Trusting the Process
Recently, I was sitting across the table from the CEO of a very large nonprofit we work with. He says, "Jeff, tell me how our MGOs are doing."
"Well," I say, "all of your MGOs have exceeded their revenue goals in FY2014, and overall your major-gifts program is up 70 percent in revenue over last year."
He looks at me and says, " No, no, I don't care about revenue."
I'm thinking to myself, "What the heck are you talking about? You'd better care about the revenue. This is phenomenal growth."
So, of course, I say, "What do you mean, you don't care about the revenue?"
He says, "Look, I want to know if they followed your process, or did this growth just happen by chance."
Now, I got it. He wanted to understand what his MGOs brought into the process. Did they actually add value, or did growth just happen because someone gave one seven-figure gift.
Then, he says this.
"Jeff, even if you had told me that we brought in less revenue than last year and that no one made their goals, yet they followed your process, I would've have been satisfied. Because, Jeff, I believe in your process. So, did they follow the process?"
Of course they all did. If they work with us, they have to follow the process. And, yes, this is why we saw such incredible growth this year.
That got the CEO pumped.
Major-gifts fundraising is not rocket science. It's not quantum physics or brain surgery. It's very hard work, but it doesn't require a masters degree or doctorate, or a CFRE for that matter. I'm not putting any of those down, but successful major-gifts officers don't need any of that.
What they do need (besides the right talent and learned attributes), however, is an absolute trust in "the process." I put "the process" in quotes because I've seen different MGOs and organizations use different processes that Richard and I would deem absolute failures.
If you've been reading our blog for any length of time, you know that we've outlined "the process" over and over to you. Now, we've done it under different topics or through unique stories, but it's really all about one process.
If you step back and review "the process," you would say to yourself, "Well this is pretty simple. This is not hard. I can do this." And, you would be right.
Except, most MGOs and nonprofits do not follow "the process." They get easily discouraged, abandon "the process" and end up lost in the forest somewhere. This is when someone calls Richard or me and says, "We need a search party … we're lost."
I have to be honest with you. When we were first considering writing this blog, Richard and I wondered if we just told everyone the "right process" if we'd ever get hired because everyone would know what to do and wouldn't need us.
Whew! I'm glad we didn't follow our first instincts. In fact, the opposite has happened. The more we give away "the process," the more our phone has rang from stressed-out executive directors asking for "the search party" to come in and help them find their way again.
So, why are so many MGOs and their organizations getting lost in the woods? One reason Richard and I think they're getting lost is because major-gifts fundraising is so filled with ups and downs that when you or your organization are in one of those down periods, you abandon the trusted process and look for answers and quick fixes to appease your boss and most likely your own ego.
This happens all the time. You go through a dry spell or you lose a big gift that you have been working on for more than a year and veer off your plan.
Another reason is that many MGOs simply don't know the right process to begin with, so they start out all wrong. They chase "big" prospects around, holding costly and time-consuming events, and get lost in staff meetings and desk work where the hairball sucks you in.
At this point it would be easier for you to find your way out of the middle of the South American rain forest without a compass than to be a successful major-gifts fundraiser.
So, with all that said. Here is the process that, if followed, will make you a successful MGO. You ready?
- Cultivate the right donors. This means make sure you have a qualified list of donors on your caseload. This also means you are cultivating no more than 150 donors. And that you have tiered these donors A, B and C level, spending half of your time with your A-level donors. NO CHASING UNQUALIFIED DONORS.
- Have a revenue goal for every donor. Setting goals is absolutely important to success. It gives you a destination.
- Have a strategic plan for every donor. You need a carefully laid out plan on how you are going to achieve the goal. If you don't have a road map, you cannot stay focused and accountable. And don't forget to make sure that plan starts with identifying then serving the interests and passions of the donor.
- Half of your time should be spent face to face with donors. So, within that plan you must be in front of donors to find out their passion, who they are, why they give and to ask them to support your organization.
- Match program with the hopes, desires and dreams of your donors. Part of the process is to constantly be matching program with people. Your people. You can only do this if you are working your plan, looking your donors in the eye, and knowing exactly what programs or projects you have that will meet those desires and dreams.
- Thank donors. When your donors give, you have to properly thank them. Immediately.
- Report back. Donors need to know they made a difference with their gifts. If you don't tell them how they did this, you will not get another gift.
- Be accountable. You need someone to manage you. I don't care if it's the CEO, Veritus Group or your mother-in-law, someone else has to hold you accountable to all of the above. When you go through those "dry" periods, someone has to be able to look you in the eye and say, "Hang in there … trust the process; the process works." That person will help you stay focused and not allow you to veer off into the woods and get lost.
There it is. "The process." There is nothing crazy about it. Not a lot of bells and whistles. No big breakthroughs that wow the crowd. Just very good, common sense, slogging it out, hard work. If you follow it, you will be successful. Richard and I know this because our clients who follow this process have always and continue to grow in revenue and deepening their relationships with donors.
You can do this.
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.