By now you’ve closed the books on last year. You’ve properly thanked all the donors in your portfolio for their great gifts, and now your attention in the next couple of months will be on how well you report on the impact of those gifts.
Unfortunately, this is where we see so many major gift fundraisers struggle. They struggle with reporting on impact for a variety of reasons:
- The organization’s leaders don’t value reporting on the impact their mission makes, so it never happens.
- It’s seemingly too expensive for the organization to figure out the impact, so they don’t invest in it.
- Program folks don’t understand why development needs impact information, so they don’t report on it.
- Many major gift officers don’t think they have any influence in the matter, so they don’t ask program staff to produce impact information.
- It’s too hard, so everyone just kicks it down the road, thinking someday they’ll figure it out.
I could list a bunch more, but these are some common excuses we hear. It’s sad and frustrating when we hear these excuses, because we know this is the #1 reason donors decide to leave an organization and invest their money elsewhere.
Yet non-profits still don’t make this a priority. Richard and I have been preaching for many years that non-profits need to see their donors as just as much a part of their mission as the actual work they are doing to change the world.
We took that controversial stance because we wanted to wake up non-profit leaders to start investing in the care of donors: to move beyond viewing them as means to an end, and instead considering them to be real partners in the overall mission of the organization.
While we’ve seen progress in the areas of thanking donors and building relationships with donors, the one area where non-profits are not making enough progress is reporting on impact. Non-profits are not investing properly in figuring out the impact of the work they’ve done toward their mission so they can report that impact back to the donors who have funded the work.
We firmly believe (based on all the research and surveys that have been done on Baby Boomers and the upcoming Generation X donors) your organization will be in peril if you don’t figure this out… and figure it out quickly.
When we assess an organization’s major gift file, we often see donor and donor value attrition rates in the 40-60% range, and we see that the vast majority of major donors are giving low four-figure gifts, or the same gifts year after year. When this is the case, it tells us that the non-profit is not doing enough to show the impact of a donor’s gift.
Conversely, when we look at an organization that has taken seriously the need to report on the impact of donors’ gifts, and they’ve invested in it, we usually see major gift revenue climb substantially. We also see donor and donor value attrition rates go down, and individual portfolio growth usually hits double-digit growth each year.
Right now, if you’re a major gift officer and you don’t know how you’re going to report on impact this year, we urge you to do whatever is within your power to act. Here are some ideas for you:
- Call a meeting with your manager and executive director to discuss the relationship between your large donors and the need to report on impact. Start influencing their opinions on this issue.
- If you haven’t already, start forming relationships with program folks. Get to know them. Volunteer in their programs. Show program folks that you care about the mission, not just about money (as they might be inclined to believe).
- Create a monthly meeting with program and finance, and report to them on what’s happening with your donors. Talk about what they’re investing in, and why you need to report back the impact they’re making.
- Invite program people to donor meetings. Have the program folks talk about specific programs the donors are funding. Let program folks help you solicit donors. There is magic that happens when program people talk face-to-face with donors.
- Invite donors to see the programs and projects they’re funding. This is an opportunity to engage your organization’s staff with your donors. This creates understanding about why showing impact makes a difference.
As the major gift officer, you have influence on whether or not your organization takes reporting back to donors seriously. You represent the best interests of your donors. Do your organization a massive favor and use the leverage your donors’ investments have on the success of your organization by demanding that your organization report on impact. (Tweet it!)