#1 in the series: Five Things Leaders Need to Know about Major Gifts

graphic with words whats your role major gift leader
There are a lot of good major gift leaders; and then there are some really bad ones. Jeff and I have met them. They are often the sole reason why a non-profit’s major gifts program does not work, and why a good MGO will not succeed no matter how hard she tries.
The bad ones are uniform in their style and behavior, and we hear statements from them like these:

  • “Just find me new money. I’m not interested in the current money a major donor is giving.”
  • “I will make the final decision on who you hire. When a MGO is not performing well, I will make the decision on what to do and when.”
  • “You don’t need to spend time with program and finance figuring out what to present to donors. You have all the information you need to be successful. Just get out there and be with donors.”
  • “I expect you to be fully functional in your major gift job in six months. Major gift fundraising is no different than other forms of fundraising. I expect results soon.”
  • “I don’t have time to spend with your donors, so don’t ask me. They are your donors, and it’s your job.”
  • “Look, it doesn’t matter that the person I met at Rotary today has never given to our organization. He has a lot of money, so please spend quality time cultivating him.”
  • “Your job is to spend time with donors – all of them – so I expect you to be present at every event this organization has. In fact, my expectation is that you will help the events team organize and execute each event.”

And the list goes on and on. You could say it’s ignorance that drives these statements – and often it is. But Jeff and I have regularly experienced leaders and managers who, even when we have educated them to the facts of how major gifts programs work, stubbornly stick with their biases and opinions.
Then there are leaders who just don’t know how major gifts works, and what role they can play in it. It is for those leaders I am writing this series on the Five Things Leaders Need to Know about Major Gifts. It is for those leaders, who truly want to learn and understand their world, that we will go over the core things they should know about this important work.
Here’s the first one. A leader/manager needs to understand his/her role in major gifts. This understanding is secured by:

  1. Knowing how major gifts works – One of the most helpful things you can do as a leader/manager is to secure an intellectual grasp of how major gifts works. I am not talking here about all the details. I’m talking about the big points, like:
  • Most major donors come from a long history of giving smaller gifts to your organization – they don’t just suddenly appear. You find them in your file. You do not find them out in the marketplace.
  • Major gifts takes time. It is not the fast payback of direct marketing.
  • Not all major donors will want to relate personally to a MGO. More than 2/3 of them would rather just relate via direct mail or online.
  • Major donors who have a personal relationship with a MGO are retained at a greater rate and give more.
  • A MGO needs to spend most of his/her time out of the office. That is why it is cost-effective to provide administrative support to a MGO.
  • Donor offers need to be created through a collaborative effort of program, finance, leadership and the MGO.
  1. Focusing on a few important things – things like:
  • Providing MGOs with compelling projects and programs that donors can support, and being part of reviewing larger asks
  • Providing MGOs with administrative support
  • Being available to meet with donors
  • Understanding major gift program and MGO evaluation metrics
  • Supporting and encouraging MGOs and helping them understand that you know it takes time to cultivate donor relationships
  1. Having a crediting policy – One of the most-often ignored areas in management (related to major gifts) is a written credit policy. This is a document that spells out, in great detail, how a MGO will receive credit for the work they do with their caseload donors. Written crediting policies are a critical part of MGO performance because they let the MGO know exactly how their work will be evaluated. If you, as a leader, do not have a crediting policy, your MGOs will face a very conflicted and confusing situation since there will not be a common understanding and acceptance of how a MGO’s work will be evaluated. (This is one of the topics in our free White Paper, Evaluating and Rewarding MGO Performance.)
  2. Knowing the part you play in major gifts – Other than general encouragement and support, you (as the top authority figure in the organization) play an active role in major gifts, especially with the top donors of the organization. When the MGO is making a large ask of six figures or more, you will need to be involved. And your presence and support may be one of the things that causes the donor to give. You have a great deal of influence in these situations – influence that the MGO needs to bring to bear in the asking process.

There may be other things you need to understand about your role in major gifts, but in Jeff’s and my opinion, these are the critical few. You can help your MGOs by learning as much as you can in these areas.
Read the whole series about the Five Things Leaders Need to Know about Major Gifts:

  1. Leaders Need to Know Their Role in Major Gifts (this post)
  2. Getting and Keeping the Right MGO
  3. The Resource Every Major Gift Officer Must Have
  4. The Role of Leaders in Securing Transformational Gifts
  5. Leaders Need to Know How to Evaluate a Major Gifts Program