5 Ways to Break the Habitual Malaise
Over the years, Richard and I have evaluated dozens of major gift programs from a wide array of organizations—social service, relief and development, educational institutions, animals, the environment and the arts.
When we look at these files, we often see a ton of donors who give the same amount every year. Sometimes we see many $5,000 gifts, other times it’s $10,000 or $20,000 gifts. But we see very few gifts in the high five, six or seven figures.
The problem is that over time, development directors and their major gift officers seem to come to the conclusion that this is how their donors always behave. They come to the conclusion that they just don’t give large gifts because “that’s the way our donors are.”
We’re so tired of hearing that. Yes, there may be nuances here and there, but for the most part, major donors are major donors no matter what causes they give to. And, remember most major donors are giving to multiple organizations so don’t use the “our donors are different” excuse. We just don’t buy it.
However, what the real issue seems to be is that, over the years, something happens in an organization where they just come to accept how its donors give and they get brainwashed into thinking, “Well, our donors just don’t give big gifts, they are comfortable giving their $5,000 or $10,000 every year and they can’t do more.”
So, you know what happens then, right? Those donors never really get asked to do anything more. The MGO just accepts this and, because they don’t want to rock the boat, they rarely talk to them about doing more or telling them how they are making a difference.
We see this over and over among all types of nonprofits. I call it the “habitual malaise.” You actually create a habit out of not asking or challenging donors to go beyond the expected gift to something that may become transformational in their lives. And, usually, it’s because you fear you’ll lose the gift you normally have been getting from your donors.
If you really think about it, is that how you want to work as an MGO—caught in this habitual malaise? Gosh, I hope not.
Your job as an MGO, a true development professional, is to bring dynamic projects and programs that your donors have a passion for, and help your donor make an investment in them that they will feel fantastic about.
Look, I’m not knocking those $5 and $10K gifts, but if your donors are just doing that year after year, my guess is that they may have lost some of their passion for your cause because no one has asked them to really engage in the mission.
Here are some tips to get out of the habitual malaise of your donor portfolio and get some new life injected into your donors’ investment in you.
- Re-evaluate the programs and projects you have and figure out how to re-package them in a way that is dynamic and fresh. Also look for new program offerings that are coming and learn everything you can about them. Then, look for creative ways to present them to your donors.
- Do your research. If you have a number of donors who give the same amount year over year (again, not a bad thing) find out their real capacity, where else they give and how much they give. Are you getting the drips and drabs? Or are you first on a donors list and that’s all they can do? Many times, we find the donor is giving much, much more elsewhere.
- Get in front of the donor. Because we just accept the fact that these donors are just “going to do the same every year,” we don’t really figure out their desires and passion. That has to be your mission as an MGO. Get to know your people! Once you do that, you will gain permission to challenge them.
- Ask! Yep, actually ask the donor to do more. If you are really bold, ask them to do it over multiple years. You will be surprised at the response from your donor.
- Make them feel good. Once a donor says, “yes” to your challenge, do whatever it takes to make it feel good about this new investment in your mission. Thank them, report back and surprise them with gratitude. It will lead to the next gifts.
Don’t get caught up in the “our donors only give this much because they are different than other donors” thing. That’s not acceptable, and it’s really not true. Donors are donors. They want to be inspired. They want to see vision—they want to see your passion to help change the world, no matter what you do. Then, they need to be asked to do it. You’ll be amazed by their response. Get out of the “habitual malaise” and onto transformational giving.
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.