Major Gifts: A Journey, Not an Event
When you think about a journey, several things come to mind:
- There is a destination. And the destination may not be a physical place. It could simply be an experience, like “I just want to get away and be spontaneous.” That is a destination or objective.
- There are waypoints. There are places or events along the way that contribute to the experience.
- There is a qualitative experience along the way. Have you ever been on a trip where a third or half of the days were pure chaos? Or even just one day was? And what do you remember? You might say something like this: “We had a good trip, but that one day (or several days) were terrible! We will never do that again!” The bad day(s) qualitatively put a dark cloud into the whole event.
- There are unexpected events. Every journey has an unexpected event. Some of them are negative and troubling. Others are a real joy—a gift we could not have imagined.
The journey aspects of major gifts is a topic Jeff and I (and all our associates) constantly talk about with major gift officers (MGOs) around the country. When I say “journey aspects” in major gifts, what I mean is really getting to know donors, understanding their desires and passions, figuring out how to match that passion with your programs, taking time to listen to them, asking appropriately and reporting back to them on the impact of their gifts. Not just reaching out to them one time a year or doing tactical things (the event thing) hoping they will remember you and write out a check
We are talk about this for two reasons:
1. Some MGOs are still treating the donors on their caseloads in an event-like way, and we are trying to correct that. Even though we have applied every possible bit of wisdom in our toolbox, we still find MGOs who either do not believe that the journey is the real thing or think doing the journey approach is too complicated or time-consuming. So, they are still out there delivering little gifts of candy, cookies and trinkets to donors, instead of doing the real, relational work we have been talking about. I find this so amazing. We have one situation where one of several MGOs is doing the event thing and failing at his job, while his colleague is bringing in the $1 million gift because she has done the relational/journey approach. Why can’t this good man see this! I just do not understand it.
2. The journey treatment is the way to go, and we want to promote this fact. Jeff and I have been saying this all along. If you are new to this blog, I encourage you to scan our writings for more on this topic. If you’ve been with us for some time, scan them again to remind yourself that this whole thing is not about the money. It is about the journey with the donor. It is finding out what the donor has an interest and passion for, and then partnering with them to fulfill that interest. It is the only way to go.
Which brings me back to the elements of a journey and how they apply to your major gifts efforts. Every MGO who is or will be successful will pay attention to how they treat each donor on the caseload in each of these four areas:
1. Destination. Where are you going with this donor? There are two answers in the destination category.
- The first relates to the donor’s interest and passion. You need to know what that is if you are going to do this destination point right. If you don’t know the interest or passion of a donor, how in the world will you now where you are headed? You won’t. And that is a problem.
- Secondly, what is the financial destination for this donor? No, it is not the one-time gift you will get this month or next. What is the financial objective? Where are you headed with this donor economically? Will your relationship lead to a lifetime substantial significant gift? Or will it just be more of the same—a gift here or there in response to your “event strategy," while the donor is giving significantly to someone else? This is what happens most often. The MGO is doing the easy thing and, therefore, getting the easy gift. Ultimately, that is not a satisfying experience for the MGO, the organization or even the donor. What is your destination with this donor? Figure it out.
2. Waypoints. What experiences will you be giving your donor during this journey? Will it be the same old direct-mail-like impacts? Or will your journey be filled with touch-points and encounters that bring the donor joy, trust and fulfillment. You need to think about every waypoint in your journey with each donor on your caseload. Ask yourself these questions about every phone call, letter, email, visit, gift and/or experience you put your donor through:
- Was it meaningful? A phone call can be very meaningful. Even an email can. If you say the right things. And what are the right things? Something that has to do with what the donor cares about. Something that has to do with the donor fulfilling their passion and interest in life. That is what is meaningful. Useless chatter and meaningless moves do not work. And, unfortunately, there is too much of that in this major gift work.
- Did it bring the donor joy? You know how this works, and you know what it is. So the question is simply this: Are you bringing joy to your donor through your treatment of him or her? If not, you need to rethink your approach.
- Did it build trust? Trust is the basis for much of what happens in your relationship with the donor. We had one situation where the MGO, fearing the donor would get upset about the real story (they had lost the check), modified the facts to soften things up a bit. The result: mistrust. Be very careful that your messaging to the donor, no matter what form it takes, is open, honest and disclosing.
3. Qualitative experience. Jeff and I have written about the marketing impact chart (MIC) we use in planning the waypoints for each major donor on a caseload. If you haven’t seen it, write us and we will send you a sample. The MIC is the place where you can look at the whole journey you have planned for the donor, and then ask yourself if this journey is a pleasant, quality and welcome experience for the donor. If not, get back to planning. The whole journey needs to be one that feels good to the donor, not only in their head (yes, the facts and process feel good) but also in their heart.
4. Unexpected events. Like I said earlier, every journey has an unexpected event. So will this journey with your donor. And when there is a bump in the road, which there will be, you need to have decided in advance how you will deal with it. You might be asking, “How do I decide something in advance that I know nothing about?” It’s a state of mind and values. You decide right now to be honest, caring, disclosing and donor-focused about whatever will come up. You decide that in advance. Then when the event pops up, you know exactly what to do. By deciding in advance that you will react this way you avoid the temptation to hide, cover up, be fearful, etc. Just decide to do the right thing. Also, if the unexpected event is a positive one, just celebrate it and go with the flow.
There you go. Pointers for the journey. Pack your bags and get started. It’s gonna be a great ride!
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.