I can’t believe it’s been just over 10 years since we wrote our first blog post at Veritus Group. In that time span, Richard and I have written over 1,500 blog posts. It’s really kept us disciplined over the years because our blog posts have inspired almost all the content we’ve produced to help you do your work better.

I remember when I wrote the first series called The Top Ten Reasons Major Gift Programs Suck,” I received a lot of flak from our 20 readers at the time (today we have tens of thousands), not because people disagreed with the Top 10, but because I used the word “suck.” But that was intentional because Richard and I wanted to set a tone with this blog: we’re going to tell it like we see it.

So, today, a little over 10 years later, I thought it would be good to update this list based on all our work with clients and in all the training we’ve done with VGA. Unfortunately, many of those original points are still the reasons that most major gift programs suck. But I’ve added a few new ones this time especially around value attrition, the major gift pipeline, and qualifying donors.

So, here we go:

Top Ten Reasons Major Gift Programs Suck (Today!)

  1. You still don’t realize you’re losing 40-60% of your revenue — Why is this important? Because you’re allowing thousands, if not millions, of dollars vanish that could be used for expanding your mission. Instead, so many non-profits are focused on new donors, you forget to take care of the donors that have already said they love you with their gifts. So, a donor who gives your organization $10,000 last year only gives you $2,500 this year. You lost 75% of the value from that donor in one year. But here’s the kicker: you don’t realize it, because new donors are coming in and masking the behavior of the donors who either stopped giving or gave less year over year.
  2. Your non-profit still isn’t donor-centered — Perhaps our industry is getting a little better than it was 10 years ago, but we think maybe that’s because there is more talk about it from consultants and industry types instead of organizations actually doing it. Non-profits are still treating donors like ATM machines, not thanking donors properly or reporting on impact, and failing to pursue a donor’s passion and interests and match it up with the mission through well thought out donor offers.
  3. Fundraising leaders and managers aren’t being trained in how to manage fundraising programs and people — So many non-profits hire their best front-line fundraisers to manage the entire major gift team. It’s often one of the biggest mistakes a non-profit makes. Great managers are a different breed of people, and while you can sometimes find this in a great front-line fundraiser, it’s not guaranteed. The best managers want to get results through other people; their focus is all about developing the people around them. Non-profits don’t spend the resources to help grow and train excellent managers. This leads to issues with retention, financial management, and program execution which impact the leader and the entire team.
  4. Leaders are hiring the wrong people for front-line fundraisers — Do you know what makes a great MGO, MLO, or PGO? I don’t think so, because Richard and I see too many bad hires. There is little thought put into job descriptions and they are not focused properly, which means you’re bringing in the wrong person.
  5. You can’t retain your people — Hiring the right person is one of the issues, but even if you hire a great MGO, you’re not keeping them. There are multitudes of reasons, but basically, non-profit leaders and managers don’t value people. If they did, we wouldn’t be seeing such a high turnover rate in our industry. Now you wonder why we can’t establish solid relationships with donors. We can’t keep people long enough to do it properly.
  6. You aren’t addressing clogs in your pipeline — This is new. The #1 desire of a manager of major gifts is to have more major donors. Where are they? They are already in your donor file. Yep, sitting there waiting for you to do something. Therefore, there is a huge clog in your pipeline. Investing, not only in new donor acquisition, but in a strong cultivation process and MID-LEVEL program is absolutely essential for major gift growth because you break down any barrier for a donor to invest more in your mission.
  7. You’re not creating a plan for every donor in your major gift and planned giving portfolio — If you did this, we would be seeing you making or exceeding your revenue goals. Why? Because having worked with thousands of major and planned giving officers, those that have a plan and stay focused are going to make their goals. Yet, so many of still haven’t done this. Or, a manager hasn’t asked anyone to do it. This is critical!
  8. Your internal relationships are broken — This one is new too. A quality that all successful mid, major, and planned giving programs possess is that the fundraisers have great relationships with program, finance, marketing, and leadership. Yet, Richard and I hear all the time from you, how no one in your organizations understands major gifts. Reach out to your colleagues; bring them along with you. Help build that culture of philanthropy at your organization so that everyone understands the value of the donor.
  9. You don’t have qualified donors on your caseloads — I can’t believe this was not in my original Top 10, but it definitely is now. I don’t know how we could make ourselves more clear: Having unqualified donors, meaning donors who have not communicated with you that they actually want an ongoing relationship with you and the organization, is the #1 reason why you will not be successful as a front-line fundraiser. Too many donor portfolios are filled with donors who don’t want to relate to you in a more personal way. Yet, you continue to bloat your portfolio with hundreds of donors. In reality, you can only be successful with a caseload of no more than 150 qualified donors. You will be a happier and more successful MGO or PGO if you discipline yourself and do the work to make sure every donor is qualified.
  10. You don’t know your donor’s passion and interests — For front-line fundraisers, your main job is to develop trusting relationships with donors so that you will understand what your donor’s passions and interests are so you can match those with specific parts of your mission. Yet, we constantly see in the donor data, that good donors are giving the same amounts year over year. One of the reasons is because you’ve never offered the donor something to invest in that matches their passions and interests. We know this because we have seen giving explode when this dynamic finally comes into play between an MGO and a donor. Donors will give more to something they are passionately excited about.

Okay, there you go. The Top Ten Reasons Most Major Gift Programs Suck (today)! Quite frankly, this is why Veritus Group is still here; to help non-profits turn this around. Over the last decade, we have helped hundreds of non-profits and thousands of front-line fundraisers like you address and overcome these top 10 (and many other challenges non-profits face.) The results have been amazing. If you or your organization is still struggling with some of these, you CAN turn it around. There is hope because we’ve seen it done. And, as long as these problems persist, we’ll be around to help you.