Fourth in a Five-Part Series: It’s Not Rocket Science

“Excellent donor experiences depend entirely on excellent non-profit employee experiences. It’s the people within the non-profit that make or break your donor’s experience.”

— Tom Peters (loosely translated)

No one can do major gift work effectively, alone.
I don’t know one great major gift officer who is “self-made.” Your effectiveness and success in building relationships with donors is predicated on a team of people working with you on a daily basis.
As leaders, we cannot forget that. We must be real, authentic… human. Major gift fundraisers are connectors, yet while you may be great at it with donors, you sometimes forget to connect to your colleagues.
Richard and I have noticed that there is a tendency in major gift officers to go off “on their own” and not bring their colleagues with them. Sometimes you work from home, or you’re out with donors, so your connections to your colleagues are tougher to nurture.
However, to be a leader, you have to put in the extra time and effort to create solid working relationships with your colleagues. This means doing the following:

  1. Know your colleagues — Take time to get to know staff members. You spend a lot of time understanding your donors’ passions and interests. This also sometimes needs to be done with folks in finance, HR, program and within your own development team. If you are in a small non-profit, you have an advantage here. But establishing trust with fellow employees is critical to your long-term success and credibility as a fundraising professional.
  2. Practice empathy — Understand what it’s like to walk in your colleague’s shoes. What are the pressures the finance folks have on a daily basis, and why is it hard for them to turn something around quickly? What are the challenges experienced by the people who deliver your programs and services? What kind of attitude do they have about donors? Why did they get that attitude? What do they need from you to help them understand the relationship between the donor and their work?
  3. Introduce your staff to donors — To help your colleagues understand your work, let them hear from your donors. Make an effort to bring them together. This will help staff make the connection about where revenue comes from.
  4. Volunteer — Richard and I believe you should spend at least one day per month volunteering in your own programs. This will give you more credibility with staff; and then the next time you need an impact report or need one of the program folks to go with you on a donor visit, you’ll find it much easier.
  5. Let staff look behind the curtain — Many times when Richard and I talk to staff in different departments and tell them we are working with the major gift team, they tell us they “have no idea what those people do.” As a leader, it is your job to proactively show others in your organization what your work entails, what you are trying to accomplish with donors, what the results are, and why the entire organization is important to the success of the major gift program. It’s not someone else’s job to make this happen. It’s yours.

Major gifts is a collective effort. You cannot be as effective without the help of your colleagues. (Tweet it!) You are a relationship-builder, both with your donors and with your fellow staff members. When you do both of those well, when you are real with others, you gain the trust and acceptance you need to be successful.
Read all the posts in this series: