“My number one problem is that I want to focus on major gifts and I know it’s so important, but I have so many other responsibilities I can’t give it the time it deserves for me to be successful.”
A struggling director of development said this to me in a recent forum where I participated.
The minute this development director said these words, people all around the room raised their hands and nodded their heads in agreement. Essentially, the collective observation in the room was that everyone knows that they need to do major gifts work, but they are not sure how to do it with limited staff and a tight budget.
I saw the look of anguish on many people’s faces in that room. These are good, committed, hardworking development professionals. They are donor-centered, mission-minded people. They all wanted more hours in the day to do their work.
The frustration I saw in that room is not uncommon. At almost every conference or client headquarters we visit, Richard and I find that folks are struggling to “do it all.”
I understand their feelings. I too struggle with prioritizing, knowing how to spend my time most effectively, and trying to stay focused. (Ask Richard, he will tell you.) It’s a constant struggle. However, I do know that there are strategies that can help you stay on course and help you be successful in major gifts. Here are some thoughts to help you:
- Decide to commit. I find many folks in small- to medium-sized non-profits who give lip service to knowing they need to put major gift fundraising as a priority, but they always default to the work that the culture of the organization has created. Therefore, before you actually create or give priority to major gifts, you have to commit to it. This means you have to tell your CEO and board that this is now a priority, and present them with an actual strategic plan on how it’s going to happen. This plan doesn’t have to be 15 pages long – it can be very simple – but it answers the questions of who, what, and when you are going to do this. This will allow others to keep you accountable.
- Just say “no.” If you are saying “YES” to starting or revamping your major gift program, you have to say “NO” to something you are doing currently, something that is either not creating revenue or not creating enough revenue to justify your doing it. This is where folks get into trouble. You actually can’t keep doing everything you have been doing AND add the major gift thing. It’s not going to work. Perhaps it’s not working on events, or it may mean having someone else write newsletter articles and fund appeals. Whatever it is that is keeping you from working on major gifts has to be let go from your work.
- Allocate your time. You have to go through an exercise where you figure out all the major tasks you have, and allocate what percentage of your week is devoted to each one. How much of your time can you allocate toward major gifts? 75, 50, 25%? Be conservative. The number one problem we run into with a Veritus client is when they have someone doing fundraising in addition to many other things, and he tells us he can devote 50% of his time to major gifts, when really he can only do 20%.
- Block your time. Let’s say you can only devote 25% of your time to major gifts. Yes, it would be great if you could do more, but for now that is all you can do. That’s great. Well, take that 25% (or 10-15 hours per week) and block it on your calendar. You have to do it, or it will get sucked up from something else. When you do this, tell someone else that she needs to hold you accountable to that time.
- Be realistic. Okay, I’m going to assume you have followed the Veritus process in how to qualify, set goals, and create strategies for your major donors. (If you need help with that, we have a new White Paper coming out on that topic this week. It will give you everything you need to do this right.) Now, let’s go back to the 25% of your time. If you were 100% devoted to major gifts, you could cultivate 150 donors. So, at 25% of your time you can realistically only cultivate between 35-40 donors. That’s it. Yes, you probably have more people on your donor file, but you want your best 35-40 qualified donors. By the way, whatever percentage of time you can devote, just multiply 150 times your percentage, and that will give you roughly the number of donors you can work with.
- Stick to it. The above approach is the only way to execute a major gift program when you don’t have full-time staff devoted to it. The absolute key to making it work is that you are disciplined about it. I often tell folks that you have to be even MORE disciplined and focused when you are not working full-time on major gifts, because you will always have something pulling you AWAY FROM major gifts. The best way to stay focused on an ongoing basis is A) to make sure that your calendar is blocked, and B) that you have someone hold you accountable to your revenue goals for those several dozen donors.
I’m not telling you that this is easy. But I guarantee you that if you go through this process and have it all on paper (or in your database and your calendar system) you will feel a sense of relief that you now have the time to devote to major gifts. People often tell me they feel liberated when they finish going through this process.
You can be successful at major gifts even if you don’t have 100% of your time devoted to it. Can you commit to it today?
The challenge that I’m finding as make time for major gift work is that donors do not respond to calls, notes, emails, etc. I have faith that messages are getting through, but almost no takers on meetings, facility tours, etc. Is there something else that I should be doing?
Keep being persistent and patient. If you keep working your plan you will break through. Sometimes it takes 7-9 attempts before a donor will answer the phone and relate to you. Don’t lose hope.
I really needed this reminder today as so much of this applies to corporate relations as well. I have set for myself the lofty goal of meeting with 150 donors, but truly only have 25% of my time to spend on this, making the highest goal I can realistically set being 50 or less.
This will have implications for the budget, but relationships take time to build!