Be the Change: Put Donors First
Recently, I had lunch with a colleague in the fundraising business. He has been working in nonprofit fundraising for more than 30 years. Over the last year he had some health issues that nearly killed him. Now, he is recovering and has a long life ahead of him. It’s nothing short of a miracle that he was sitting across the table from me. He’s also very passionate about fundraising. As we settled into our seats and ordered, he looked at me and said with great conviction:
"Jeff, you know what I think is the biggest problem in the nonprofit sector? Fear. We are afraid to do the hard work. We are afraid to change, we are afraid of being donor-centered. Fear is keeping our industry from actually changing how philanthropy should be done. Instead, we just keep limping along, doing incremental things that give us incremental results. If we want great change, we have to do great things. Life is too short (and I know it firsthand) and too wonderful to except mediocrity and compliancy.”
I wanted to leap out of my seat and yell, "Yes!" He is exactly right.
I want to let you in on a secret. Almost every day Richard and I get notes and emails from major gift officers (MGO), who, like you, are readers of our blog and lament that their bosses, executive directors or boards are making it impossible to do their jobs. Richard and I have a ton of empathy for your situations. Believe me, you know how hard we are on leadership actually leading, but when we talk to these MGOs, our counsel is that if you want to see change, if you want your organization to see donors as your mission, then you have to be the one to change it.
There is already plenty of fear from nonprofit leaders to do nothing. If you want to see change in your job, at your organization and in our industry, it has to come from you.
Now, I'm going to let you in on another secret: It actually works! Richard and I have story after story of MGOs, managers and some leaders who are putting aside their own fears and making changes that put their donors first.
Is it easy to make change? No. Blood may be spilled, and there will be resistance that will feel impossible. But it's not impossible.
- If you know the way your organization is doing major gifts is wrong, do something about it.
- If you see a manager playing it safe, call him or her out and challenge the status quo.
- If you witness a board of directors doing nothing to connect you to donors, ask its members for help.
- If you look at a donor's donations and he or she continues to give the same amount every year, challenge the donor with a project he or she would love and ask for something greater.
You see, I believe that we all have tapes playing in our heads all the time telling us "no," "you can't do it," "you have no power," "that donor doesn't want to do that," "that board will do nothing," or "my boss will not listen."
So, you believe what those tapes are saying, you listen to them over and over, and believe those tapes are real—and never take any action.
Will you get over your own fear and stop listening to those tapes? Will you stop thinking the problem is something else and create the change you really want to see? Will you do bold things so you can see bold change?
You don't need to be near death's door to see that life is about living, not just getting by.
Today is a great day to start living.
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.