Major Gift Officers, Do You Have Needs or Do You Meet Needs?
There is not one nonprofit on the face of the earth that has a need. Not one.
Think about it. What need does a nonprofit have? Well, you could argue that a nonprofit needs money, talent, publicity, gifts in kind, etc.
But why does it need these things? To get its mission done.
And that’s a point that most people on the inside of the nonprofit forget—that the whole effort is about the cause, not the organization.
This topic is one that every major gift officer (MGO) and every manager related to major gifts must get straight in order for major gifts to be successful.
Here are the four major areas where this goes wrong:
1. Staff does not know where money comes from. This is one of the most surprising and shocking realities in many nonprofits. Except for the development staff, no one else really knows or appreciates that donors, of various types, are the source of their paychecks—the people who pay the light bill and the generous people who fund the program. Two days ago, a good friend of mine, who works for a major national nonprofit, told me that he was meeting with a manager who deals with legal and human resources issues in the organization. As they talked, my friend discovered, much to his dismay, that this woman had no appreciation or awareness of how the donor fit into the whole equation.
“Richard,” my friend said, “it was shocking for me to hear this woman talk. It was all about the organization, her department, her lack of resources, etc. When I mentioned donors and their needs, it was like I was a space alien. She had a glaze over her eyes—she had no idea what I was talking about!”
Situations like this are a major management failure. There should not be one staff member who does not fully understand and appreciate the donor’s role in the nonprofit. Not one. This is exactly where the “we have needs” thing starts—with staff who truly believe that the nonprofit’s needs are more important than meeting needs.
2. Program staff is focused on process and outcomes. And program should be focused on outcomes. If nothing is getting done—if program is not securing the required change—then what’s the point? So I agree with this focus, but not to the exclusion of the investors. And often, program people have no idea that donors are a key part of making program happen. Instead, they have a focus on our needs versus meeting needs. This is a problem.
3. Finance staff packages everything for internal consumption. You have no idea how often I run into finance people who have no clue about donors. Now, to be fair, many of them do. But many more don’t. And that’s a problem. So they have no understanding that donors look at things differently. Financial information is packaged as financial information versus the dynamic, life-changing source of power that it is. This is why “we have needs” is a prevalent attitude in finance.
4. Operations staff thinks in terms of preserving the system versus helping program and donors. It’s the same dynamic here as in finance. It’s all about good things that a good organization should do, but with one missing value: the orientation or focus that all of this that we are doing is about changing lives and/or preserving the planet.
These four situations are all relatively easy to change.
Managers and leaders need to regularly remind all staff about (a) the important role donors play in the organization, and (b) that the organization exists to meet needs. While this latter point may be a nuance, it is, never the less, an important one.
Every staff member, every manager, every person in the nonprofit should be focused on the fact that “meeting needs is what we do.” When that mentality is in place, all the systems and processes align to it, and a proper sense of being then exists.
As an MGO or an MGO manager, your job is to fulfill donor interests and passions by meeting needs. Make sure your values, beliefs and actions are always aligned to that important mission.
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.