By far the number one complaint that we hear from major gift officers is that they find it very hard to get donors to engage with them. Not to sound flippant, but… “welcome to being a major gift officer.”
There are so many facets of major gift fundraising that are difficult. This is why Richard and I believe it’s the hardest job in the non-profit space. I don’t have to list all the reasons. You know.
It’s a demanding job that requires everything from you.
Most major gift officers at the end of the day are mentally and emotionally drained. One of the most frustrating problems for you is donors who are always elusive. Sometimes it can feel like no one wants to speak to you, write back to you, or see you. And you start to question yourself, wondering if you are bad at this work (or if you have terrible donors).
Neither is the case.
Here are a few thoughts to help you put all this into perspective:
- Your donors have busy lives. Very busy. You have to remember that you and your organization are not their #1 priority in life. Right now, at this minute, they may be YOUR #1 priority, but they are not lying awake at night worried they didn’t get back to you.
- It’s not personal. This is a big one. Richard, our team and I have counseled so many major gift officers who take silence from a donor very personally. This is a fast ticket to burnout. Your job is to continue to reach out in creative ways to engage with your donor. If you’re doing that, that’s all you can do.
- Evaluate if what you’re offering has value to the donor. Richard writes about this a lot, and it’s so true. It may be that what you’re communicating to a donor doesn’t have value in their eyes and heart. Check to see what you’re saying to your donor. Does it match their passions and interests? Is it emotional? Does it line up with their previous giving? Are you connecting with them using their preferred type of communication?
- Patience and Persistence. I have story after story of major gift officers who are about to lose it with a donor, saying “all hope is lost, the ship is going down, I’m doomed.” Then, all of a sudden, the donor gets back to them and is ready to meet! What happened? The MGO stuck it out and continued to stay at it. Sometimes it takes 7-9 touches to get a donor to respond. Many MGOs jump off at three touches. Don’t be THAT MGO.
- Most donors don’t want to engage with you. That’s right. Many MGOs are working with an abundance of unqualified donors on their caseload. No wonder you are knocking your head against a wall. The fact is, only about 1/3 of donors that meet your major gift metric (whatever that is) want a deeper relationship. You’ll increase your engagement level with your portfolio if all of your donors are QUALIFIED. And if they’re not qualified, just understand that you’re going to get a lot of “no’s” and silence. That’s to be expected.
- Stay positive. You cannot be successful at major gifts if you have a “Debbie or Donnie Downer” mentality. Seriously. Donors not engaging with you is part of this job. It’s okay, it’s normal. Taking it personally and going down a dark path of negativity will not be sustainable for you.
Major gift fundraising can be a very frustrating job. But when you understand that you aren’t the center of your donor’s universe, and your job is to be creative and help inspire your donors to find joy in their giving, you will be much more successful… and happier.