How to Win Over Your Organization to Major Gifts

graphic of woman shouting from a mountaintop major gifts

I think you might be making your job as a major gifts officer even harder.

Richard and I often run into CEOs, board members, finance and programs staff that don’t know how major gift programs work – or at best, they are just downright skeptical that it really works.

More often than not, the reason they become skeptics or don’t even “get it” is that no one has really taken the time to explain it, nor communicated with staff on an ongoing basis. So what is happening is that narratives or stories get built into staff members’ heads that are totally false.

And when no one is talking to staff, these narratives and negative stories seem to take on a life of their own. Unfortunately, this is why we often hear from CEOs or VPs of Development that they don’t want to invest in major gifts… when it should be THE thing they invest in.

A good major gifts program should be your organization’s greatest source of NET revenue. Yet it’s like pulling teeth to get non-profits to invest in it.

As a major gifts officer or development professional who works with major donors, you can do yourself and your organization a huge favor. Talk to staff about what you are doing! I know that seems simple, but honestly, Richard and I have found that when major gift staff are proactive in their communication of results and stories of donors, the “stock” of the major gifts program goes way up in the eyes of the staff.

Here are some ideas for you to increase internal awareness and promote some positive thoughts about major gifts at your organization:

  1. Insist on weekly meetings with your manager. I cannot tell you how many MGOs are running around with no manager to keep them accountable. If you are an MGO and you don’t have regular meetings with your manager, INSIST on it. Be the proactive one that asks for ongoing accountability. This way your manager will know what you are doing every day.
  2. Create Monthly Reports. Yes, if you don’t currently have to do this, create these yourself. These reports should give your manager and the executives at your organization the information they need to know how things are progressing, compared to last year and compared to your goals. It gives great comfort to executives and managers to have their MGOs proactively produce these reports. Along with the numbers, give an honest assessment of the positive items and the challenges. These reports should be fairly easy to put together if you have your goals cash-flowed for everyone on your caseload.
  3. Set Quarterly Strategy Meetings. If you have your portfolio set up properly, you have a goal and a 12-month communication strategy set up for each donor on your caseload. Having a quarterly strategy meeting is important to see how well the current strategy is working, what needs to be adjusted, and what new ideas you have learned in the last three months that you can apply to the current strategy going forward. If I were in your shoes, I would invite your direct manager, the CEO, your Finance Director and Program Director to this meeting. This allows all the top folks to know exactly what you are doing.
  4. Send Update Emails. When you have successful meetings with donors, you need to tell others. For example, let’s say you just landed a $10,000 gift from a donor to a specific program. Let the organization know this immediately – send (or copy) an email to your manager, CEO, program team and finance team. This is so important for the organization to hear these anecdotal stories of what your donors are doing. It just continues to create positive feelings, and it reinforces their idea of the importance of major gifts.
  5. Hold Twice-Yearly Staff Meetings. Richard and I recommend holding a couple of staff meetings each year so you can report to the entire staff what is happening with the major gift program. You can cite your numbers to date, tell donor stories, and encourage your staff on how important they are to the success of the major gift program. You could even invite a donor in to tell his story as to why he supports your organization. This is all positive PR for major gifts.
  6. Continue to Talk Face-to-Face Informally. We believe that some of the best conversations and positive influence you can bring to your organization’s entire staff is that from time to time you can schedule time away from the office. Invite staff out for lunch or coffee, and have informal conversations about what staff is concerned with. Empathize with them and look for opportunities to talk about what you are doing in your work every day. Demystify the work you do. Make it accessible to your colleagues.

Doing these six things (and more) will help your organization understand why major gifts is so important, and why leadership should be investing more into it. Richard and I know for a fact that if you engage your colleagues in meaningful conversations about your donors, and proactively reach out to them to “keep them in the light,” you will build a positive culture of philanthropy and further your major gift program agenda.

So don’t be afraid to speak out on behalf of major gifts!

Jeff

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