donor offers in the six-figure and higher range. And that is a lack of planning and program packaging. If I were a non-profit leader, I would have an employee who did only that, full-time – packaging the program for high-value donor offers. It would be worth the cost.
Getting leaders on board with all the aspects of major gift fundraising boils down to addressing these four points in your organization. Find a way to make that happen.