Why Basic Can Be Boring Yet Necessary in Major Gifts
It has always been amazing to me that many people, when faced with a challenge or opportunity, immediately go on the hunt for some innovative creative solution vs. doing the basic things.
Call it the silver bullet or whatever you want — it is a belief that there just has to be something new and “never before tried” way to get the thing done. And with a focus on that search and in that direction, we quickly slide past all the basic things we know we should do that will get us to a satisfactory conclusion. And in sliding past the basic way to tackle the challenge or opportunity, we actually miss dealing with the challenge or taking advantage of the opportunity.
It is so interesting. I have made it a hobby of mine to observe this in everyday human behavior.
I was in a meeting recently. Here is what happened:
We were gathered together to address how the major gift officers could improve the organization’s major gift program. Most of the MGOs were not hitting their annual goals and were not retaining and upgrading their caseload of donors. And many of these MGOs were from very large organizations. They had a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge.
So I started asking the basic questions:
- Are all the donors on each caseload qualified? Do they actually want to relate to the MGO? Answer: No.
- Have you identified each donor’s passions and interests? Answer: Some of them.
- Have you set a goal for each donor? Answer: No.
- Do you have a personalized plan for every donor on the caseload? Answer: Some of them.
- Have you built a relationship of trust with every donor? Answer: Some of them.
This is where I get frustrated. This is basic stuff, but it has not been done. And when I asked my basic questions, one person from a very large nonprofit, said: “Richard, we know all this. We were looking for something that would help us out.”
That was a nice way of saying: “You know what, Richard. You are not adding a new thing to my knowledge base here and because you aren’t, I don’t think you have anything to say that will help us out. We need some new thinking!”
You would not believe how frequently we hear this. “Give me something new! We have heard this before!”
I have trained myself not to get angry and say something that I will regret when I hear statements like this. So I stuff my frustration and say: “I know you are looking for something new, but I am not going to give it to you. Here’s why: There is nothing new to give you. You have to do the basic stuff if this is going to work for you. It’s like eating. You know, when you get up in the morning, you have to eat in order to stay alive. Sometimes you may need to be reminded that eating certain foods can hurt you, but just eating is a basic principle of life. You know that. So what I am telling you here about major gifts is as basic as eating. You just have to do it. And if you aren’t doing it, you will not succeed.”
This happens so frequently. “Oh, we need to get a new speaker or consultant in to tell us new things. That will really help us out.” And it may. But the question still remains: Are you doing the basic things? And you likey aren’t. Why? Because, and this happens to all of us, the passing of time has eroded the memory of what those things are and how important they are.
That is what time does. It clouds our focus. It is the law of entropy: All things decline as time passes. Memory, priorities, commitments, ways of doing things, etc. We forget, which is why you have to come back to the main points.
Back to the person who asked the question in my meeting. I asked him if he was doing the basic things I had outlined early in my questions. He said he wasn’t. And there was the answer to his problems. I made a point not to shame him in a public meeting and then sought him out privately after the meeting. We had a good conversation where I was able to kindly tell him to quit looking for that wonderful new and never before tried idea but, instead, to make sure he was doing the basics. I later heard from him that he had taken my advice, and things were starting to go better. I knew they would.
So my point here is to regularly check that you are doing the basic things in major gifts. And by regularly, I mean checking on yourself every other month to make sure you are doing the following with every donor on your caseload:
- Checking to see if the donor is still engaged and, if not, putting another donor in their place on your caseload — and making sure that donor really wants to talk to you.
- Setting a goal and making a personalized plan for each donor that is driven by outrageously fulfilling that donor’s interests and passions.
- Making sure that every offer and ask is clearly aligned to that donor’s interests and passions.
- Being obsessed with continually reporting back to the donor that his or her gift has made and continues to make a difference.
- Continually building a relationship of trust.
This is basic stuff. And you will get bored doing it because you will be doing it over and over again. But it works. It really does. To be clear, I am not asking you to stop looking for something new that might help you. I am just asking you to put your search into perspective. The “new” may add a little value here or there, but it will not do the main thing, which is achieve your goals in the journey with each donor on your caseload. It is the basic stuff that will get that job done. Just stick to the basics.
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.