There is not a non-profit on the face of the earth that has a need.  Not one.
Think about it.  What need does a non-profit have? Well, you could argue that a non-profit needs money, talent, publicity, gifts in kind, etc.
But why does it need these things?  To get it’s mission accomplished.
And that’s a point that most people on the inside of the non-profit forget – that the whole effort is about the cause, not the organization.
This topic is one that every MGO and manager related to major gifts must get straight in their heads in order for major gifts to be successful.
Here are the major areas where this goes wrong:

  1. Staff does not know where money comes from.  This is one of the most surprising and shocking realities in many non-profits.  Except for the development staff, no one else really knows or appreciates that donors, of various types, are the source of their paychecks, the people who pay the light bill and the generous persons who fund the programs.  Two days ago a good friend of mine who works for a major national non-profit told me that he was meeting with a manager who dealt with legal and HR issues in the organization.  As they talked my friend discovered, much to his dismay, that this woman had no appreciation or awareness of how the donor fit into the whole equation.  “Richard,” my friend said, “it was shocking for me to listen to this woman speak.  It was all about the organization, her department, her lack of resources, etc. When I mentioned donors and their needs it was like I was a space alien.  Her eyes glazed over and she had no idea what I was talking about!”  Situations like this are a major management failure.  There should not be one staff member who does not fully understand and appreciate the donor’s role in the non-profit.  Not one.  This is exactly where the “we have needs” thing starts – with staff who truly believe that the non-profit’s needs are more important than meeting needs.
  2. Program is focused on process and outcomes.  And program should be focused on outcomes. If nothing is getting accomplished – if program is not securing the required change – then what’s the point?  So I agree with this focus.  But not to the exclusion of the investors.  And often program people have no idea that donors are a key part of making program happen. Instead, they have a focus on OUR needs vs. meeting needs.  This is a problem.
  3. Finance packages everything for internal consumption.  You have no idea how often I run into finance people who have no clue about donors.  Now, to be fair, many of them do.  But many more don’t.  And that’s a problem.  So they have no understanding that donors look at things differently. Financial info is packaged as financial info vs. the dynamic,  life-changing source of power that it is.  This is why “WE have needs” is a prevalent attitude in finance.
  4. Operations thinks in terms of preserving the system vs. helping program and donors.  It’s the same dynamic here as in finance.  It’s all about good things that a good organization should do, but with one missing value:  the orientation or focus that all of this that we are doing is about changing lives and/or preserving the planet.

This is all relatively easy to change.
Managers and leaders need to regularly remind all staff about (a) the important role donors play in the organization and (b) that the organization exists to MEET needs.  While this latter point may be a nuance, it is, nevertheless, an important one.
Every staff member, every manager, every person in the non-profit should be focused on the fact that “meeting needs is what we do”.  When that mentality is in place, all the systems and processes  align to it and a proper sense of being then exists.
As an MGO or an MGO manager, your job is to fulfill donor interests and passions by meeting needs.  Make sure your values, beliefs and actions are always aligned to that important mission.