Major Gifts Fundraising: You Need a Friend
I don't like that term, "self-made millionaire" or "self-made man or woman." There is no such thing. In fact, I've never met anyone whom our society would call successful who became that way on his or her own.
Now, some people may claim they have, but that is because their egos are so overinflated they can't think straight.
All my life, I've been fortunate to have people in my life who have mentored me and were able to speak some hard truths into my life. In fact, if I look back all the way from junior high to where I am today, I can name all the significant people in my life who guided me and helped me get to where I am right now.
I'm so grateful for them.
These are just ordinary people whom I either reached out to or who took an interest in me and were skilled at listening and guiding. Many just came alongside me to provide encouragement or a few words of correction that helped me see differently.
As a major gifts fundraising professional, you need people in your life to help guide you personally and professionally. I'm saddened when I see good fundraisers think they can do it on their own, that they don't need advice or they can't listen to good criticism of their work.
This work you do is too complex, difficult and emotionally draining to not have a support team of people around you to help you be successful.
Richard and I could tell you story after story of when we first start working with a new client and we sit down with major gifts officers (MGOs) and tears start streaming down their eyes because someone finally wants to support and help them.
"I've been doing this on my own for so long, and I think I'm failing. I'm so glad you can help." This is what we often hear from MGOs who are out there on their own without any support.
I promise you this: You cannot be a successful major gifts officer if you don't have help. I don't care how good you think you are, you will fail without others to help you. Here is some of the help you need:
- Mentor — You need someone in your life who has more experience in your field and can speak truth to you without you getting defensive. This is an absolute must. You have to seek this out. Don't expect it will come to you.
- Colleagues — Even if you are a one-person shop, you have to seek out colleagues who are doing what you are doing and with whom you can seek advice, talk about frustrations, share joy and learn from. Too many times I see good MGOs who fail to reach out to colleagues because they think they are in competition with them. All the great MGOs I know have great relationships with their colleagues. They have great friends at work.
- Support staff — Richard has talked a lot about this in previous blog posts. But, since you are expected to travel and be in front of your donors, you need administrative support. Otherwise a bunch of your time will be spent on other things besides your donors.
- Managers — You need a strong manager to support you. You need someone to keep you accountable, keep you focused and not allow you to veer off somewhere that has nothing to do with your caseload. You might think, "Gosh, life would be so much easier if I didn't have someone holding me accountable for everything." That kind of thought never comes from a great MGO. A great MGO realizes he or she needs structure and someone to help him or her stay on the road.
Being a major gifts fundraising professional is hard work. You have a lot of responsibility and pressure on you at all times. You cannot do this alone. Leave your ego at the door. You have to lose yourself in order to gain so much more.
Finally, one last thought: When you realize you need all of these people to support you and you allow them to, show gratitude. All of these folks who are in your life to support you are doing it for you.
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.