The Race to Nonprofit Mediocrity
Over the course of a year, I would guess that Richard and I speak with over a hundred different leaders and managers of nonprofits. Every one of them desperately wants to grow their major gift revenue, but they, in turn, race to nonprofit mediocrity.
I mean, it’s what you, as a leader, is always talking about. “We have to grow major gifts.” Or, “We have to start a major gift program.”
Over 12 years ago, when Richard first started working with nonprofits to create, build and manage major gift programs, there wasn’t a lot of talk about major gifts. When I joined him and formed Veritus Group nine years ago, we came together because we knew that major gifts was one of the most underserved areas of fundraising.
Today, every nonprofit leader, like yourself, is talking about major gifts. How do we get major donors? How to we obtain large gifts? What do we have to do to grow it?
It’s great they are talking about it. The problem is very few leaders actually want to change the way they are doing fundraising to make it work.
For example, some nonprofit leaders are willing to hire a full-time major gift officer (MGO) to start cultivating a caseload of donors, yet they have no desire to change the culture in the organization to support the MGO. Then, they blame the MGO when the money doesn’t come in.
Or they say they really want to invest in major gifts, but they don’t support it with the right staff and leave it up to two or three half time people to “fit” major gifts in between everything else they do.
Richard and I have example after example of leaders who want major gift money, but they don’t want to change anything that requires hard work and resources to make it happen.
The result of this is little to no growth in revenue, and a ton of donor and donor value attrition.
When I sit back and think about this, it gets me wound up. So many nonprofit executives lament they are not getting “big gifts,” and they pressure their development directors to “get out and shake the trees”; yet, they are not willing to do what it takes to actually create, build and manage a major gift program.
What Richard and I believe happens is that once a leader finds out what it will actually take within an organization to do it right, they figure it’s too hard and go back to maintaining the status quo. Or, as I like to say, they make a race toward nonprofit mediocrity.
It’s amazing to me that with all the problems, injustices, hurt and anguish in this world that nonprofits are trying to alleviate, that every nonprofit leader would not have urgency to make meaningful connections with major donors who could help them change the world.
Yet, it’s happening in thousands and thousands of nonprofits all around our country. Nonprofit leaders are squandering an opportunity, both for their nonprofit and their donors by not cultivating, stewarding and serving those major donors.
Mediocrity is easy. Just keep doing the same thing day in and day out. Then, you can blame development directors or major gift fundraisers when they don’t meet your revenue expectations. You do it all the time.
Or you can make a change. You can take a risk. You can do some hard work. That is what it will take from you to actually lead.
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.