The counterintuitive beauty of having a structure to your major gift program is that it allows you to be incredibly creative within that structure.
However, when you work within a structure and have a plan, it’s also easy to fall into complacency. You may become too rigid to be open to new possibilities and new ways to cultivate and steward your donors.
Vu Lee, a very gifted (and funny) non-profit blogger based in Seattle recently wrote a blog post for GuideStar called, “7 Game-Changing Things Nonprofits Can Learn from For-Profits.” Even though he addresses his blog to non-profit leaders, it will give you inspiration to think about what YOU are doing with your major donors as well.
Here are some of the points I really liked in his article, and I encourage you to think about them:

  1. Think bolder, sometimes beyond reason. When you work for a non-profit, you may have a tendency to play it safe. But what could you do to “shake up” how you cultivate your caseload? What could you do to give your donors an experience they will NOT get with any other non-profit? How can you KNOW your donors so well, you could surprise them with information or make connections for them no other non-profit is?
  2. Ask for WAY more money. I like this one. Richard and I have seen many more major gift officers who are way too tentative than those who may be too bold in how they solicit donors. There is a fear among most MGOs that donors will get upset if you ask too much from them. We would rather see you ask bold, than ask too low. In fact, we’ve had more experiences where the donor was upset when they were asked for a gift that was too low, than too high. This is why, when we’re helping MGOs set goals for the year, we have two goals for every donor: one that is for management, and one that is aspirational. It’s amazing how many MGOs hit their aspirational goals. Why? Because they actually write down what they want to attain, and they go after it.
  3. Take more and bigger risks, even if it means failure. This is tied into #2 above, but in the for-profit world they are much more aggressive about trying new things, even if they will eventually fail. Failure leads to new discoveries. Non-profits, however, are so concerned about using every penny toward their “mission” that they fail to see that the “mission” could expand and have more impact IF you took a bigger risk. So ask yourself: If money and time were not an issue, what would I do with my major gift caseload to help build stronger relationships with my donors? What could I do that may not cost a bunch of money, but may be unconventional at my non-profit with donors?
  4. Be very confident, even about stuff you don’t know about. People are attracted to confidence. Richard and I feel that sometimes MGOs are too timid; they are unprepared for a donor’s question, or they don’t come off confident in how they talk about the programs and projects of the organization. Sometimes MGOs let donors roll all over them and accept crazy demands, rather than standing up for what the right thing is. As an MGO, you don’t have to know all the answers, but you do need to have the confidence that you can GET the right answers and then follow up with a donor. If you believe in your mission, you should be confident in how you talk about it with your donor. (Tweet it!)

Get out of your comfort zone. Right now, you have just over a month left in the year. Ask yourself what you could do that will “shake up” what you’re currently doing and give your donors an experience they won’t forget.