Want to Increase Major-Donor Revenue? Embrace Discipline
If anyone had said to me 10 years ago that I would write a blog post about discipline being beautiful, I would have laughed uncontrollably. But here I am.
As Richard can attest, I’m not the most disciplined person. However, over time, I have come to fully appreciate how important it is as a professional and how it not only helps me in my own work, but it honors other people.
You may think discipline is a dirty word. I understand. Over the many years Richard and I have been working with major gift officers (MGOs), many of them shuddered when we said that the only way to be successful in major gifts is if you take a disciplined approach to your work.
“What? No way. I’m a shoot from the hip kind of guy,” dozens of MGOs have said to me. “Just let me set up meetings and talk to people. I can bring in the big gifts.”
The problem with this approach is that over time, you fail. I can’t put it any more abruptly. You will fail. Our team at Veritus knows this because we have helped dozens of organizations pick up the pieces when there was no discipline attached to major gifts.
Richard and I have said this many times, but it’s worth repeating: You can have the best donors, the best plans, all kinds of support behind you, but if you don’t have built-in accountability that keeps you focused and disciplined about working your strategic plan, you will get no where.
A couple of years ago, we had two very different types of clients. One did not embrace discipline and accountability, and the other did. Here is what it looked like:
Didn’t Embrace Accountability
1. Rarely kept our weekly meetings. We set up weekly meetings with every MGO. Almost every week, these MGOs canceled because there was something “more important” for them to do.
2. Whined about creating a goal and strategic plan for every donor. The MGOs would fight us every step of the way to avoid this. And their manager would not back us up because she was afraid if she pushed too hard, they would not like her.
3. Complained about the qualification process. Qualifying donors takes time. The MGOs complained over and over about how long it took and didn’t want to take the necessary steps to create a caseload of donors who actually wanted a deeper relationship with them.
4. Didn’t keep up with entering information into their database. This was a huge problem in that we didn’t have history of conversations with donors and didn’t understand their passion and interests—a complete disaster.
The result of this after a year was about 5 percent growth in revenue—A great underperformance from our expectations.
Now, here is what the other organization looked like:
1. Always kept meetings as sacred time. In fact, I remember that MGOs would plan ahead by two months if they were going to be out during our regularly scheduled meetings. Why? Because the MGOs knew accountability was the key to success.
2. Stuck with setting goals and strategies. While it may have not been pleasant, each MGO from this organization kept setting goals and strategies for every donor. They accepted the concept and just plowed through the implementation of it. It wasn’t easy, but they finished it.
3. Maintained patience and persistence. Qualifying donors, trying to get meetings with donors, following up with donors—each MGO kept at it.
4. Updated donor Information. These MGOs were on top of entering information into the donor database. After every call, meaningful visit or email, this information was recorded. It became part of their culture.
5. Reported results. Every month, each MGO was responsible for reporting their own results as compared to their plan. It helped each one of them stay on track and communicate proactively if they were off plan.
The result after one year was an 85 percent increase in revenue from major donor revenue. And it just kept growing each year.
Let me say this one final time. No discipline, no growth. Major gifts are all about staying focused on the plan and working it. This requires meeting consistently with a manager to discuss what has been done and what you will be doing to nurture relationships with your donors. Do this and you will be successful.
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.