Is Your Organization Doing What Is Best for the Donor… or the Organization?
It’s amazing to Richard and me how nonprofits—that do such great things with the programs and projects they have making the world a better place—have a total disregard for their major donors.
One example of this was a story I heard from someone who quit her position as an major gift officer (MGO) several years ago, because her organization was “so screwed up” that she couldn’t take it anymore and didn’t feel good about asking major donors to fund it any longer.
Here is what happened: This very large organization was structured in a way where they had a national office and affiliates in almost every state. The major gift program was run both from the national office and each of the affiliates. In other words, each program had their own MGOs.
Now, as this MGO is telling me the story, I’m thinking, “Okay. Many large organizations with this structure do this; it’s not out of the ordinary.”
But wait. It gets strange.
The MGO goes on to tell me that the affiliates were asked to identify all the major gift prospects and make sure they were in the national organization’s database.
While the affiliate MGOs were out cultivating, stewarding and soliciting the donors in their area, they began to notice that notes were being made in their donor’s records from the national office.
These notes were talking about how the national office’s MGOs were making contact with the donors she and her colleagues were cultivating. Mind you, there was no communication about any of this to the affiliates.
Then it got worse. The affiliate MGOs started getting calls from their donors asking why someone from the national office was calling them. And other donors were calling saying that they agreed to meet with the national office’s MGO thinking they were the local MGO, but when that MGO came to see them, they had no idea who it was.
The donors were furious and, of course, so where the affiliate MGOs. Now, you are probably thinking this is insane, but it gets even stranger.
Beside the fact that the national office was not communicating with the affiliate MGOs about their donors, the affiliate MGOs started to realize that donors who started giving over a certain dollar figure were being targeted by the national office’s MGOs. Those MGOs were instructed to meet with those donors and see if the donors where willing to make gifts to the national program.
So, here you have a local MGO who knows the donor, sometimes having cultivated and stewarded those donors for years, and are now all of a sudden in competition with their own national organization. This caused a ton of confused and angry donors … and many donors stopped giving. It also resulted in donors being “taken away” from the local affiliate by the national office—all because these donors were now giving at a very high level and nothing to do whatsoever with the desire of the donor.
The MGO who told me this story said the affiliate MGOs started leaving after they found out that the national office was now “poaching” their best board members and recruiting them onto the national board. She said she was totally depressed, and then she asked herself this one question:
“Is my organization doing the best thing for the donor or for the organization?”
Days after that, she left to find an organization that treats donors as real partners.
This is a blatant example of how an organization can lose their way when they don’t do what is best for the donor. They lose sight of the fact that donors are also a part of their mission. And, if that is the case, they would understand the donor’s passion and interests as it relates to all the good they are doing to change the world.
Now, had the organization’s national office worked with the affiliate MGOs on a strategy that could possibly enhance the donor’s experience and work together on a plan for that donor, then perhaps it could have worked to offer the donor both a local and a national offer that they would support. But that never happened.
So, my question to you is: Is your organization doing the best thing for the donor or your organization? It may not be as egregious as my story, but are you putting the donor first? Are you listening to your donors? Are you working with all the departments in your organization and letting them know what your donors want?
Remember, it’s all about your donors.
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.