I once worked with a major gift officer who was so grounded as a person, nothing seemed to rattle her. Janet (not her real name) was incredibly gifted at developing relationships, staying focused and doing all the “little things” right.

Then disaster struck.

About a third of Janet’s caseload was involved in the oil industry when the bottom fell out and the price of oil took a deep dive. Her overall revenue goal for her caseload was about $4.5 million that year… but when the year ended she was only able to bring in $2.5 million.

I remember a meeting at the end of that year, when the CEO of the organization came in and without any context started laying into the major gift team (especially Janet) for the poor performance. It was just awful on so many levels. But Janet was a cool as a cucumber and stood up to the CEO.

“You know, Bob,” she said, “I can understand that you are disappointed in the revenue this year from my caseload, but in major gifts there are some things I can control and some things I cannot control.” Then she went on to explain what had happened in full detail with each of the donors. It was brilliant! And when she was finished the CEO said, “Janet, I have to apologize. Clearly you did everything you could to cultivate your donors, and I just made some really dumb assumptions. I’m so sorry for my actions.”

Janet, being a person of integrity and compassion, has never left the side of those donors who could no longer give at the levels they had been giving when times were good. And while the oil industry may never fully recover to what it was, her donors are slowly coming back with larger investments to her organization.

Why? Because Janet stood by them, did everything right that was in her control (like reaching out to each one of her donors to make them feel okay about their reduced giving), and continually cultivating them. She has been proactive about showing her donors how they are making an impact. She has consistently made her donors feel that they are loved. She has worked hard to figure out what her donors are passionate about, and she has been intentional about bringing specific projects and programs for her donors to fund.

Janet is doing things right in the areas that she can control. And she is not allowing the areas she can’t control to bring her down. She can’t control the oil industry. She can’t control if a one of her donors dies.

I want to ask you this: Are you allowing things you can’t control to influence how you work with your major donors? Do you know what I mean? “Gosh, if there weren’t so many other non-profits in my community, my donors would give more to my organization.” Or “if my best donor hadn’t gotten sick, I would have made my goals this year.”

All you can do as a major gift officer is control your own work. Here is what you can control: ask yourself “have I done the work to…”

  1. Cultivate only donors that want a relationship with my organization?
  2. Create revenue goals with every donor?
  3. Have a plan for every donor?
  4. Regularly thank donors?
  5. Tell my donors they are making an impact?
  6. Find out what my donors are passionate about?
  7. Figure out ways to delight my donors and surprise them?
  8. Celebrate my donors?
  9. Involve my donors and take them to the scene of the need?
  10. Break my donors’ hearts with our mission and work?

These are the things you can control. If you do these things right, good things will happen. And if things don’t go well, it was out of your control.

You see, Janet didn’t let herself get depressed that she missed her revenue goal by $2 million that year. She knew she did all the right things for her donors, and that something happened outside of her control. What did she do? She just kept doing all the right things.

Are you doing all the right things?



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