Perhaps there is something in the water, but recently I’ve received a number of emails from MGOs asking an important question, but prefacing it much like this:
“I love going out and meeting people, I’m outgoing and I’m not afraid to ask donors for money. I love forming relationships with donors, and I have a real talent for listening to their needs and concerns. However, I struggle with how, on a daily basis, to ‘work my plan.’ I get distracted easily, and I can’t seem to stay on track. How can I do this part of my job better?”
As you know if you’ve been reading our blog for a while, Richard and I have addressed this problem many times over the years. In fact, the needs expressed in the quote above, which can be attributed to thousands of MGOs out there, are the reason for Veritus Group’s work with our clients. We’re all about structure, discipline, focus and accountability. Without these four attributes engineered into your major gift program, it will founder, over time.
Richard and I guarantee that if your major gift program is struggling, it’s most likely because you don’t have these four attributes working right.
The beauty of major gifts work is that you don’t have to hire Veritus Group to succeed (although it would a good idea). Today, I’m going to tell you how to work your plan so you and your major gift program will be successful.
- Have an actual plan for every donor. It sounds funny, right? Of course you have to have a plan. The problem is that many MGOs don’t have a plan. They have donors they are supposed to steward and cultivate, and maybe they know who the top donors are in their caseload, but they have no roadmap. They are great at meeting with donors, but there is nothing guiding them to go from Point A to Point B with each donor. You have to have a plan for every donor, a plan that is tied to a revenue goal. This is absolutely mandatory if you want long-term success.
- Think long-term. Many MGOs are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, because either they can’t think long-term, or they are forced to think short-term because they have to “go after the dreaded money.” The best thing for you to understand is that major gifts work is about the long game. If you think that way, you’ll be more patient with your donors and yourself, and you’ll understand the beauty of working the plan, not chasing the dollars.
- Create a daily ritual. This is key. Here is an example from one of the best MGOs I’ve ever seen. Each morning this particular MGO takes the first 20 minutes of her day writing down her “to-do” list. This daily to-do list is directly linked to her overall strategic plan. That “to-do” list drives her whole day. She does it because she is a very undisciplined person. She has learned that this is the only way for her to stay on track. At first it was very hard for her. But she committed herself to do it, as Richard would say, “as an act of her will” …and she has. The next thing she does is take 20 minutes to sit calmly in her chair and actually visualize the people in her life that she is thankful for. Finally, she takes the next 20 minutes to hand-write three of her donors a thank-you card. She does this every day! I’m not saying you have to do it the way she does, but starting your day or ending your day with an updated “to-do” list is essential for keeping yourself on track and focused.
- Accountability. Great MGOs love to be held accountable to their work. Why? Because they know their success is directly tied to having good managers give counsel, encouragement and strategic advice… and they check in with them to ask this one really important question: “Did you do what you said you were going to do?” Look, I can tell you from my own experience, when I don’t have someone checking in on me, I go in directions I shouldn’t be going. Just ask Richard, he’ll tell you.
- Forgiveness. Yes, you read that right. I’m going to tell you right now that if you start putting all that I’ve suggested into practice, you are going to fail at some part of it. This is hard work. It won’t come naturally to you. But instead of getting discouraged, I need you to forgive yourself when you “mess up.” If you don’t, you’re more likely not to do it. Get up, dust yourself off and say, “okay, I blew that, but I love this work and I’m going to keep trying to stay on track.” This works. I do this multiple times a month.
Working your plan is hard, hard work. It takes structure, discipline, focus and accountability to be successful. Maybe you’re not wired that way. That’s okay. You can still do it! Put these five areas into practice and you’ll be on your way to MGO success. And who ultimately wins? That’s right… your donors!