There is a school of thought in some major gift fundraising circles that if you do a really good job of telling your donors you love them by sending them thank-you cards, updates about your programs and small gifts every once in a while, the donors will just give out of the kindness of their hearts – and you won’t have to ask for a gift or show donors how they made a difference.
Over the years, Richard and I have met with many major gift officers who have never sat across from a donor, looked him in the eye and asked for a significant gift. Yet these people have been major gift fundraisers for years.
In addition to not asking for a gift, major gift fundraisers are not putting in the time and energy to show donors the impact of their giving. They rely on the organization’s newsletter or a canned report that is about as dull as it can get, instead of using their time and energy to delight their donors.
How it works is that the major gift fundraiser just showers all kinds “love” on the donor and waits for a gift to come in – either through a direct-mail piece, newsletter, event or “getting that check every November.”
At first, Richard and I were just amazed that this was happening. Then, as we met more and more major gift fundraisers with the same story, we realized that this was more pervasive in the industry than we thought.
But as I thought about this, I wondered: are you really showing your donors love by only telling them how much you love them?
Hold on to your answer for a moment, and let’s think about why you are not asking your donors for a gift and showing the impact of their giving.
After listening to fundraisers for many years, Richard and I have determined that these are the most likely reasons you are not asking:
- The thought of asking a donor for money makes you uncomfortable.
- You have a fear of rejection.
- You have a hard time talking about money.
- You don’t believe fundraising is a worthy endeavor.
- You don’t have the energy to navigate your organization’s systems to get program information.
- You’re not excited about the mission of your organization, and you’re not convinced that it brings value to the world.
So what happens is that you avoid cultivating the donor toward an ask, and you hope the donor will feel good about all the “loving” stuff you do – and they will just give.
And you know what? They do give.
But here is the thing: they could give so much more and have a much more meaningful experience with your organization if you challenged your donors to go beyond what they would do on their own. They would continue giving at a higher level if you spent the time and energy to tell them how that gift made a difference.
That is what major gift fundraising is all about: building a relationship with a donor so that you truly know his passion and interests, why he has those passions, and finding something in your organization that fulfills that need, so that the donor and the organization both benefit.
Richard and I see so many major gift files of donors who give the same amount every year. Most of the time, we discover the reason to be that no one is challenging the donor to give.
So when you do all those great things to thank and show the donor your organization cares about them – but you never ask, or never think big with the donor, and never report on that gift’s impact – is that really showing the donor love? Or is it really something you have to work out?
You are doing no one a favor by NOT asking and not telling the donor she made a difference.
Showering your donor with love ultimately means challenging your donor to make a greater impact in the world. (Tweet it!) And as a major gift fundraiser, you know that donors who make great impact through their giving will experience a tremendous amount of joy.
Ask, and ask boldly of your donors. That is real love.
I completely agree with you in terms of MGO’s not asking for all these reasons. I would add a few more: a finance office/college culture that doesn’t believe in disclosing financial information around budget, endowment, etc. Also, a communications office which doesn’t write a college magazine or the website with donors in mind. Advancement is one component of a much greater system and need the support of these two offices to successfully communicate impact with our donors. Without it, we’re just able to say thank you a variety of ways but without the substance that can really move the dial.