It has always amazed me that many people, when faced with a challenge or opportunity, immediately get on the hunt for some innovative creative solution, rather than just doing the basic things.
Call it the silver bullet or whatever you want – many seem to share the belief that there just has to be something new and “never before tried” way to get the thing done. And when they focus on that search and in that direction, they quickly slide past all the basic things we know we should do that will get us to a satisfactory conclusion. When we slide past the basic way to tackle the challenge or opportunity, we actually miss dealing with the challenge or taking advantage of the opportunity.
It is so interesting. I have made it my hobby to observe this in everyday human behavior.
I was in a meeting recently where (surprise, surprise) the “let’s do something different and new” monster reared its ugly head. Here is what happened.
We were gathered together to address how the MGOs could improve their major gift program. Most of the MGOs were not hitting their annual goals and were not retaining and upgrading their caseload donors. And many of these MGOs were from very large organizations. They had a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge.
So I started asking the basic questions:
- Are all the donors on each caseload qualified – do they actually want to relate to the MGO? Answer: NO.
- Have you identified each donor’s passions and interests? Answer: some of them.
- Have you set a goal for each donor? Answer: NO.
- Do you have a personalized plan for every donor on the caseload? Answer: some of them.
- Have you built a relationship of trust with every donor? Answer: some of them.
Now, this is where I get frustrated. This is basic stuff. But it has not been done. And when I asked my basic questions, one person from a very large non-profit said: “Richard, we know all this. We were looking for something that would help us out.”
That was a nice way of saying: “You know what, Richard. You are not adding a NEW thing to my knowledge base here, and because you aren’t I don’t think you have anything to say that will help us out. We need some NEW thinking!”
You would not believe how frequently Jeff and I hear this. “Give me something new! We have heard this before!”
So when I hear this, I have trained myself not to get angry and say something that I will regret, like: “Listen, sir or madam. Listen to me please. Are you doing this stuff? No, you aren’t! And because you aren’t, you are failing. You don’t seem to have the common sense to realize that this is basic stuff. You have to do the basic stuff to get to where you want to go! Do you understand what I am saying?”
But no, I can’t say that. It would not be right.
So I stuff my frustration and instead say: “I know you are looking for something new. But there is nothing new to give you. You have to do the basic stuff if this is going to work for you. It’s like eating. You know, when you get up in the morning, you know you have to eat in order to stay alive. Eating – pretty basic. Sometimes you may need to be reminded that eating certain foods can hurt you, but just the basic eating thing is a foundational principle of life. You know that. So these major gifts methods are as basic as eating. You just have to do them. And if you aren’t doing them, you will not succeed.”
This happens so frequently. “Oh, we need to get a new speaker or consultant in to tell us new things. That will really help us out.” And it may. But the question still remains: Are you doing the basic things? Why not? Because (and this happens to all of us) the passing of time has eroded the memory of what those things are and how important they are.
That is what time does. It clouds our focus – it is the law of entropy: all things decline as time passes. Memory, priorities, commitments, ways of doing things, etc. It is all going downhill – going dark and foggy. And we forget. Which is why you have to come back, all the time, to the main points.
Back to the person who asked the question in my meeting. I asked him if he was doing the basic things I had outlined early in my questions. He said he wasn’t. And there was the answer to his problems. I made a point not to shame him in a public meeting, and then I sought him out privately after the meeting. We had a good conversation where I was able to tell him kindly to quit looking for that wonderful new and never-before-tried idea but, instead, to make sure he was doing the basics. I later heard from him that he had taken my advice and things were starting to go better. I was not surprised.
So check regularly that you are doing the basic things in major gifts. And by regularly I mean checking on yourself every other month to make sure you are doing the following with every donor on your caseload:
- Checking to see if the donor is still engaged – and if not, putting another donor in their place on your caseload – and making sure that donor really wants to talk to you.
- Setting a goal and making a personalized plan for each donor that is driven by outrageously fulfilling that donor’s interests and passions.
- Making sure that every offer and ask is clearly aligned to that donor’s interests and passions.
- Being obsessed with continually reporting back to the donor that her gift has made and continues to make a difference.
- Continually building a relationship of trust.
This is basic stuff. And you WILL get bored doing it – because you will be doing it over and over again. But it works. It really does. To be clear, I am not asking you to stop looking for something new that might help you. I am just asking you to put your search into perspective. The new may add a little value here or there, but it will not do the main thing, which is achieving your goals in the journey with each donor on your caseload. It is the basic stuff that will get that job done. Just stick to the basics.
PS – If this resonated with you, you may want to check out our free White Paper, Building on Bedrock: Indispensable Work in Major Gifts.
I am trying your donor qualifying process. Reaching donors by phone is very challenging. I am being treated like a telemarketer. People are not happy to hear from me. I have varied my approach, and my charity has a good reputation. Donors just do not want to engage in conversation, thusly I cannot find our about people’s interests and passions.
I wonder if your system is more suited to universities and hospitals, where people are more used to giving major gifts?
Hi, Trevor. Thanks for writing. First our system has been in place for almost a decade with all types of non-profits large and small. It does work. And major gifts is a program that every type and size of organization uses. But the frustrating aspect of it is the ratio of no’s to yes’s. We often tell MGOs that they will have to try to connect multiple times with three donors and only get one yes – a ratio of 3:1. Sometimes the ratio is even higher – 1:4 or 1:5, maybe more. So that is a fact of major gift life, there are more donors who do NOT want to engage than do. That is why it is important to qualify them. I am wondering if you are working with CURRENT donors, those who have given recently and who have given a cumulative total of at least $1000 in the most recent calendar year? These are the donors, who by their giving, recently and amount, are signaling significant interest in your organization. If you are doing that then the another reason for lack of response we have seen is that the donors on a file have not been stewarded such that they receive a generous amount of contact that does not ask. For instance, reports back. More thank you’s. Etc. So, in essence, the donor has been “trained” to reject communication because it is always ask. You might look into the frequency and style of the asking. Let me know.