For over a decade now, Richard and I (and now folks on our staff) have been writing our Passionate Giving Blog. Our very first blog post was titled “10 Reasons Most Major Gift Programs Suck.” (A lot of people got offended by the word “suck”… but it did provoke thought!)

And now, thousands of blogs later, we have been able to identify many more ways non-profits are hurting their major gift programs. So, I started writing out a list, and then asked the Veritus team to write out their lists, and together we have well over 40 barriers that prevent non-profits from seeing major gift success.

So, in a very raw, authentic, and truthful way (because that’s how we do it at Veritus), I’m going to lay them all out over a series of blog posts. And I’m going to do this not to embarrass you or make you feel stupid, but to help you and your organization identify where you need to improve so you can thrive. We have hundreds of success stories from organizations that have removed these barriers and embraced the beauty of a disciplined approach that helps you develop real, authentic relationships with your donors. And I know you can achieve this too.

Here’s the first list of common issues that are holding non-profits back from success in major gifts:

  1. Lack of Leadership —

    This is the #1 killer of successful major gift programs. Leaders and board members who don’t understand how important their role is in supporting a major gift program. We’ve worked with too many organizations who bring us on to help, only to have it go sideways because the CEO or President of the organization doesn’t buy into creating relationships with donors. They think major gifts is about going after the money. Now, they may not say it that way, but they will not have the patience to allow their fundraisers to develop relationships. Instead, they pressure managers and fundraisers to bring in the money… now! If you have a leader like this and you really want to be a successful major gift fundraiser, you can either leave and find another organization where leadership “gets it,” or you can send them a copy of our book and secretly put it on their desk or mail it to them anonymously.

  2. Lack of Management —

    So while none of these barriers are supposed to be in any kind of order, this just happens to be the #2 killer of major gift programs… bad management. This is sort of related to bad leadership, because it’s leadership that doesn’t value good management, so I’m not blaming individual managers here. I’m blaming the system that allows for ineffective management. Usually, a major gift officer’s manager also has a full portfolio of donors, which means they have little time for the fundraisers they are supposed to manage. This is heartbreaking because what happens is that fundraisers are left on their own, with very little direction or guidance, and then everyone wonders why fundraisers leave every 18 months.

  3. CEO doesn’t want to engage with donors —

    Major donors want to have access to the CEO. Someone who is considering a six or seven figure gift needs a direct connection to leadership. But many times, this never happens because the leader doesn’t want anything to do with fundraisers or donors. You can’t have a thriving major gift program without an engaged leader who understands their important role in inspiring donors to invest in the mission of the organization. The good news is that if a leader is willing to change, it can have a profound effect on major gift revenue. We’ve seen it happen many times.

  4. Major Gift Officers are not trained —

    This is another symptom of bad leadership. The thinking here is, “if we just bring in somebody to start asking donors for money like a salesperson or something, we’ll start seeing some big checks.” But the role of Major Gift Officer is a profession, made up of professionals. You become better at your craft by training, learning by doing, making mistakes, and more training throughout your career. Yet many non-profits have no desire to invest in their people. And again, this is why we see such high turnover.

  5. There is no structure to your major gifts program —

    If you don’t have a portfolio of no more than 150 qualified donors, Tiered A-C, a revenue goal and a strategic plan for every donor in that portfolio, along with a weekly meeting with your manager to ensure you are staying focused and accountable to your goals and plan… you will not have a successful, long-term major gift program. This structure I just outlined has to be the core of the program. Without this core, the program is doomed.

  6. You have no mid-level program feeding major gifts —

    So many non-profit leaders and managers lament that they just don’t have enough major donors. So, they ask their MGO to “fish” for them outside of the donor base. “Find that wealthy donor who gives to all those other non-profits,” we hear. Such a waste of time, yet it’s happening with thousands of non-profits. An alternative to that failed strategy is to look at your current database and develop a strong mid-level program in an attempt to deepen the relationship with the donor, figure out their passions and interests, and inspire them to start giving larger gifts until they’re ready to move to major gifts! We find that without a mid-level program, only 0.2% of donors move into major gifts per year. But, with a robust mid-level program with a mid-level officer, that moves up to 3.5% a year. That’s a huge difference.

  7. Bad coffee and no Diet Coke in the staff fridge —

    We all know how frustrating bad coffee can be. While it may seem silly, good coffee and a fridge stocked with your staff’s favorite drinks are just examples of how you can create a culture and environment that will go a long way toward MGO satisfaction.

  8. The manager of your major gift program is your best MGO —

    Scores of non-profits promote their best MGO to manage the entire program. This is a huge mistake that Richard and I have written about ad nauseum. Your best MGO is motivated by getting results through their own efforts. Managers love getting results through the efforts of others. Putting your best MGO in as a manager is a disaster waiting to happen. Not because they are bad people, but because they aren’t wired to get results through coaching others. Don’t make this mistake.

Okay, we’ve just scraped the tip of the iceberg here, but this is a good start. Stayed tuned!


Read Part Two