A few months ago I attended a conference and had a chance to meet with the Director of Major Gifts of a fairly well known non-profit. I wondered how this meeting was going to go, because it was actually the director’s boss who had asked us to get together and discuss her major gift program.
Before we even sat down she said, “Hey, I just want you to know that I know what to do with major gifts. I’ve been in this business for 30 years and the problems we’re having getting our major gift program going have nothing to do with inexperience.”
Boy, the red flags started going up when I heard this. But I wanted to hear her story and the details as to why this organization’s major gift program was struggling. She went on to list her credentials and, quite frankly, they were pretty impressive. She’d worked for some major Ivy League universities and prominent health care institutions over her 30 years in major gift fundraising.
But now, she is working in a completely different sector of non-profits. And she is the only full-time major gift officer. She is it – the director of the program and its only MGO.
In the hour that we met together she listed off a number of reasons why, in the 18 months she has been in this position, the major gift program was not getting off the ground. But the more I listened, the more I became convinced that she has allowed herself to get so distracted with “everything else” that she hasn’t really been able to focus on her major gift program at all.
It’s a classic case that Richard and I see all the time. Here are some of the things that are distracting her from actually doing her job. See if any of these are familiar to you.
- Caseload size — When asked how large her caseload was she said she had 400 donors on her portfolio. That’s trouble right there. Remember what she said to me at the beginning of her meeting… “Hey, I know what to do…” Yikes. There is no way you can effectively manage a caseload of 400 donors. That is a huge distraction. 150 qualified donors is the most you can take on. Qualified.
- Other Responsibilities — I found out that not only is she working on major gifts, but she is responsible for another auxiliary set of donors who will never become major donors. This other group of donors is made up of previous volunteers who have little capacity, but take up a ton of her time. But, as she said, “these people are really important to the organization and I just love working with them.” Perhaps they are important, but YOU should not be the one working with them. Big distraction.
- Excuses — “Our CEO doesn’t want to fundraise. I can’t get board members to do anything. My donors don’t want to see me. They won’t allow me to come visit them. I don’t have good materials. I don’t know what we really do.” Her list went on and on. Excuses like these are just distractions that prevent her from focusing on what is most important… creating, building and deepening relationships with the RIGHT donors on her caseload. She has allowed all these “problems” to overtake her, and they are distractions from working with her donors.
- Events — Because of her inability to get in front of donors, she has now created a number of events that are her responsibility. Supposedly, this is what is going to attract donors to give major gifts. DISTRACTION. You see what happens when you don’t focus on donors? You start creating more distractions and it becomes a never ending cycle.
- Lack of Management — The real problem here is that she came from an environment where she was managed and held accountable in her previous jobs as an MGO, but now, as the head of her own department, there is no longer that tight management she was used to. She has been in this business for 30 years, is now failing and has fallen prey to distractions because no one is there to keep her focused.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this person is going to last long in this position. She has allowed all these distractions to overtake her. It’s crystal clear why her program is struggling and it is directly related to her, not all her “reasons.”
I want to be clear with you. You can only be successful in major gifts if you are absolutely focused on your major gift donors. You must have a structure to work within, and you must be held accountable to your goals and strategy. This is the only way you will not get distracted and lose your way.
Great article, many thanks. I was director of a development department for some years (with many distractions), and left that organization to be an MGO and love the ability to focus on this one important piece.
So true Jeff! If she doesn’t shift her perspective soon, she’s got big problems. Often times these distractions are allowed to interfere at the conscious level and others the person isn’t aware of what’s preventing them from doing their most important work. In a post I’ve got scheduled for early next week, I talk about how procrastination is a symptom of the fundraiser’s equivalent to the salesperson’s cold-call reluctance, and how to overcome it.