In Fundraising, It’s About the Problem, NOT the Process

What's the problem?

Several weeks ago I sat in a long meeting discussing strategy with a group of major gift officers. We had asked program staff from the organization to attend, to give us resources for constructing donor offers.

I should have brought a pillow to the meeting so I could take a nap – it would have been more productive.

The meeting went on and on, with good people talking about the process of solving problems and not the problem. While it is true that it is important to understand HOW a non-profit is going to address a problem it exists to solve, it is only important if the non-profit has clearly defined the problem they’re going to solve.

Problem. What’s the problem?

This situation reminds me of the very popular “Where’s The Beef?” commercial that the Wendy’s hamburger chain ran years ago. The creators of this commercial, in a humorous and memorable way, got us right to their core point – there is more hamburger in a Wendy’s hamburger.

For many non-profits and their messaging, a similar commercial could be created that asks: “Where’s The Problem?” Often, Jeff and I and our associates just can’t find the one central issue that the non-profit is seeking donors’ funds to address. So it’s no wonder that many MGOs struggle to create offers for their donors. And when a MGO struggles to create offers, then revenue goes down.

One of the most frustrating parts of my journey in major gifts is working to get authority figures to understand the need to provide MGOs with usable resources for offer development. Their eyes glaze over even if I say: “The six- and seven-figure gift you want your MGO to secure depends on your giving them useable information on a societal problem you are solving that the donor is interested in.”

Often they can’t answer it because they don’t actually have the answer. For instance, last month I discovered one region of a non-profit where only 10% of their $2 million regional program budget actually went to solving a problem. All the rest funded infrastructure.

Where’s the problem?

Try this for the next two weeks: at work, in every meeting you attend, with every email you get, as you read any electronic or printed message your organization produces, in every conversation you have – in all of these situations quietly ask: “Where’s the problem?” Or “What is the problem?”

See if you can get to it. If you can’t, then ask out loud.

Here is why this is important and critical to your success as a MGO.

Without a societal problem to solve…
There is no compelling donor offer.

Without a compelling donor offer…
There is nothing to present to your donor.

With nothing to present to your donor…
There is no chance your programs will match the donor’s interests and passions.

With no chance to serve the donor’s interests and passions…
There will not be a gift.

There is a direct link between generous giving and the donor’s clear understanding they are solving a problem and making a difference through their giving. While all of this seems so obvious, believe me, it is not executed properly in most of the situations we encounter.

Which is why I am suggesting that you heighten your sensitivity to this dynamic. You will do just that if you proactively – in everything you do in the next two weeks in your organization – seek an answer to “Where’s the problem?” Try it.

Richard

Want to know how you could explode major gifts fundraising in your organization? Stay tuned for the launch of Major Gift Academy this Spring.

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2 Comments

  • Paul Jackson says:

    Richard, this is the beacon that should pierce every board and staff meeting. Without this clear, compelling direction, there cannot be a successful donor meeting much less campaign. Thanks for this. It’s going to be the cover page for every planning document I create.

  • Migdalia James says:

    Richard –

    A colleague and I were having this very discussion last week. Our organization is in the midst of developing a major gifts program and we are faced with the need to answer this very question. It is paramount! Thank you for outlining this foundational truth in a clear, concise format. I will be sharing this information at our planning retreat next week.

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