What Do You Control?
I once worked with a major gift officer, Janet (not her real name) who was so grounded as a person, nothing seemed to rattle her. Janet was incredibly gifted at developing relationships, staying focused and doing all the “little things” right.
Then disaster struck.
About a third of Janet’s caseload was involved in the oil industry when the bottom fell out and the price of oil took a deep dive. Her overall revenue goal for her caseload was about $4.5 million that year, but when the year ended she was only able to bring in $2.5 million.
I remember a meeting at the end of that year when the CEO of the organization came in and, without any context, started laying into the major gift team, especially Janet for the poor performance. It was just awful on so many levels. But, Janet was a cool as a cucumber and stood up to the CEO:
“You know, Bob, I can understand that you are disappointed in the revenue this year from my caseload, but in major gifts, there are some things I can control and some things I cannot control.”
Then she went on to explain what had happened in full detail with each of the donors. It was brilliant and when she was finished the CEO said,:
“Janet, I have to apologize. Clearly, you did everything you could to cultivate your donors, and I just made some really dumb assumptions. I’m so sorry for my actions.”
Janet, being a person of integrity and compassion, never left the side of those donors who no longer could give at the levels they had been giving when times were good. And, while the oil industry may never fully recover, her donors are slowly coming back with larger investments to her organization.
Why? Because Janet stood by them, did all the right things she could control, like reaching out to each one of her donors making them feel okay about their reduced giving and continuing to cultivate them. She has been proactive about showing her donors how they are making an impact. She has consistently made her donors know they are loved. She has worked hard to figure out what her donors are passionate about and has been intentional about bringing them specific projects and programs for her donors to fund.
Janet is doing all the things right in the areas that she can control. And she is not allowing the areas she can’t control to bring her down. She can’t control the oil industry. She can’t control if a one of her donors dies.
I want to ask you this: Are you allowing what you can’t control or wish for to influence how you work with your major donors? You know what I mean: “Gosh, if there weren’t so many other nonprofits in my community, my donors would give more to my organization.” Or: “If my best donor hadn’t gotten sick, I would have made my goals this year.”
All you can do as a major gift officer is control your own work. Here is what you can control. I would start this by asking myself the question: Have I done the work to…
- Cultivate only donors that want a relationship with my organization?
- Create revenue goals with every donor?
- Have a plan for every donor?
- Regularly thank donors?
- Tell my donors they are making an impact?
- Find out what my donors are passionate about?
- Figure out ways to delight my donors and surprise them?
- Celebrate my donors?
- Involve my donors and take them to the scene of the need?
- Break the heart of my donors?
These are the things you can control. If you do these things right, good things will happen. And, if things don’t go well, it was out of your control.
You see, Janet didn’t let herself get down because she missed her revenue goal by $2 million that year. She knew she did all the right things for her donors and that something outside of her control happened to strike. What did she do? She kept doing all the right things.
Are you doing all the right things?
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.