Finding a needle in a haystack.
It’s a funny thing about big gifts: they seem so hard to get – like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And in any given month we see scores of donor files, of some very good and prominent organizations, where there are no gifts above 5 figures – nothing above $99,999. Zero. Nothing.
Just last week, when I pointed out that there were no gifts above 5 figures in a well-known charity, the Development Director said: “Richard, I just don’t think we have any donors that like that. We never have.” And I said: “Brenda [not her real name], you have many donors just like that in your file. You just haven’t looked for them, found them and presented them with an offer they would support.”
And when that popped out of my mouth, I realized that I had just verbalized the three steps any development director or MGO needs to take to secure bigger gifts:

  1. Look for the right donors
  2. Find them
  3. Present them with an offer they will support

More on this later.
Jeff and I have written quite a bit about this subject, which is the third most mentioned request for help in our recent Major Gift Academy survey. Here is some of what we have written on this topic, which will help you with practical information on getting bigger gifts:

  • In this blog, Jeff writes that landing the big donor is hard work and involves understanding your donor, persistence, patience and passion.
  • Here, Jeff writes that part of the problem is that we think too small… then he goes on to share the four steps to securing a larger gift: research, getting to know the donor, not making judgments about the donor before you know the facts and asking – asking bigger. He expands the steps in another blog you should read.
  • But the problem is not all about donors. In fact, much of the work is in our own heads, not on the donor list. Check out Jeff’s 6 points on this subject.
  • Lastly, Jeff and I are constantly making this point: the big donors are right in your current donor file…

As I’ve reviewed all the material we have written and thought about it more, I am beginning to think that one big block to anyone getting a larger gift is simply a lack of belief that it can be done. If the donors are right in your donor file, but you don’t believe they are, you will not look for them. If they can give more, but you don’t believe they can, then you will not ask them.
What is this lack of belief, and where does it come from?
It seems to me that there are four reasons we think this way:

  1. We don’t really believe there are donors in our donor file who can give large gifts.
  2. We don’t really believe in the cause of the organization.
  3. We do believe in the cause but we don’t think the solutions are really working.
  4. We are afraid to ask because “they already gave” or “they have given so much already.”

You can deal with all of these “blocks” in your thinking. Here’s how:

  • Take our word for it – there ARE donors in your file who can give large gifts. You need to find them. The reason they are not visible is because everyone before you, including you, has not cultivated larger gifts. That is why these bigger donors have not showed up. Believe me, they are in your file.
  • If you don’t believe in the cause of your organization, then it’s time to find another organization to work for. As you are processing this thought, remember that no organization is perfect, so don’t think it’s going to get substantially better somewhere else. But if you fundamentally don’t believe in the cause, it is time to move.
  • If you don’t think the solutions are working, it could be because you don’t know they are. Dig a little and make sure. Then be part of the solution. Talk to the program folks – give your input. Most often in this situation, Jeff and I find that MGOs are simply not given enough information on program and impact. And that is why they are in the dark. In fact, most organizations we encounter aren’t doing a good job of reporting on the great things they are doing.
  • On being afraid – I know what this feels like. But somehow you have to believe us that IF you have an offer that matches the passions and interests of your donor, you will be doing that donor a favor – you will be giving that donor a gift – by asking for their participation no matter how recently they gave, and no matter how much they gave. You have to believe this is true.

While getting the bigger gift is hard work and takes a lot of persistence and patience, it is, fundamentally, not complicated work. It boils down to the three things I stated earlier:

  1. Look for the donors
  2. Find them
  3. Present them with an offer they will support

Take steps today to do this. Believe me, it will change the course of your work.