Major Gift Officers: Do the ‘Impossible’
At Veritus over the years, we have conducted hundreds of major donor assessments. These assessments reveal an incredible amount of information. Besides understanding donor retention and donor value attrition, the data reveals a whole slew of donors who donate essentially the same amount year after year.
Perhaps it’s $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 or even $20,000 every year. Don’t get me wrong—it’s great you have donors that give year over year.
But, could they being doing more through your organization to make an impact?
Yes, they could. I know they could. Because in all the years Richard and I, along with our team, have been working with major donor officer and their portfolios, when inspired, these donors will give more.
I recall about seven years ago when I began to work with a very established major gifts team from a large nonprofit. Their major gift revenue was essentially the same year after year. Overall, revenue was stagnant; they were maintaining.
Our data analysis revealed a large majority of their donors giving the same amount year after year. They had a ton of $10,000 and $20,000 donors giving per year.
I’ll never forget one of my first meetings sitting around a big conference table with the major gift officers (MGOs) and their manager. I told them one thing this year we can do is to help inspire these donors who give the same amount every year to make a greater impact.
You’d think I asked them how to figure out some complex Mensa game or something. Immediately, the objections went up.
“You don’t know our donors… they just like to give the same every year.”
“We can’t ask for more, because we don’t have projects that are of high value.”
“Our donors are old, and they just give that amount. That’s all they will do.”
Believe me, Richard and I have heard it all through the years.
Long story short, we helped them break though the MGOs’ mindset that their donors couldn’t do more, that they didn’t have projects large enough to warrant a larger ask or that their donors were just set in their ways.
Through intensive coaching, encouragement, research and hard work, in one year, we saw five-figure donors turning into six- and seven-figure donors. We turned what was impossible in the minds of the MGOs into what was possible.
So, what was blocking these MGOs all those years?
- Fear. They literally felt that if they asked the donor for more, they would reject them and the organization. “Let’s not rock the boat” was their mindset.
- Threat of losing the money. The MGO’s felt if they asked them for more, the donor would get upset and would stop their current level of giving. So, instead of really being donor-centered and offering projects and programs that would challenge and inspired the donor to do more, they didn’t do anything to, at least in their minds, get the money they knew would always come in.
- Created their own story. Over time, year after year, the MGO reinforced in their own minds a story about their donor. Over time, that story became the MGO’s truth. That “truth” allowed the donor not to act or do anything different with the donor.
So, we went through a process with these MGOs that took months to help them change. Quite honestly, one of the five MGOs didn’t make it. Thankfully the other four did. Here is what we challenged the MGOs on:
- Where does the donor find joy? This was the first question we asked. This helped them realize whether they really knew their donors or not. And, if they did know their donor’s joy, we challenged them to figure out how to bring their donors more of it.
- Donors want to make an impact. Through a series of discussion about their donors and understanding that donors really want to make an impact with their giving, we helped the MGOs realize that asking the donors to do more was helping that donor do more of what they already love to do.
- Worked side by side with program. This really was the game changer. For the first time, these MGOs witnessed firsthand the incredible number of projects and programs their organization ran. And, for the program people, they understood for the first time why these MGOs needed to package those programs with high-dollar amounts. Once this connection was made, the MGOs had more confidence to approach their donors.
- Taking the leap. Finally, it was up to the MGO to go beyond the old narrative they had created about their donors. Now that they were equipped with great offers and more knowledge about what their donor’s passion and interests were, they had the confidence to ask for more.
The result of this process, as I said above were amazing! And, truthfully, all it took was for just one of their donors to say “yes” to a higher-level offer. Once that happened, the MGO actually believed that this was possible. The old narrative quickly died, and a new one was born.
It’s time for you to create a new narrative.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.