I believe there is a crisis among major gift officers all over the world. It’s a crisis that is causing good people like you to struggle and lose faith in their skills, and it’s causing donors to question the mission of organizations they either support or want to support.
This “crisis” is about a lack of confidence that some major gift officers exhibit in their work. This lack of confidence may very well be contributing to the amazing turnover we see in our industry and the lack of trust donors have in non-profits.
In all the years our Veritus team has been working with major gift officers, it’s not the training for specific skills or strategy that has been needed the most; it’s helping to instill confidence in the major gift officers who are sitting face to face with wealthy people trying to build relationships.
Unfortunately, Richard and I have seen many MGOs lose donors because the MGO essentially wasn’t prepared, did not have answers to the donor’s questions, looked as though they were apologizing for meeting with the donor in the first place, or didn’t follow up properly. I’ve personally talked with some of these donors, and they all say something eerily similar: “The minute she (the MGO) walked into my office, I knew she didn’t know what she was talking about. I lost all confidence in the organization.”
How did the donor know this?
I’m going to make a generalization, but hear me out. Many people of great wealth got that way because they are driven, had goals, worked hard to make those goals, and learned to be confident in who they are and what they want. Because of that, they are attracted to others who show similar confidence. When they sense a lack of confidence in someone, they begin to question.
Is that necessarily fair? Perhaps not, but it’s a reality. Think about it in your own life. You go to a store to buy a new television. You are torn between two different brands, and you ask the salesperson their thoughts and opinions to help you make that decision. This has actually happened to me, and when the salesperson looked at me and shrugged and said he wasn’t sure what to do, I left and didn’t buy anything.
Why? Because I couldn’t buy anything from someone who didn’t believe in the product. This same dynamic happens in major gift fundraising. The donor not only has to believe in the mission and know their gift will make a difference, but they have to believe in YOU.
I want to be clear: not all major gift officers lack confidence. The great MGOs that we have managed over the years are great because they exude great confidence with donors.
I don’t believe that people are born with confidence. Yes, it does seem that some people have a greater sense of who they are, but I believe confidence comes through preparation, positive self-talk, and allowing yourself to be imperfect.
Here are some tips to help you gain confidence as an MGO, and to gain the donor’s respect and ultimately their investment in your organization:
- Let go of the demons in your head. Many MGOs actually feel that they are not worthy of the work they are doing. “I can’t do this” is their mantra. “Who am I to ask people for money?” This negative self-talk is extremely damaging to becoming an effective MGO. The fact is, you are worthy, you are good at what you do; and it’s time to step up and do the job you were hired for. I knew an MGO who every time he solicited a donor would go into the bathroom right before meeting the donor, look in the mirror and say, “I can do this” over and over again. You may laugh, but this MGO was extraordinary.
- Do your homework. Preparation is the key to being confident. Most often, you don’t exude confidence because you haven’t prepared well. Have you thought about every objection the donor could make to your proposal? Do you know all the ins and outs of the project you are presenting? This is crucial.
- Tell a good story. Nothing is better than telling a good story to highlight the need you are bringing to a donor. When you allow the donor to be drawn into your story, it has a tremendous positive effect on the donor. Good storytelling shows confidence.
- Take risks. Confidence comes from taking a risk and landing on your feet. Sometimes you fall… it’s okay. Most of the time you will be fine. Those experiences help you exhibit confidence to others.
- Make mistakes. Perfectionism leads to inaction. If you can allow yourself to be okay with making mistakes, you will become a person of action. Learning from your mistakes, correcting them and openly talking about them leads others to be drawn to you. It’s counterintuitive, but it works.
- Practice. The more you do something over and over, the more confident you will be in your presentation and what the outcome will be. When I present something, I go over it many, many times. I role-play it, I think about what could go wrong, and I deal with it. Then I visualize a positive outcome.
- Body language is key. There are all kinds of books on this subject, but standing tall and looking people in the eye is telling people, “I’ve got this.” In every meeting you have with a donor, you should be conscious of this until you don’t have to be any more.
- Find “easy” wins. I find one of the best ways to help an MGO gain confidence is to find some “easy” wins; in a sense, these are practice for the more difficult solicitations. If you are a new MGO reaching out to a donor who is ready to give, having that first meeting and “getting” the gift can really help boost your confidence and help you move past your insecurities.
Remember, donors want to see confidence oozing from your every pore. This does not mean you are arrogant. No, it means you have a calm, reassuring presence about you that assures the donor they are making a wise investment in your organization. That reassuring presence, that calm confidence takes work to achieve. If you are to be a great MGO, you must have it.