Richard and I get to do a lot of great things in our work at Veritus, including speaking at conferences and holding live call-ins with folks who are taking one of our Major Gift Academy courses.
The reason we love it so much is not because we get to pontificate about major gifts, but because we get to answer burning questions from people like you. Sometimes these questions have almost nothing to do with the planned topic. We don’t care; we just love the back and forth of taking questions and finding out what you’re most concerned about at the moment.
Over time, we’ve found that these questions often fall in certain categories. And under those categories, the same basic questions get asked. I’m going to answer three of them that come at us quite a bit:

1. How do I get our CEO or Executive Director to appreciate major gifts? This is one of the most common questions we get from Development Directors and Major Gift Officers. First, I have to say I feel your pain. I understand your concern here as I, too, had this problem when I was a development director many years ago. Here is what I did to get my CEO to embrace major gifts, invest himself in it, and become an advocate.
The first thing I did was to put together a donor pyramid taken from our database. This showed, very starkly, where most of the revenue of the organization was coming from. In my case, 90% of the revenue was coming from the top 15% of the database of individuals and organizations. This actually took my CEO by surprise a bit, and it woke him up. Then I came up with a list of donors that the CEO knew, who were in that top 15%. It was a list of 20 donors. With him, I created goals and a plan, and I told him I would manage the whole thing. He loved that. He just had to be okay with me telling him what to do.
From there, I set up a weekly meeting with him. In those meetings I told him what he needed to do that week with certain donors. That ranged from sending thank you notes to soliciting a donor. The whole soliciting thing took time. There was a lot of practice and coaching, but it worked. Once he got the hang of it and heard “yesses” from donors, he was hooked.
I think the thing to remember is that one major reason CEOs don’t want anything to do with major gift fundraising is that they don’t think they have time. Now, there are other reasons, but if you can show them it’s not going to take up a ton of time at first and that you will manage the donors and process, it will open up the time to address any other concerns they have – like the fear of asking a donor for a gift. And if you can meet for 15-30 minutes a week and you come prepared and lead the way, the CEO or ED will start to embrace it.
2. How do I get a meeting with a donor? Yep, this is another popular question. Our answer on this would be first to ask you if your major gift portfolio is qualified. If they are not qualified donors, that’s probably one major cause why you are not getting meetings. So many major gift officers are tearing their hair out because they have list of donors they are supposed to be cultivating, and these donors really don’t want to relate to you in the first place. So, qualifying them is a must.
Then beyond that, it really takes a bunch of persistence and patience to continue to reach out to your donors. Here are some tips:

  1. Call at different times of the week or day.
  2. Write them a note saying you will reach out at a specific day and time. Give them your phone number and email address if they would like to schedule it for a different time.
  3. Leave a message on their phone about an interest or passion you know they have, and say you have something at your organization to discuss that relates to that interest.
  4. Let the donor know you will be in their area on a certain day or week and that you would love to stop in and let them know how their giving is making an impact.
  5. Don’t give up – it may take 7 to 9 attempts to have a donor agree to a meeting with you. (Yes, 7 to 9.)

(We also have a free White Paper and recorded webinar on this topic. You should check that out here.)
3. What is the most effective thing for me to focus on in my work? We get this one a lot. Here is what we say: Your caseload, caseload, caseload. Then, once you’re solely focused on that, your focus should be on that top A-level tier of donors that bring in half of your total caseload revenue. Then, the next level of focus is on those 2-3 transformational gift donors. These are the few donors in your caseload that have the potential to give a high 6, 7 or 8 figure gift. This is where most of your thoughts, planning and action should be focused. Why? Because these are the donors that have the ability to change your organization and make it more effective.
Believe me, we have worked with hundreds of major gift officers over the years, and we’ve seen that if your focus can stay on your caseload, and you really work it and develop relationships with your donors, great things will happen. It’s only when you veer off somewhere else that you get into trouble. Staying focused on your caseload is the most effective thing you can do as a major gift fundraiser.

I hope that this list gave you practical answers to some of your most pressing questions. Remember, you have the greatest job ever. You are a bridge between the donor’s desire to change the world and all of the life-changing programs and projects your organization carries out on their behalf. Wow, there is nothing greater!
PS — We at Passionate Giving are proud to have made the lists of Top Fundraising Blogs for 2018 with both the Non-Profit Fundraising Digest and Feedspot. Thanks for your help in spreading the word!