The Major Gift Value Triad: 3 Things Every MGO Should Have
People often ask me, “Richard, what three main things do I need to make my major gift program successful?”
I’m sure many people want to know because they feel real frustration about how their major gift program is currently performing. Sometimes, and I hope this is the case for you, they’re just looking for ways to make a good program better. The fact that you’re even reading this blog suggests that you know we can all improve!
So how do you know you’ve got things right in major gifts?
I believe it’s as simple as three legs on a stool. First, you need to raise significant dollars for a good cause. Second, you’ve got to retain donors. Third, and crucially, you must consistently provide meaningful and fulfilling work for your major gift officer.
I hope you’ve already noticed that these last two points aren’t strictly about money! Maintaining relationships and building meaning into someone’s life may not feel like your top priority today. After all, isn’t major gifts about getting the money? Well, yes, to some degree it is, but just getting the money is not what it’s all about.
Retaining donors is hugely important as well. With millions of dollars being spent to acquire donors and then with most major gift files we see losing between 40 percent and 60 percent of their value each year, millions of dollars are simply vanishing into thin air. The economy isn’t shrinking at that rate! What this actually means is that donors are simply vanishing. And I know for a fact that the ones that are vanishing are giving somewhere else.
And then providing meaningful and fulfilling employment simply can’t be overlooked either. If you are keeping the donors and raising the money, but not valuing your major gift officer (MGO), there’s trouble ahead, believe me. With the tenure of most MGOs lasting just over two years, few managers in this field can say they’re an expert at stewarding this important human resource.
And just as there’s a direct connection between losing donors and losing dollars ... you guessed it, there’s also a direct connection between losing a MGO and losing donors! Jeff and I have been through this many times. A MGO leaves. Time passes as the organization scrambles to replace him. And the donors cool off with some going away.
Here’s another way to think about this. And I call it the major gift value triad. Every successful organization must have:
1. The Ability to Raise Money
This is a by-product of doing good work that a donating public can engage with. This may sound rather basic, but it isn’t. The fact is there are a lot of nonprofits that do not have the ability to raise money. Either they don’t have program that the public wants to support or they haven’t figured out how to present that program to donors in an attractive way. So this one point is a big deal.
2. A Deeply Held Belief That Donors Are Partners, Not Sources of Cash
This fosters a strong desire to nurture and retain them. We have talked about this quite a bit in this blog—that donors are not sources of cash and that if you treat them like they are, they will run away from you. So, if your donor value attrition is high, it is a clear sign that your organization does not value donors. And that is a huge problem.
3. A Business Environment and Culture Honoring Staff, Providing Meaningful, Fulfilling Work
While the other two points above bother me quite a bit if not done or not done well, this point truly grieves me in my deeper self. Here’s why: I know what it feels like to not be valued. I know what it feels like to be a utilitarian pawn in some authority figure’s game. I know what it feels like to have my wishes, desires and gifts either totally ignored or minimized.
You know this as well. It does not feel good. And we all know that when you honor and lift up an employee you actually help yourself and the organization. So, this is an important value that is too often ignored and must be changed if it is not operating properly in your organization.
If your organization is missing any of these points then trouble is on the way. And just like a three-legged stool cannot stand if one leg is missing, the organization, and certainly, the major gift program will fall if any of these points are not functional.
Many times when I present this concept to management and leadership a great deal of angst, debate and downright arguments ensue. It’s almost as if I have been promoting fundraising heresy, and I should be banned from the discipline.
It’s only when I can show how millions of dollars are lost each year and hundreds, sometimes thousands, of donors are disappearing, or good MGOs are flocking out the door, that my voice can be heard as one of reason and truth.
Please listen to me. Shepherding donors is a sacred trust. So is stewarding and caring for each one of your MGOs. Donors and MGOs are people to be treasured. Believe this and then take steps to align your organization to the major gift value triad, so that it can properly and effectively house an ideal and successful major gift program.
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.