If you have attended one of the many trainings of nationally recognized major gift gurus, you have likely learned many techniques and strategies on how to approach major donors. Much of this material is very good.
But Jeff and I have sat in on some of those trainings where, much like the Dilbert cartoon above, a great deal of effort is made to maneuver and manipulate the donor into giving.
Jeff and I have spent a great deal of time communicating that one bedrock operating principle every MGO should follow is that the donor has an identifiable set of interests and passions that need to be fulfilled and satisfied. And the MGO’s only objective is to match those interests and passions to the needs of society as addressed by the organization.
My friend and colleague, Jeff Brooks, wrote about this in his blog Catnip for donors: Why you can’t manipulate them into giving. He makes the point (one we all know is true) that manipulation of any sort, while it may get you a short term bump in return, will not bring you the long-lasting relationship you want with your donor.
Jeff Brooks refers to the Neuromarketing blog post Manipulation vs. Customer Focus, Dilbert-style, where writer Roger Dooley begins the discussion using the Dilbert cartoon I have reproduced above. Read it for some additional insight.
Why do MGOs resort to manipulation when they are managing major donors? Here’s my short list:

  1. They don’t have good program to present. This is a common cause. And this is the fault of the CEO, Executive Director or nonprofit leader. One Director of Development recently told me: “Good luck on reaching those goals we set for major gifts. We don’t have the program to present to the donors, so I don’t see how you can expect the MGOs to reach those goals.” He was right. Getting to those goals will not happen without good program. It’s like hiring a really good salesperson, then showing him an empty warehouse and saying: “Here is what we have to sell, Paul. I think you will do a good job.” But nothing on the warehouse shelves means nothing in the sales report. You can’t sell air.
  2. They haven’t been trained properly. Jeff and I have seen so many situations where MGOs are thrown into the work without training. They don’t know the program. They haven’t learned how to “do” major gifts right. They are simply told to go “get the money.” I know this is true when I ask a new MGO what their manager said to them when they were first hired. If the manager said something to the effect of “we need to raise X amount this year” and that was the most important message, things are off to a very bad start. On the other hand, the manager may have said: “we have a lot of very good donors supporting us. Your job, MGO, is to figure out how to maximize their joy and fulfillment by giving to our organization. And while you are doing that we do need to find X amount this year.” That, my friend, is a donor-focused orientation.
  3. They haven’t identified the donor’s passions and interests. You know the drill on this one. If the MGO does not know the donor’s passions and interests, there is no amount of training on donor approaches that will help her be successful.
  4. Their managers are more focused on achieving financial goals than on satisfying donor needs. This point does not need any further explanation. The sad thing is that Jeff and I see too much of this in our industry – where managers care more about the money than they do about donors.

Here is the good news. You can do something about each of these points. While it is not your job, you can be helpful to program and finance to figure out what to present to donors. You can seek the proper training and follow writings like ours and others. You can identify your donors’ interests and passions. And you can put your manager’s focus on money into the proper context.
Today, set your mind to value each donor on your caseload, rather than resorting to manipulation to achieve goals.