Are You Really a Major-Gift Officer?
Recently, a major gift officer (MGO) reached out to us at Veritus desperate to understand her problem.
"I feel like I’m doing everything wrong," she said. "I read your blog posts about major gifts and that feels right to me, but my boss is saying I have to ask people for money who I’ve never even met or know and, in many cases, have never given before.
"Jeff, I feel like a total failure. Many of these people just hang up on me and tell me never to call again. I used to think I was a competent person, but I’m hanging on by a thread."
I felt so bad for her. And, angry that she is in an organization and system that doesn’t understand what major-gift fundraising is about.
After listening more about her own caseload, it was wildly apparent that she wasn’t cultivating or stewarding donors, she really was prospecting and qualifying potential donors—except the expectation from her boss was to "bring in significant gifts."
No wonder she was hanging by a thread. I counseled her by saying, "Look, what you have been asked to do is really qualify prospects. Know that only one out of three or four donors are going to want to talk to you, let alone people who are not even donors.
"This is why so many people don’t want to talk to you on the phone or respond to your emails. You are not really doing major-gift fundraising. It’s your organization’s expectations that are messed up. Your instincts are right. It’s about building and deepening relationships with donors, not squeezing their wallets for gifts.”
A week later I received an email from her saying that she felt like a totally different person. While her boss’s expectations may not have changed, she changed her own attitude about what she actually was doing—that she really was qualifying donors and that she would not carry this burden that she had to bring in money from people who were not really donors. She said, “Hey, I might get fired, but at least I know what I’m doing is the right thing, and I’m just glad I know major-gift fundraising is not what I was told it was."
She is exactly right. If you have been given a portfolio of names and have received the instruction to "contact these people and get them to make a gift," you are not a major-gift fundraiser. That is not what an MGO does. This is not what a major-gift program is about. I would like to shake the person who gave you those instructions and say, "What are you thinking!"
Unfortunately, this type of fundraising is going on all across the world.
The real work of an MGO is to cultivate and develop relationships with donors and be the bridge (the conduit) between the donors' greatest needs and desires to change the world and your organization's mission. This takes time, effort, hard work, and more time and hard work until you finally have crossed that bridge with a donor.
If that is not the essence of your job description, then you are not an MGO. I don’t know what they should call you—a prospect manager? A qualifier? I don’t know, but not an MGO.
I know right now there are thousands of people with the title of an MGO who are not really doing that work. You are struggling, rightfully so, because the pressure is so heavy to "bring in the money."
If you are at an organization or leading an organization that is practicing these strong-armed tactics with MGOs—stop it now! You are not only doing your organization and people a disservice, you are hurting donors.
Do you just want a check? Or do you want a lifelong, passionate donor who wants to make an investment in your mission? You need to ask yourself that question before you continue the hurtful practice of treating your people and donors with contempt.
Those organizations that are donor-centered and honor their people are successful. Those just going after the money are the ones hanging by a thread.
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.