hardworkhands 2014-July30
I think Major Gift Fundraising is one of the toughest professions there is. But it should be. Anything that has such an enormous emotional payoff as fostering the act of giving and receiving has to be difficult. No question.
This is important to understand. Major gift fundraising takes a lot of work. There is no shortcut. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not something you just do “on the side.” It takes thought, planning, strategizing and expertise. But I promise you, if you are willing to do the hard work, it will be the most rewarding thing you have ever done.
The question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to do the hard work that major gift fundraising requires?” Seriously ask yourself that question. There is no shame in understanding that this profession may not be for you. But if you are willing, you are in for the ride of your life. And it’s not a straight shot on the flats of the Mohave Desert… it’s a crazy roller coaster.
Major gift fundraising will emotionally drain you. It will have you up in the middle of the night questioning decisions from the previous day. When you come to the end of another day, you will be exhausted.
You are never “finished” when you are a major gift fundraiser. It’s a cycle of ongoing planning, strategizing and execution. It’s forging relationships and continually trying to deepen those relationships.
Major gift fundraising is not for those who want to take it easy or who enjoy watching the day go by just waiting to get home to watch television. It’s hard, hard work. It’s so hard, in fact, that very few do it well.
Last year a friend’s brother wrote me and asked if I would be willing to help him develop a major gift program in Thailand. A few years ago he started a homeless shelter, and he needed it to grow to meet the incredible need.
Sam didn’t know anything about major gift fundraising, but he had passion.
I agreed to help him on the condition that he agreed to allow me to manage him, and that he had to carve out time for this work amidst all his other work with the shelter. He agreed.
Over the last year, together we developed a qualified list of donors, put goals to them and created a strategy for every one of his donors. At the same time, we put together a list of projects and created budgets so that he had a list of fundable projects for his donors to support.
Then Sam had to learn how to talk to, solicit, cultivate and steward donors.
During the last year I would meet with him over video conferencing once a month to help keep him on track. There were some calls where I could tell he was at a breaking point. Talking to donors was not something that came naturally to him. Fundraising in general did not come easy for Sam.
But he stuck with it. He was willing to put in the hard work necessary that anyone working with major donors has to do. He kept at it, he worked late into the night, he did uncomfortable things, he woke up in the middle of the night fretting.
Last week, I had another meeting with him. It’s been a year now. All that hard work has paid off. He’s exceeded his revenue goals, he’s raised enough money to start a café for homeless people to have jobs, and he has donors who are engaged with his mission and wanting to fund more because of the success they have seen in the last year.
Sam said to me last week, “Jeff, I thought that starting a homeless shelter in Thailand would be hard, but doing this major gift stuff was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But you know what? It’s also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how to describe it, except that I’ve felt so much joy in the last year, it’s incredible. This (major gift fundraising) almost killed me. But I am so happy, and my donors are happy too; thank you for helping push me to do this.”
If you are a great major gift fundraiser, you know what Sam is talking about. You know that even though you come home exhausted, there is still great joy because you helped a donor do something incredible.
If you are new to major gift fundraising and you’re still trying to find your way, decide right now if you’re willing do to the hard work. The road ahead is not easy, but it has great reward.