Make The Nonprofit Program Person Your Best Friend
The three strategic drivers of a major gift program are an offer, a donor and a major gifts officer (MGO). When these three things come together, in a mutual way, great things happen.
MGOs are always consumed with the donor: making a connection with her, relating to her, sending her information, etc. When I sit down and talk to MGOs about the most important aspect of their job, they always say something about the donor.
It is true. The donor is very important. Without her there are no funds. And without funds there is no organization.
But I've seen a number of situations where an organization has great donors and above-average MGOs, but it is failing to cultivate the donors and raise the money it could for its cause. Why? Because there isn't any offer. No one has sat down and taken the budget of the organization and framed it into offers or "asks" that can be presented to donors for funding.
Many of the leaders and managers in these organizations believe it is enough to just make the overall case to a donor and ask for a gift — "That will do it", they say. "You don't need anything else!"
So if it's a rescue mission, all you have to do, they say, is just tell the donor we need funds for food or shelter to take care of the homeless. Well, that "offer" will take the organization somewhere. But, believe me, it won't raise the kind of money the organization needs. It is just not enough.
As I have studied this topic over the last few years, I've come to realize that in most organizations, the finance, accounting and business people are the ones who really run the show. And that's not all bad. Controls need to be in place to make sure the money is handled properly.
But the whole orientation is one of putting money into nice little boxes and categories not for the donor, who is the source of the money, but for the board, the government, the watchdog agencies, the auditor, the bank, etc. — all those other people who, for the most part, are not concerned about program impact as much as they are about percentages, overhead, proper controls, etc.
Again, please don't get me wrong. I am not against any of those practices. I am just wondering where the donor is in all of it.
So, one of the major efforts Jeff and I are leading in the organizations we serve and the industry in general is to bring program and offers back to the forefront of everyone's thinking. This is why this post is about making the program person your best friend.
Without a close and cooperative relationship with your organization's program person you, as a MGO, cannot succeed. Program holds the key to information that is critical to the offers you construct for your donor.
Here are our specific suggestions on how to make program people and their information a bigger part of your major gifts efforts:
- First, develop a mind-set that sees program as a critical part of your success. While on the surface you may think you have program at a higher level of involvement in your daily work, my experience often shows that the MGO is really not spending enough time integrating program process, values and information into the major gifts work. Remember, program is the fuel that drives the fundraising engine. You cannot live without it. So, before going further, commit yourself to making program a bigger part of your thinking, your preoccupation and your use of time.
- Regularly spend time with program people. Regularly visit program sites. One client of ours insists that all the MGOs and their managers must visit a different program site every month and develop a comprehensive report on (a) what the program is, (b) what need is being addressed, (c) who the clients are, (d) how the funds are being used, (e) what financial needs there are, and (f) client testimonials of success and need. You must regularly place yourself into the program to hear, smell and feel all of it. You also need to regularly sit with program people to hear about the successes and the challenges they face.
- Always look at what your organization does through the donor's eyes. Donors really do not care about your financial categories, your organization, your financial reports, etc. Only the insiders care about that. Donors want to know (a) how they can help and (b) that their help actually made a difference. Period. Nothing more. Don't make it more complex than that.
- Construct offers that are big. It's fine to create an offer for a donor that is in the $1,000 to $5,000 range. But how about coming up with one that is in the $100,000 to $500,000 range? Or $1 million to $5 million range! There are donors in your file right now who will support a larger ask. You just haven't asked them. And you haven't asked them for two basic reasons. First, you don't believe they will give that much. Second, you have nothing to present to them. This chicken and egg scenario repeats itself in major gifts programs every day. Break through to a new paradigm by (a) finding the three donors on your caseload who can give substantially and (b) creating an ask/offer that has vision, high energy and boldness to it. You can do it!
- Construct offers that include all the costs. Jeff and I have said this many times before. It is not enough to ask a donor to just fund the direct program costs. If you do that for every program your organization will be 25 percent or more under-funded! That is not good. Add the proportionate share of overhead to every program, and ask for that amount. It is the right thing to do.
I have seen so many organizations where the program people and the fundraisers never meet. Or if they do it is a perfunctory meeting to exchange some rather dry and meaningless information vs. treating the whole subject of program content as the lifeblood of fundraising, which is what it is.
It is shocking to me to hear MGOs say they have never talked to a program person — they just read the reports and that is the sole source of their information.
Please, if you are not currently talking to program workers — please — get out of your office and go look them in the eyes, go see the program, go get into the trench, and let it affect your mind and your heart! Please do this.
It will not only move you to higher levels of performance with your donors, but it will increase your technical knowledge of what your organization does and it will increase your job satisfaction as you begin to more fully understand that you, your colleagues and your donors are truly making a difference in our hurting world.
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.