Staying Focused: The Key to Major-Gift Success
I think one of the single, most overlooked aspects that creates success in major-gift fundraising is the ability for the major gift officer (MGO) to stay focused.
Without focus, you will be off in the woods of distraction, quickly losing your way and eventually getting lost. Have you ever been lost in the woods? It’s not a fun experience.
I’ve run into such situations over the last couple of weeks while listening to MGOs tell me why they haven’t done what they said they were going to do with their caseloads. All of their reasons have to do with losing focus on what their primary jobs are: creating and building meaningful relationships with donors.
Instead, these MGOs are off dealing with database issues, handling multiple events, reviewing direct-mail pieces, creating collateral material, spending hours entering data, dealing with the drama of other employees, dealing with administration, getting involved in office politics, reviewing sites for upcoming events, putting together the program for these events—and the list goes on.
Everything but working on deepening relationships with their donors.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Part of this is not your fault. Your manager or leadership has allowed you to get involved in activities that have nothing to do with your caseload, usually because he or she knows you are really good at what you do.
Richard and I see this happen all the time. The MGO is very competent. That type of employee is hard to find. The manager then uses the MGO to do “other” types of work and takes them away from his or her caseload of donors. What the manager has failed to see is that by doing this, he or she is subverting the fundraising program and falling prey to the “tyranny of the urgent.”
Once the manager has created this type of environment, it’s almost impossible to get it back on track. Sadly, the MGO’s caseload revenue will start to dramatically decrease and the manager will blame the MGO for the lack of production.
No one ends up being happy.
However, sometimes it is your fault. And, if you are honest, you’ll admit to it and be open to changing your behavior. Here is what happens. You’re working on your caseload. You are cultivating and stewarding your donors OK, but you may be going through a lull in your work. It doesn’t feel exciting at the moment. You’re not getting meetings, donors don’t seem to want to meet with you and you’re “caught up” on your to-do list.
So you get itchy for something. Instead of going back to getting creative about your caseload of donors, you look outside that work for stimulation. This is where the trouble begins.
Richard and I have worked with dozens and dozens of MGOs, and many of them have fallen into this trap. You don’t feel good about your current work. There are many opportunities at your organization to “help out.” You get involved in those activities. It gives you the excitement you need.
Your caseload suffers.
This happens all the time with major-gift fundraisers. Whenever one of us on the Veritus team runs into this situation, we just wish we could have gotten there in time to put up our hands and say, “No, don’t do it.”
But, there is hope. You can turn this situation around. Whether your manager causes this issue or it’s driven by you, you can get back on track and stay focused on what your job really is about—your caseload donors.
Here are some thoughts and ideas on how to stay focused. By staying focused, you ultimately will be successful in developing authentic relationships with donors and increasing the revenue from your caseload every year.
- Assuming you have the right donors on your caseload, make sure you have a revenue goal and plan for each donor. I know, I know, we say this all the time, but there is a reason for it. It’s your guide to staying focused. And this will help you create even more focus.
- Be held accountable. That’s right. If you are not being held accountable right now to your revenue projections, find someone—anyone—to hold you to your goals. Great MGOs know they need to be held accountable or they start to drift.
- Create a to-do list every day. This can either be the last thing you do before you leave the office or the first thing you do when you come in, but write down a to-do list of everything you need to do that day. It’s got to be doable, too. Otherwise you will overwhelm yourself and you won’t get anything done. I know this works, because it’s the thing that personally helps me the most. And I’m not usually a list guy. So please, take it from me. This works.
- Get creative with your caseload. Once a month, create a brainstorming session with your colleagues on how to better cultivate and steward your donors. I find that if you can continually think creatively about your caseload, you will not be distracted to do other things at your organization. There will be no time to do it.
- Practice willpower. As an MGO whose job it is to work his or her caseload, you have to be able to say, “No.” That means sometimes saying no to yourself and to your manager. If you get distracted and lose focus, your revenue will go down and your caseload will be weaker. Your job is all about your donors. You have to stick with it. Don’t let yourself be pulled away from your job, no matter how enticing it may seem.
Focus. It’s the key to major-gift success. Lose it and you will pay the consequences. Maintain it and you will be wildly successful, and you will have donors who will feel taken care of and honored.
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.