“I don’t have anything to present to donors,” the MGO said. And his manager, a little impatient, said: “Just look around you. Look at all the things we are doing. Get out there and get familiar with them, and then you will know what to present to donors!”
That sums up the dilemma most every MGO faces as they try to do their best to raise funds for the organization they serve. It is one of the most misunderstood areas in major gift fund raising, one that raises the hackles of many managers who expect their MGOs to go out into the marketplace and “get the money.”
I was in one meeting where we were talking about the need for more resources for the MGOs to present to donors, and the manager went off for over 15 minutes on “she did not understand what the problem is here. For goodness sakes, everyone sitting around this table knows what we do! This is not rocket science. What is the problem?”
So I patiently explained that one of the major reasons her team of very gifted and competent MGOs had not secured larger gifts was because they had nothing to present to donors, that what they did have was general program descriptions and a finance department that was not helpful in giving information and that, given these circumstances, it was impossible to be effective.
The manager was visibly irritated and impatient. But I continued.
I said: “Look at it this way. If this were a manufacturing plant would you expect all the employees to bring their own tools and the raw materials to produce the product? Or if this was a retail store, would you expect all the employees to find and bring in the product they were going to sell and locate shelves, store signage and cash registers in order to process the sales? No, you would provide the product and tools necessary to help the employee do their job. But there is hardly any other example in any organization that I know of, commercial or not, where the employee is not only required to be good at selling and dealing with customers, but they also have to come up with the product to sell.”
The manager was still irritated. But I had made the point. I said that we needed to work together with program, finance and front line people to come up with “products” to present to donors. And that if we did that well, we would see more major donors upgraded and more six- and seven-figures gifts come in. I said that our company had developed a system, the Program Support Portfolio, that could help in the process.
We made progress in that situation. In fact, we have seen more and more managers actually get this and take steps to deal with it, which is why Jeff and I are listing this as another trend to watch in 2015.

There will be an increase in efforts, on the part of fundraising professionals, to package their organization’s budgets so that the donating public can understand how the money is used and what funds are needed, and so that fundraising professionals can be more successful in their work.

If you are manager in a non-profit, here are steps you can take to be part of the growing group of enlightened non-profit managers who are equipping their fundraisers for success:

  1. Understand and accept that this is a major problem blocking fundraising success. Without understanding and accepting the issues in this strategic operating arena, you cannot possibly have a conviction for the action you need to take. Most budgets are packaged for management, who use them to manage the finances of the organization. They are not packaged for donors. There is so much “finance speak” in those spreadsheets that it is often difficult to see the mission anywhere in them.
  2. Take steps to create a system for program and budget packaging. We have one in the Program Support Portfolio that you are welcome to copy. Or come up with your own. And you may need to assign an employee to do this work. “Oh no! Not another expense!!!??” Yep. A good expense. In fact, if you knew how much money you were losing by not doing this, you would not hesitate to get this expense in your budget. Think of it as using a grant writer – someone who creates the tools for raising money. I know this is hard to swallow. It is for most managers and finance people, because they have never thought about it this way.
  3. Now sit back and watch your MGOs soar! Believe me, there is hardly anything better you can do for your MGO to help them be successful in their jobs. Now they will be able to spend more time out in the field with donors, which is where they should be, rather than being in the office working up projects with program and finance people.

If you are a MGO and you face a situation like I am describing here, take the following steps:

  • Start informing and influencing your manager about the issues of program and budgeting packaging. You could forward him or her this post, or copy and repackage it so you can make the case. You could get a copy of our Program Support Portfolio and present that to management, and lobby for the organization to include this function in the support infrastructure of the development team.
  • If you can’t get the organization to spend money on resourcing this function, find a volunteer or college student to help with this work. We have seen this work with some success. But you will need to clearly define what needs to be done and the access the person will need to program and finance people in order to get the information.
  • If you can’t get either of these options done, you will have to do it yourself. I know this is irritating, and you would rather be out with donors instead of putting projects together. But you have no choice, so get good at it and make it happen. If you run into too many blocks on this journey, you might consider working somewhere else where the culture appreciates the need to interpret the budget for donors.

Jeff and I are really excited about this trend to package budget and program for donors. If done correctly, it will revolutionize major gift fundraising. And that will be very good.
Series details: Trends to Watch in 2015