stayorrisk 2014-Aug22
Ever since we started the Passionate Giving Blog over three years ago, we have written regularly on the need for non-profit organizations to invest in major gifts. I don’t know that we have the ear of the non-profit sector, but I definitely don’t think our industry is listening.
Time and again, non-profits both large and small are being absolutely foolish with their resources and squandering an opportunity for net revenue. This opportunity could mean more money for programs – which would mean growth and more good stuff happening in our world.
I know for a fact that the non-profit sector is being foolish because whenever we have seen an organization risk the investment in a mid-level or major gift program, that investment has paid off several-fold.
In fact, it pains me and Richard greatly when we clearly lay out a plan for a struggling non-profit to show them how investing in their major gift program will help them two to four years down the road, and they won’t do it because they have to see results immediately.
This is usually a result of either an ineffective leader or an unaware and uneducated board of directors that doesn’t value long-term results.
It drives me nuts. I mean, think about it for a minute: If someone said to you that if you invest $100,000 and in four years that investment would yield $500,000, wouldn’t you do it? Absolutely. Yet so many non-profit organizations can’t see the long-term, or they are so gripped by fear that they can’t make the investment.
I don’t understand the many business-savvy non-profit executives or boards who run their organizations so inefficiently. In fact, if board members ran their businesses the way they oversee and direct the non-profit, they would be out of a job. No doubt.
Richard and I have had so many conversations with board members on this subject that we’re often left wondering if they leave their brains at the door every time they come to a board meeting, and they forget their MBA training on how to grow a business. It’s that bad.
Now, you could say that Richard and I are being self-serving, since this is what Veritus Group does… helping non-profits develop and grow their mid- and major-gift programs. But the whole reason the two of us are focused solely on the upper end of your donor file is because we know that it’s usually the most neglected part of the fundraising strategy for most non-profits.
We also know many organizations which, if they just caught the vision, took a risk and invested in it, would see a tremendous increase in the net revenue they would have for their good programs.
It’s such a passion of ours because we know it works. This is what I would like to see you do, so that your non-profit does get the funding to expand your mid- and major-gift programs:

  1. Look at the data. I can’t tell you how many non-profits don’t dig deep enough into their data to find out how their donors are behaving. I’m not taking about looking at campaign reports; I’m talking about tracking donor giving over time and understanding attrition, gifts per donor, average gift, and revenue per donor. It’s important that you review this and then figure out what your return on investment is on the donors you are cultivating. If you have those data points, you will know how much revenue is “going away” each year because the donors have not been properly cultivated. Honestly, be prepared. It’s going to scare you, your executive director and your board when they realize how much money is out there if you only invested more in your program.
  2. Build a 3-5 year strategic revenue plan. Hopefully, this strategic plan coincides with the organization’s strategic plan. If you don’t have an organizational plan, at least YOU are doing one. This plan is the basis for your argument on why you need to invest in your mid and major gift programs. It should clearly spell out how you will grow and what resources you will need to make it happen. This is what you present to the executive director and board to show them a path forward. It gives the business-savvy board the comfort it needs to invest… at least it should, if they haven’t left their brains at the door.
  3. Implement the plan. This may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a board release funds to invest in the upper end of their donor file, and the development director fails to “get it done.” This is worse than the board not investing in it in the first place. Don’t scream for help, and then when help comes, you fail to use the help. I’m not saying all your plans will be successful, but none of it will be successful if you don’t actually implement the plan.
  4. Report back. Just like you do with your donors, it’s important that you are in constant contact with your executive director and board about how your plan is going. The more you report back and give an honest assessment, the easier it will be for you in the future to get more “investment” dollars for your mid and major gift programs.

If you can do these four things, you have an excellent opportunity to grow your program and ultimately grow your organization. It will be the scariest yet most rewarding thing you will do as a fundraising professional. In fact, this is why all of us should be in this profession. Because we want to make big things happen. Well, this is your chance.