A Technical Block to Success in Major Gifts
I’ve been thinking about why some major gift officers (MGOs) don’t do the right things even when they know what to do.
I don’t think it’s a motivational problem. Most of the MGOs Jeff and I know are motivated to be successful. So, it’s not about a MGO just sitting around collecting a paycheck, doing nothing and hoping the day will pass. It’s more about knowing what to do but coming up against a block or hesitation that prevents progress.
So what is it that blocks progress?
While there may be many more reasons than this, I think it boils down to these three major blocks to success:
- There is a lack of a technical skill.
- There is a lack of organization ability.
- There is a relational block.
I want to look at the first one in this post—a lack of a technical skill—and I will write about the other two in the posts that follow.
The most common technical skill that causes some MGOs to hesitate and stop is difficulty in writing. I know many MGOs are very good verbally and relationally, but can’t seem to translate that skill—those words—onto paper. It’s a common problem. And the result is that emails, letters and proposals—anything that requires writing—is just more difficult. So, the MGO either tries to piece something together that may work or doesn’t try at all, reverting to their superior verbal skills to carry the day.
I’m thinking of a particularly good MGO right now who will completely knock you off your feet when she speaks. She will grab your attention, pull you into the situation, break your heart with a story and leave you ready to do whatever she asks when she is done. She is a very effective speaker.
But you ask this good lady to write those same stories, proposals and asks down on a piece of paper, and she falls flat on her face. She just cannot do it. And I know this is very frustrating to her.
I think I helped her feel better when I told her my story, which is exactly the opposite. I am a fairly decent writer, but I am not as good verbally. For some reason that I cannot explain, I just cannot translate my writing skills into a verbal situation. It took me a long time to figure this out and a little longer to just accept it. I am not good at doing the verbal thing. Period.
Another area that might be difficult for a MGO is anything to do with numbers (a spreadsheet, a budget in a proposal, etc.). I’ve seen some horrific financial presentations where the MGO did the very best they could, but it was sorely lacking.
So, what should you do if you just can’t write as well as you would like to or numbers are a challenge?
- Well, the first thing is to accept it. This sounds easy, but I know it isn’t. There is one core reason, in my opinion, why it is hard for anyone to accept the fact that they do not do something well. It is a poor self-image. If you have a poor self-image, like I do, you worry about this kind of stuff. It’s just one more thing where “I have failed.” This is not true, of course, but that is how the mind and emotions work. I have spent years learning how to deal with the fact that I am not perfect—a fact that is true of every human being on earth. And I have made progress. But those voices still creep up to remind me of my inadequacy.
- The second step is to get help. I am involved in a situation right now where, thankfully, the managers of the MGOs in this good organization are getting writing help for their MGOs. This is so good. And these are enlightened managers. But in many organizations, there are managers who are completely unaware of this need, and the MGOs are left to languish without writing, creative or financial support. If you are in this kind of situation, I encourage you to speak up—make your need known to your manager. You might even identify someone in your department that is good at writing or numbers and suggest to your manager that they could help the whole major gifts area by contributing their skill. Just remember, if you can’t do it yourself, you have to figure out how to get it done, because these are technical skills that are needed in your major gifts work.
So now, when I have to get up and deliver verbal versus written content, I usually try to get Jeff to do it, because he is really good at it. Or if I have to do it, I put together my presentation and ask him and others to look at it. In other words, I have accepted the fact that I am not as good in this area, and I reach out for help.
As is true of most of life, there is a long list of things each of us is good at, and then there are those nasty couple of things that will trip us up. The key is to accept this reality as a fact of life and get the help you need. It sounds really simply, I know. But in the relatively high performance area of major gifts, this is very difficult thing for many MGOs to deal with, which is why I am writing about it.
Just know this as you process what I have written here. You are a wonderfully gift person. And you have a special calling to do this work. And you, just like everyone else on this planet, cannot do it by yourself. So you are not alone in the struggle.
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.