Several days ago, one of our readers sent me a copy of a donor survey that a consultant had created for use with caseload donors. As I read it, my heart sank. While it was packaged as a helpful way for a MGO to secure information from the donor, in reality it was a manipulative transaction-based approach to donors that cared more about securing a gift than serving the donor.
Frankly, it was disgusting to read. And here’s why.
As you know, Jeff and I believe that if MGOs “aim for the money” you may get some, but you will not “get” the donor. That is not good. We believe that the objective of major gift fundraising – the core objective – is to “get the donor.” If you get the donor, the dollars will follow. Major gifts work is about a focus on donors, not dollars. It is about building relationship, not reaching into your donor’s pocket.
And if the core objective is getting the donor, the core strategy needs to be centered on capturing the donor’s heart and understanding her passions. It is NOT about getting the money. I know this is counter-intuitive, which is why so many people have a difficult time understanding it – much less implementing it. “How can I do all this relationship and passion stuff,” the MGO asks, “if I am getting so much pressure to get the money and reach goals?”
I know. And I understand.
But what we are trying to communicate, when we say things like “serve the donor” or “understand her passions and interests,” is how you should think and what you should do on the journey toward getting the gift. The old thinking, as evidenced by this survey I received, is to focus on the gift, talk about the gift and get the data and info so you can get the gift. To be candid, it is a self-centered, self-interested activity on the part of the organization/MGO just to get the money. It does not really, truly concern itself with the donor. It is simply about the money.
And while that will work for a while, it is a short-term strategy because the donor, in her heart, will know that that is all you really care about. It will hurt her, and she will not want to stay with you. That kind of activity is not relationship-based.
Think about it this way. You know what it feels like to be used. You see all the smiles, hear all the chatter – you even experience some “moves” on the part of the other person to make you feel good and valued. But in your heart you know they don’t really care. You know it. How does that feel? Pretty bad, doesn’t it?
That is why Jeff and I are suggesting you get in touch with how you feel when you are treated this way. Because if you can get in touch with that, and you couple that awareness with your intellectual understanding on helping your donor be a partner (not just a source of cash), then you will get on the right path to success in your job as a MGO.
Major gifts, done right, is about knowing the passions and interests of the donor and, from that platform, launching and maintaining a partnership with the donor to get something done that both of you (the organization and the donor) are interested in. It is about mutuality. It is not about you doing something to the donor. It is about doing something with the donor. There is a huge difference. Here is what “doing something to the donor” looks like, taken right from that survey:
- Pretending you really care about how the donor feels about the organization while most of your questions are about their gift or giving. The amount of their gift, the frequency of their giving, how do they prefer to talk about their giving, etc. Don’t get me wrong, this is important information, but it might be good to start with what the donor is interested in accomplishing. What do they care about? What is there about the world’s need that the donor wants to do something about? That is what is important.
- Spending more time inquiring what it would take to get a larger gift or a more frequent gift, rather than figuring out what the donor wants to accomplish in our hurting world and serving that interest.
- Asking a donor HOW she decides to give, with a focus on amounts and cycles, so that you can get the gift.
- Asking questions about age, gender, marital status and household income – if the donor is on your caseload and you were spending time with them, you would know all the answers to these questions (with the exception of household income which, I think, is not appropriate to ask). Do you feel uncomfortable if, on the phone or at a social gathering, someone just comes out and asks: “By the way, Richard, what is your annual income or your net worth?” Goodness.
Now, don’t get me wrong, much of this information is good to get. But it should be done with the proper timing and in the context of a truly sincere caring about the donor, wanting to serve her interests and passions. Truly sincere. Not manipulative. This is what I mean.
So all of this great work we do in major gifts is really not about the gift. And any consultant or advisor that tells you differently is working with a major gift strategy that is last-century, transaction-based and does not work for the long term. You need to put your running shoes on and get away from that kind of advice as fast as you can.
Set your mind today to change how you think about your relationship to your caseload or portfolio of donors. Think of each donor as a unique partner. Focus on what they want to do with their giving. Understand why that is important to them. Then help them do it. This approach will make a huge difference for them, for you and the cause you both are interested in supporting.