Right thinking.First in a Series: Unhealthy Major Gift Practices

I went to my doctor recently and she gave me quite a lecture on practices I was engaged in that were not healthy. We covered eating, vitamins and supplements, exercise, working too much and a host of other items.
It was a wakeup call to mind my health.
The same thing happens in major gifts. Most non-profits need to have the doctor come in and give them a lecture on the unhealthy major gift practices they engage in. Jeff and I have assembled a list of them that I am going to cover in this and the next five blogs:

  1. Wrong Thinking about Major Gifts
  2. Not Understanding the Major Gift Pipeline
  3. The Wrong Organization Structure
  4. Treating Donors as Sources of Cash
  5. No Donor Offers
  6. Not Investing in Major Gifts

Let’s start with wrong thinking about major gifts.
We all have wrong thinking about many things. Sometimes it’s just ignorance – we just don’t know. Other times it’s bias – we’ve formed an opinion somewhere along the way and we carry that opinion forward into everything we do.
Wrong thinking about major gifts, to Jeff and me, falls into the following five areas:

  1. Lack of understanding about the problem in major gifts, and the opportunity that the problem presents. We have talked about this quite a bit. Most donors, who give regularly, are giving 40-60% less year over year because they are not told their giving made a difference, and/or they are treated poorly by the non-profit. This is a major problem which is evidenced by a tremendous loss of revenue. Most managers and leaders don’t understand this. The old money going away is covered up by donations from new donors, and everything seems fine. It’s not. And because there is not an understanding of this problem, there is not an appreciation of what could be done about it – so MGOs and downline fundraising staff are not supported in their efforts to turn this situation around, and the organization continues to miss hundreds of thousands of dollars (even millions) in revenue. (We can help.)
  2. The focus is on revenue, not relationship – This one is really sad to me. The non-profit cares more about the money than they do the person giving it. This is one of the major causes for value attrition, because this kind of attitude oozes out of the pores of the organization and creates a stench that the donor can smell. And that is not a good thing. There is nothing worse than feeling used by someone. Yet this is exactly how these donors feel.
  3. The insiders think they own the organization. It’s always so interesting to watch how leaders and board members of a non-profit actually think they own the organization they lead when, in fact, a non-profit is nothing more than a legal structure that represents the combined interests of donors (the outsiders) who fund it. Without those individual and institutional donors, the organization would not exist. But you wouldn’t know it by the way the inside leaders behave as they manage events, structure, position and power to retain control.
  4. Leaders ignore major givers. In the commercial sector, when a company has a major investor, you’d better believe that the CEO of that company pays attention to that investor. In the non-profit sector, there are many CEOs and Executive Directors who do not believe that major gifts is part of their management and leadership responsibility. This does not make sense to me – but it is true.
  5. There is no culture of philanthropy. The donor needs to be more at the center of the thinking and the valuing of the organization, becoming a real part of the everyday practice of running the place. If the leaders and management of an organization are thinking right about major gifts, they are placing the donor at the center of everyday life, which results in a culture of philanthropy.

When everyone is thinking right about major gifts there is:

  • A clear understanding of the problem of donor value attrition, and concrete steps are taken to value and care for donors.
  • A strong focus on the individual donor and serving their interests and passions, and viewing the money they can give as a result of a good relationship, not the objective.
  • A belief that the opinions of donors count in the management and direction of the organization.
  • An environment where leaders love and care for their major donors.
  • An active effort to develop and maintain a culture of philanthropy.

Take an inventory of your organization right now. Where is there wrong thinking? And what can you do about it?
Read all the posts in this series: