8 Ways To Avoid (or Fix) a Fundraiser's Confidence Crisis
I believe there is a crisis amongst major gift officers (MGOs) all over the world. It’s a crisis that is causing good people, like you, to struggle and lose faith in their skills as well as cause donors to question the mission of organizations they either support or want to support.
This crisis is about a lack of confidence major gift officers exhibit in their work. This confidence crisis may very well be contributing to the high turnover we see in our industry and the lack of trust donors have in nonprofits.
In all the years Richard and I have been working with MGOs, it has not been the training for specific skills or strategy that has been most needed. Instead, we have had to help instill confidence in the MGOs who are trying to build relationships with wealthy people.
Unfortunately, we have seen many MGOs lose donors because the MGO essentially wasn’t prepared, did not have answers to the donor’s questions, looked as though they were apologizing for meeting with the donor in the first place and didn’t follow up properly. I’ve personally talked with some of these donors who all say something eerily similar to: “The minute the MGO walked in my office, I knew she didn’t know what the MGO was talking about. I lost all confidence in the organization.”
How did the donor know this?
I’m going to make a generalization here, but hear me out. Many people of great wealth achieved that wealth because they are driven, had goals, worked hard to meet those goals and learned to be confident in who they are and what they want. Because of that, they are attracted to others who show similar confidence. When they sense a lack of confidence in someone, they begin to question.
Is that necessarily fair? Perhaps not, but it’s a reality. Think about it in your own life. You go to a store to buy a new television. You are torn between two different brands, so you ask the salesperson their thoughts and opinions to help you make that decision. This has actually happened to me — the salesperson looked at me and shrugged. He said he wasn’t sure what to do. I left and didn’t buy anything.
Why? Because I couldn’t buy anything from someone who did believe in the product. This same dynamic happens in major gift fundraising. The donor not only has to believe in the mission and know their gift will make a difference, but they have to believe in you.
I want to be clear — not all major gift officers lack confidence. The great MGOs we have managed over the years are great because they exude great confidence with donors.
I don’t believe you are born with confidence. Yes, it does seem that some people have a greater sense of who they are, but I believe confidence comes through positive self-talk, preparation and allowing yourself to not be perfect.
Here are some tips to help you gain confidence as an MGO and to gain the donor’s respect and ultimately their investment in your organization:
- Let go of the demons in your head. Many MGO’s actually feel they are not worthy of the work they are doing. “I can’t do this” is their mantra. “Who am I to ask people for money?” This negative self-talk is extremely damaging whey aiming to become an effective MGO. The fact is you are worthy, you are good at what you do, and it’s time to step up and do the job you were hired for. I knew an MGO who would go into the bathroom right before each donor meeting, look in the mirror, and say “I can do this” over and over again. You may laugh, but this MGO was extraordinary.
- Do your homework. Preparation is the key to being confident. Most often you don’t exude confidence because you haven’t prepared well. Have you thought about every objection the donor could make to your proposal? Do you know all the ins and outs of the project you are presenting? This is crucial.
- Tell a good story. Nothing is better than telling a good story to highlight the need you are bringing to a donor. Drawing the donor into your story has a tremendous positive effect on the donor. Good storytelling shows confidence.
- Take risks. Confidence comes from taking a risk and landing on your feet. Sometimes you fall — it’s OK. Most of the time you will be fine. Those experiences help you exhibit confidence to others.
- Make mistakes. Perfectionism leads to inaction. If you can allow yourself to be OK with making mistakes, you will become a person of action. Learning from your mistakes, correcting them and openly talking about them leads others to be drawn to you. It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.
- Practice. The more you do something over and over the more confident you will be in how you present something and what the outcome will be. When I do a presentation, I go over it many, many times. I role-play it, think about what could go wrong and deal with it. Then, I visualize a positive outcome.
- Body language is key. There are all kinds of books on this subject but standing tall and looking people in the eye is telling people, “you got this.” You should be conscious of this in every meeting you have with a donor until you don’t have to be any more.
- Find easy wins. I find one of the best ways to help an MGO gain confidence is to find some easy wins that, in a sense, are practice for the more difficult solicitations. If you are a new MGO, reach out to a donor who is ready to give. Having that first meeting and getting the gift can really help boost your confidence and help you move past your insecurities.
Remember, donors want to see confidence oozing from your every pore. This does not mean you are arrogant. No, it’ means you have a calm, reassuring presence about you that assures the donor they are making a wise investment in your organization. That reassuring presence, that calm confidence takes work on your part to achieve. If you are to be a great MGO, you must have it.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.