When Someone Says, ‘I Know All This Stuff!’
It was time to trot out my PowerPoint presentation and go through all the points of what we did as a company, the results we secured and how we did it. I was invited into the office of the president of a very prestigious eastern nonprofit. The purpose of the meeting was to explain what we did.
So I went through the presentation and noticed that the President was mildly engaged and a tad bit restless. But I kept my spirits and enthusiasm high and kept going. At the end I said: “That’s it. Do you have any questions or comments?”
And he said, and this is an exact quote: “Well, Richard. First of all, that was a very nice presentation. I don’t want to be offensive, but do you mind if I ask you a question?” I wagged my head OK. “I think what you had to say was pretty basic. I have heard all of that before—all of those principles and processes. You had a couple of new ideas here and there, but overall, it was pretty basic. I know all of this stuff and so do our major gift people. So why would we need you to help us?”
I was so glad he asked! And here is how I responded: “Paul (not his real name), I am so glad you asked that question. And I have a very simple answer. Yes, you do know all of this stuff, as does all of your staff. But the problem is that you don’t do it, do you? Your results prove that you don’t do what you know you should.”
And I leaned back and said nothing more.
And that, my friends, gives you a picture of life in general and the situation most of us face in major gift fundraising. We know what to do, but we don’t do it. Take a moment right now and step outside your job and the fundraising work you do. What do you know in life that you do not do? I can tick off a number of items. Then ask yourself the question: “Why don’t I do this if I know what to do?” And the answer is far more complicated, having to do with core motivations and in some cases a lack of ability.
- Why does a perfectly competent major gift officer (MGO), who could be wildly successful in their job, get so distracted by non-major gift activities?
- Why do authority figures pull a MGO away from their focus of serving 150 qualified donors on their caseload to do “other” work in the organization?
- Why does a program person ignore the pleas of a MGO to secure program information to help their donor know they made a difference through their giving?
- Why does a finance person, having seen the tremendous return on investment that the MGOs in the organization have delivered, refuse to invest in more MGOs?
And the list could go on and on. This is not rocket science. It is pretty basic stuff. Just the other day, one of our client managers got this same response from a MGO. It was: “I know this stuff. Why are you going over it again?”
Well, could it be that you are not making real connections with your donors? Could it be you are not reaching goals and that your good donors are actually doing less than they did in past financial periods, proving that something is wrong? Could it be that you are wasting so much time on irrelevant activities?
Just yesterday I remembered that I forgot to remind myself about a very important thing I needed to do. You know how it is. You are navigating through your day and suddenly an item pops in your head. I know myself well enough to know that when that happens I need to write it down right now! If I don’t, I forget and then I will miss something that is important to me. This is exactly what happened. I had the thought. I recognized it was very important. But I didn’t write it down to remind myself. I forgot. And I lost an important value.
I know this stuff! Hmm…
Jeff and I write extensively about discipline and accountability. We talk a lot about it in our relationship, both personal and business. Why? Because both of us “know this stuff,” but if left alone, we won’t do it!
And what we have discovered about our work in major gifts is that the very basic things that must get done in order to be successful are just that: very basic things. And, for the most part, we just don’t do them.
So, what is that basic stuff in major gifts? Well, it pretty much boils down to three simple points:
- Discover the donor’s interests and passions and serve them outrageously.
- Present needs that are compelling and have believable solutions. And make sure those needs are directly related to the donor’s interests and passions. I had another situation last week where a MGO was being forced by an authority figure to present needs to a wealthy donor that did not match the donor’s interests and passions. Why? Because that was what she needed the money for! What!? Are you losing your mind?
- Never get tired of telling the donor their giving made a difference. You can’t do this enough.
It is true that there is a lot of other detail in major gifts. But I think if you just did these three things really well you would be extremely successful in your job. And did you notice a theme running through each of these three points? They all have something to do with the donor—they are donor-centered.
When you are truly serving the donor, it will technically, in terms of major gift strategy, be the “same old stuff.” But the content of that strategy will be so rich, so unique and so different that it will bring great joy to the donor and you. This is where the “same old stuff” is transformed into something new. Experience it and you will agree.
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.