Reason #7: We Don’t Take the Time to Understand a Donor’s Passion 
If you are a major gift officer or Executive Director and you don’t understand what your donors are passionate about…you have a big problem.
And, I don’t just mean what part of your program or services are they passionate about.  I’m talking about what are they passionate about in life as well.
You have to know both if you want to 1) be effective and 2) delight your donors.
Have you heard of the nightmare story of the major gift officer who was cultivating one of his caseload donors for a $1MM gift to help put a new wing on a hospital?  The MGO was working this gift hard.  Sending all kinds of information about the new wing, naming opportunities, etc.  After about six months of this type of cultivation, the MGO sets up a lunch meeting with this particular donor to make the “ask” with the CEO of the hospital.
They sit down together at lunch and the CEO starts talking about the new wing of the hospital, how great it’s going to be, how many more seniors will be helped because of it, etc.  Then, the ask…
The donor looks at the MGO and CEO and says, “guys, this is a great project, but you should know that I’m about helping children.  That is what my wife and I want to give to.  You both should know this.”
After lunch on the way back to the hospital the CEO is furious and barks at the major gift officer, “how did YOU get this wrong?”
I’ll tell you how he got it wrong.  He didn’t pay attention.  The MGO felt so much pressure to find donors who had the ability to fund the new wing, that it clouded his thinking about who would actually have the passion for it.
Ability to fund and Passion to fund are two very different things.
Sure enough, when he gets back in the office and looks up the donor’s giving history, all of the donor’s previous gifts were directed toward children.  And, if he had done a little more homework, he would have noticed that the donor and his wife had 8 children of their own, two of which had special needs and had used the services of the hospital for care.
If he had dug a little harder he would have found news articles on how this couple funded other programs in the community for children and they were on the board of two other children’s non-profits.
I know what you’re thinking, “Well goodness, this is so obvious, you’d have to be a total idiot to make this mistake.”
Well, you’re right on both thoughts.  However, this story is all too common in our business.  In fact, I’ve seen it repeated over and over.  Just plug in a different type of non-profit and major gift officer and the story is basically the same….over and over and over and over…
I don’t want you or your non-profit to ever make this mistake.  Here are some practical ways you can understand your donors’ passions.

  1. Read everything you can about your donors.  Google and other search engines are so good you will FIND them.  I want you to know what boards they are on, what businesses they are in, awards they have received, what their kids do, their spouse, etc.
  2. Use a wealth indicator service such as Wealth Engine or Blackbaud.  It will give you good information about their net worth, business and giving history.  (Although this is helpful, not all information from these services is 100% accurate.)  So, only use this as ONE way to know your donors.
  3. Use Google Alerts and TweetBeep to get real time information on your donors.
  4. Drive around in their neighborhood.  Now, I’m not talking about stalking, but you need to understand where your donors live, shop, do their business.  One way to understand your donors is to put on their shoes.
  5. Do a complete review of each of your donors’ giving history.  NOT just amount, but to what programs, projects and services you provide.  All of these are obvious clues.
  6. Ask them.  That’s right.  Set up a breakfast or lunch meeting with the sole purpose of finding out what they are most passionate about.  Personally, these meetings are some of the best I’ve ever had with donors and it allowed me to understand and get to know them in a very personal way.  (Make sure when lunch is over you record everything in your donor database)
  7. Survey your caseload.  I like to put together a survey that goes out to all caseload donors asking them what they like most about XX non-profit, what types of non-profits they support, etc.  This is just another opportunity to get good feedback from your donors and will continue to give you good information for future funding opportunities.

What are some other ideas you have?
One of the greatest gifts you can give to your donors is the feeling of being known by you. Understanding what your donors are passionate about is not only good for the future funding of your organization, but it allows you to care and respond to your donors’ needs in a more profound way.

Series Details: 10 Reasons Why Most Major Gift Programs Suck!
Intro and #1: Development Directors review the WRONG criteria for success.
Reason #2: Non-Profits do not treat their donors as partners, but as sources of cash.
Reason #3: The Relationship between Development and Program is Broken
Reason #4: Wrong People Hired as Major Gift Officers
Reason #5: Lack of Management and Accountability
Reason #6: No Marketing Plan for EACH Donor on the Caseload
Reason #7: We Don’t Take the Time to Understand a Donor’s Passion
Reason #8: Most Non-Profits are NOT donor-centered.
Reason #9: We Don’t Tell Donors How They Made a Difference.
Reason #10: Money Becomes the Objective, not the Result.