If there is one thing that Richard and I never want to hear again it’s a major gift officer telling us he has nothing to “sell” to his donors.  Our first reaction is that if that’s really the truth, then should he even be working with that particular organization?
More often than not, it’s really about the MGO.  You see, outstanding major gift officers know their donors and their programs thoroughly and do everything they can to match the passion of the donors with those programs.  They become “the bridge.”
Too often we see MGOs who are not engaged with program.  And when caseload revenue is down they begin to make excuses about having nothing “good” to sell their donors.
This is why next year needs to be the year to build a solid bridge. This is the year you are going to have a plethora of programs and projects that meet the needs and desires of your donors.  Because, in the end, YOU need to be that bridge that meets your donor’s greatest desire with some of the world’s greatest needs.
So, what are you going to do in the new year to make this happen?  To begin with, these two steps must take place:

  1. In early January schedule a meeting with program staff.  This is what you want to know:
    1. How many different programs and projects is your organization involved with?
    2. How effective are these programs?  Ask for hard data.  If they have no hard data, ask program how they report on effectiveness.  If they have Foundation funding, ask for a report to give to Foundations.
    3. Ask program people to walk you through, step by step, how they actually implement their programs.  Ask them if they would allow you to observe or volunteer to help for a week so you can “walk in their shoes.”
    4. Ask for stories of “inspiring change” that are a result of these programs or projects.  If they don’t have the stories at hand, be proactive and start working on getting them yourself.  This is absolutely critical for donors to be inspired to give.

Now, just a warning for you.  It may be that, when you ask program for any of this information, you will draw a blank stare and get nothing.  This happens.  But that just means you’ll have to work harder to get the information you need.  Sometimes the “marketing tail” has to wag the “program dog” to get this stuff in order.  I just want you to be prepared for this and not let it get you down if you don’t get the answers you need.

  1. Next, sit down with program AND finance to have a complete understanding of how much each of these programs and projects cost.  In other words, you need the complete budget so you can create fundable projects for your donors.  Here is what you need to know:
    1. Budget for every program and project — that’s right, each program and project has to be broken down.
    2. Overhead included in every budget — this may shock finance, but they need to help you figure out the total cost, not just “program” cost.  That includes all administration costs associated with each program.
    3. How much funding has already been allocated toward the project and what is needed to complete the funding.  For example, the total cost is $100,000, and to-date we have $50,000 in funding, therefore we have $50,000 for a donor opportunity.  This needs to be done with EVERY program and project.

These two steps are critical in understanding what you do and how much it costs.  It is also important because it’s the knowledge you need to produce a portfolio of case statements and proposals for your donors.  And, finally, it’s the only way you are truly going to inspire your donors to give.
So once you have the information you’ve gathered, you need a 2-3 page case statement for each program or project.  This clearly outlines the need, the solution, the impact, the total cost to make it happen and how the donor can specifically make a difference.
Finally, after understanding your donor’s propensity and capacity, you tailor a specific “ask” based on the project or program that you know they will be excited to fund.
Now, I know all of this is a ton of work.  But, for some of you, much of the groundwork has already been laid.  What I’ve outlined above is a process in which very little has already been done.  My point is that it cannot be an excuse for you.  If the information is not there, great MGOs go out and get it.
Remember, YOU have to be that solid bridge for the donor.  Without YOU, it’s not going to happen.  YOU are the one who has to bring it all together.  And, in the end, when you do, not only will the program folks be happy, but your donors will be fulfilled.

Series details:
#1 – Figure out where you are
#2 – Invest in your major gift program
#3 – Unclog your pipes!
#4 – Build a solid bridge
#5 – Take care of your people
#6 – Take care of yourself