Facing Major Gift Obstacles
It’s a funny thing about obstacles in life. When they come up, our first impulse is to give up or to question the destination or even the path or strategy. That’s why I found this Zig Ziglar quote interesting and applicable to all of us dealing with major gift obstacles.
“When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal. You do not change your decision to get there.”
— Zig Ziglar
Here are some of the most common obstacles in major gifts and what we think you should do about them:
1. Getting a ‘No’
Jeff and I have talked about this before that a “no” is simply a path toward a “yes” and that “no’s” are to be embraced for all the lessons they bring us. When you hear a “no,” don’t give up or change anything about your ultimate destination. Simply try to understand what the “no” means and let that understanding be your guide.
2. You Get a Classic Objection
The donor is not sure about your cause, your organization, the project you are proposing, the amount requested or the timing. Read our specific suggestions on handling these objections in our blog on the subject. There is not doubt that an objection is an obstacle to your progress with the donor. But when you get one, don’t just melt away into the background or change your decision to get to your destination. Think about the objection, as we have suggested, and let it be a path of learning for you.
3. The Donor Isn’t Interested in What You Are Proposing
You may have thought the donor was tracking with you and really wanted to engage. And then you proposed a project or area of interest, and they glazed over. This is a formidable obstacle, but hold on! Don’t just start changing things. Think about what this means. Are you not listening to your donor? Have you not asked enough questions or been curious enough about the donor’s interests and passions? Very few donors state an interest and then suddenly change it. Most often, it is the major gift officer (MGO) who either did not listen or did not query to donor correctly. Purpose to change this.
4. The Donor Says You Are Asking for Too Much
The donor fell out of their chair when you mentioned the amount you would like them to give. Yes, this is an obstacle. But wait! This isn’t the end of the conversation. Simply say: “I’m sorry, George. I guess I made the wrong assumption here. How would X amount be or would Y amount be better?” And then have a conversation and come to a conclusion. This is not the end of the world. It is a tiny event that needs correcting.
5. The Donor Says You Are Asking for Too Little
Jeff and I have a lot of stories of under-asking. And our conclusion is that this has more to do with the MGO and his/her lack of confidence that anything else. We are continually telling MGOs to be bold in their asking. I was in a meeting earlier this week where the head of major gifts said she was directing her MGOs to be courageous about asking and to remember that the ask is not about the MGO—it is about the cause and the need. How quickly we forget this point and start to think that the ask and the money has something to do with us. It doesn’t. And when you get that fact firmly planted in your head and your heart you can be bold and urgent about asking.
6. The Donor Tells You Your Timing Is Off
This happens all the time. There is a business down turn, a cash flow problem, a divorce or death or some other life circumstance that presents itself as an obstacle to your ask and your timing. Don’t worry about it! Just take it on board, understand it, ask if there is a better time, gain clarity and move on.
7. You and the Donor Don’t Mix
You knew it all along, but you ignored the fact that this donor just does not connect with you. But rather than pass the donor to someone else, you keep trying. It doesn’t work. A “no” is in your future forever with this donor. Their “no,” quite frankly, means “would you please go away?” This is one of those obstacles that gets really personal really quick. I know the feeling, but just hold on a second on this one as well. This does not mean you are a loser or a failure. Not at all! This is not a referendum on your ability or your competence. Nope. This is simply one human being giving you a clue that the two of you are probably not a good idea. Don’t take it personally. Just do something about it and move on.
8. You Forgot to Include the Significant Other in the Conversation
Well, this one is simply an oversight on your part and now it has come back to bite you. You should have, earlier in the relationship, asked the critical question: “Is there anyone else that you rely on, Mrs. Jones, to make your charitable giving decisions?” But you didn’t. And now this obstacle had reared its head. This is not the time to change courses or change anything. Just say: “Goodness, I meant to ask you early on in our relationship about this, Mrs. Jones, and I forgot. I’m sorry. Of course it is important for [name of person mentioned] to be involved. What would be the best way to involve them?” Or something like that. You simply get up, dust off, ask more questions, find a solution and move on.
9. The Donor Is Asking What You Did With the Money
Jeff and I have said this over and over again: If you don’t regularly tell the donor that their giving made a difference, you will be the disgruntled recipient of “no’s” and obstacles. Please listen on this point. A donor cannot be satisfied in their relationship with you unless they know their giving actually made a difference. It just will not happen. You must constantly be telling the donor that their giving is making a difference. You know this! So have a plan to do it before it turns into an obstacle.
10. Someone Internally Is Holding You Up or Blocking Progress
It could be finance or program or your manager. You might not be able to get the information or data you need. This is frustrating, I know. One MGO we work with who failed to get the budget information he needed for a proposal from his manager, and finance went directly to the project manager, got their budget, constructed a financial approach in his proposal and then handed it to his manager for approval. The manager approved it and the MGO got down to business. Oftentimes, the blocks by others are simply that they are too busy, too distracted or have different priorities and cannot or will not get involved with you. Just go around them and present a solution.
This often works. We have seen many MGOs who let the system manage them and the result is their work is full of obstacles. We have seen many other MGOs who manage the system and the result is that they move ahead with their agenda. Be bold and take things into your own hands. And if those hands get slapped simply say: “I was just trying to get the funds you’ve asked me to get.” And then ask the hand slapper to help you.
11. The Donor Is Simply Not Interested Anymore
This could be due to a life change, moving, a change in priorities—whatever. It is just a simple fact that the interest is no longer there. This seems like a formidable obstacle; one that cannot be overcome. And you will likely never hear from this donor again. Our advice on this is to not burn a bridge or leave any kind of energy or vibe that is negative. Be gracious and positive about the donor’s decision to exit your relationship and truly value the donor in the process. I have seen these seemingly final decisions actually turn around in 12 to 18 months, where the donor comes back because the giving experience and the cause was still attractive to them. It doesn’t happen that often but donors do change their minds. Especially if what they left was a warm, embracing and fulfilling relationship.
So, what obstacles are you facing today? And how are you reacting to them? Have they got hold of you and are they choking the life, motivation and joy out of you? If this is happening to you it is not good. And Jeff and I suggest a different path. Take these five steps:
- Identify the obstacle it, and look at it in the face.
- Purpose not to change your decision to pursue or reach your goal.
- Identify a work around as we have suggested above.
- Jump in and make your work around happen with confidence and boldness.
- And do not allow yourself to get discouraged or devalued. Do not give up!
Remember that an obstacle is an opportunity to learn—nothing more.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.