There are a lot of good leaders out there. And then, there are also some really bad ones. 

Jeff and I have met them, and they’re often the sole reason why a major gifts program doesn’t work and why a good MGO will not succeed, no matter how hard they try.

The bad ones are uniform in their style and behavior, which can be summed up in any of the following cringe-worthy statements we hear from them:

  • “Just find me new money. I am not interested in the current money a major donor is giving.”

  • “I will make the final decision on who you hire. When an MGO is not performing well, I will make the decision on what to do and when.”

  • “You do not need to spend time with program and finance figuring out what to present to donors. You have all the information you need to be successful. Just get out there and be with donors.”

  • “I expect you to be fully functional in your major gift job in six months. Major gift fundraising is no different than other forms of fundraising. I expect results soon.”

  • “I don’t have time to spend with your donors, so don’t ask me. They are your donors and it’s your job.”

  • “Look, it doesn’t matter that the person I met at Rotary today has never given to our organization. He has a lot of money, so please spend quality time cultivating him.”

  • “Your job is to spend time with donors – all of them – so I expect you to be present at every event this organization has. In fact, my expectation is that you will help the events team organize and execute each event.”

And the list can go on and on. You could say it’s ignorance that drives these statements. And sometimes it is. But we often encounter leaders and managers who stubbornly stick with their biases and opinions, even after we have shown them the facts on how major gifts programs work best.

That said, we also meet a lot of leaders who simply were never trained for success in major gifts, and are unclear about what role they should play in it. Those are the leaders I’m speaking to here. 

A leader or manager needs to understand their role in major gifts. Your role is to:

1. Know how major gifts programs work

One of the most helpful things you can do as a leader or manager is to secure an intellectual grasp of how major gifts works. I’m not talking about the workflow details here. I’m talking big picture, like:

  • Most major donors come from a long history of giving smaller gifts to your organization – they don’t just suddenly appear. You find them in your file. You aren’t finding them out in the marketplace.

  • Major gifts acquisition takes time. It’s nothing like the fast payback of direct marketing.

  • Not all major donors will want to relate personally to an MGO. More than two-thirds of major gift donors would rather just engage via direct mail or online.

  • Major donors who have a personal relationship with an MGO give more, and they’re certainly less likely to taper off or stop giving altogether.

  • An MGO needs to spend most of their time out of the office. That means it tends to be cost-effective to provide administrative support to an MGO.

  • Donor offers need to be created through a collaborative effort of program, finance, leadership, and the MGO.

2. Focus on a few important things — such as:

  • Providing MGOs with compelling projects and programs donors can support, and review larger asks.

  • Providing MGOs with administrative support.

  • Being available to meet with donors.

  • Understanding evaluation metrics for your major gift program and MGO performance.

  • Supporting and encouraging MGOs and helping them understand that you know it takes time to cultivate donor relationships.

3. Have a crediting policy

One of the most often ignored areas in management, as relates to major gifts, is a written crediting policy. This is a document that spells out, in great detail, how an MGO will receive credit for the work they do with their caseload donors. Written crediting policies are a critical part of MGO performance because they let the MGO know exactly how their work will be evaluated.

If you, as a leader, do not have a crediting policy, your MGOs will face a very conflicted and confusing situation, since there will not be a shared understanding and acceptance of how an MGOs work will be evaluated.

4. Understand the part you play in major gifts

As an authority figure in your organization, along with offering general encouragement and support, you play an active role in major gifts – especially with the top donors of the organization. When the MGO is making a large ask of six figures or more, you will need to be involved. And your presence and support may encourage the donor to give. You have a great deal of influence in these situations – influence that the MGO needs to bring to bear in the asking process.

There may be other things you need to understand about your role in major gifts, but in our opinion at Veritus, these are the critical few. You can help your MGOs by learning as much as you can in these areas.


Other Posts
Do More of What You Love

You wish that every day could be full of meaningful connections with donors, but the reality is that you’re always getting pulled in other directions. But you are the bridge between your donor’s heart and your organization’s mission. What needs to change so you can spend more time doing what lights you up?


Loving Your Donors

When you genuinely care for your donors, it impacts every aspect of your work as a fundraiser. Loving your donor means learning about their passions and interests, and it’s not enough to simply make a note in their file and forget about it. How are you showing your donors that you know and value them? 


“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t say, ‘Well, Veritus says that we should do this.’”

As Maureen Gregory tells it, she “fell into fundraising.” Just out of school, she was working as a waitress when a fellow restaurant worker told her that the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park was looking for a development associate.

“I said I don’t know what that is, but I’ll apply,” Maureen recalls.