Most donors don’t want to meet with you. In fact, we’ve helped manage thousands of major gift portfolios over the years, and from that experience, we believe only 15-20 donors in a portfolio of 150 qualified donors will actually want meet face-to-face with you. “What?” you may think, “But what about all those thought leaders in fundraising who say that getting the gift is really all about getting the meeting?”

It’s a lie.

What’s worse is that you’ve bought into this lie, mainly because fundraising leaders and managers have created systems and cultures that say your job is dependent on getting meetings with donors and asking for gifts.

These leaders and managers are well-meaning people, but they’re perpetuating a lie by evaluating your performance on the number of face-to-face meetings you have each month, how many “asks” you make, and the “close rates” of those asks.

This has everything to do with “getting the money” and nothing to do with building an authentic relationship with a donor. Over the years, our industry developed these fundraising “metrics,” which focus on dollars, not donors. The result of this has been horrific if you believe in being a donor-centered non-profit.

One prominent fundraising expert I was talking to recently said,

  • “Jeff, the dirty secret about major gift fundraising is that we’ve trained MGOs to have breakfasts, lunches and dinners with donors and be happy to come away with a $5,000 check. And the MGO is rewarded for it because they get the donor to renew a yearly gift, and the MGO meets a metric. The MGO is not rewarded for building a relationship with the donor. Imagine the amount of money fundraisers are leaving on the table because they don’t want to do the hard work.”

Is this what you think major gift fundraising really is about… going out to lunch and getting a donor to renew their gift? Richard and I don’t think so. What I described above is a transactional event with a donor. It’s certainly not transformational.

Transformational giving takes a donor to a new place, and it looks like this:

  1. You develop relationships with donors who want to have a deeper relationship with your organization.
  2. Your work is to find out the passions and interests of each of your donors, and why they have them – and then match those interests with the things your organization is doing to change the world.
  3. The process you use to get there creates desire in the donor that will inspire her to make a significant gift. This process is about taking a very personalized approach with every donor, creating a specific plan that includes multiple touch points, all around building that desire. Those touch points may include meeting with a donor, but it’s really about creating meaningful connections with a donor.

The three points above take a tremendous amount of your blood, sweat and tears as a major gift officer. Taking a donor out to lunch and asking for a nominal gift so they can “renew” their annual gift is relatively easy. But figuring out the right donors to build authentic relationships with, and creating so much desire in a donor that they can’t wait to give a significant gift, is the hard, hard work that is required from you to make real change happen.

This is what separates out great major gift officers from average ones. Creating and rewarding this type of hard work is what separates great leaders and managers from mediocre ones.

Are you willing to do the hard work that major gift fundraising requires? Imagine how your organization would be able to spread more of your mission! Imagine how much more joy your donors would find in their giving.


This post originally appeared on the Passionate Giving Blog on May 22, 2020.