How to Win Over Your Organization to Major Gifts
I think you might be making your job as a major gift officer even harder.
Richard and I often run into CEOs, board members, finance and programs staff who don’t know how major gift programs work or, at best, are just down right skeptical that it really works.
More often than not, the reason they become skeptics or don’t even “get it” is because no one has really taken the time to explain it, nor communicated with staff on an ongoing basis. So, what is happening is that narratives or stories are built into staff members’ heads that are totally false.
And, when no one is talking to staff, these narratives and negative stories seem to take a life of their own. Unfortunately, this is why we often hear from a CEO or a VP of development that they don’t want to invest in major gifts ... when it should be the thing they invest in.
Bottom line: A good major gift program should be your greatest source of net revenue. Yet, it’s like pulling teeth to get nonprofits to invest in it.
You, as a major gift officer (MGO) or development professional who works with major donors, can do you and your organization a huge favor. Talk to staff about what you are doing! I know that seems simple, but honestly, Richard and I have found that when the major gift staff is proactive in their communication of results and stories of donors, the “stock” of major gifts with the staff goes way up.
Here are some ideas for you to increase the awareness and help promote some positive PR with major gifts at your organization:
1. Insist on Weekly Meetings With Your Manager
I cannot tell you how many MGOs are running around without a manager keeping them accountable. If you are an MGO and you don’t have regular meetings with your manager, insist on it. Be the proactive one that asks for ongoing accountability. This way your manager will know what you are doing every day.
2. Create Monthly Reports
Yes, if you don’t currently have to do this, create these yourself. These reports should give your manager and the executives at your organization the information they need to know how are things progressing, compared to last year and compared to your goals. It gives great comfort to executives and managers to have their MGOs proactively produce these reports. And, along with the numbers, give an honest assessment of the positive items and the challenges. These reports should be fairly easy to put together if you have your goals cash flowed for everyone on your caseload.
3. Quarterly Strategy Meetings
If you have your portfolio set up properly, you have a goal and a 12-month communication strategy set up for each donor on your caseload. Having a quarterly strategy meeting is important to see how well the current strategy is working, what needs to be adjusted and what are new ideas that you have learned in the last three months that you can apply to the current strategy going forward. If I were in your shoes, I would invite your direct manager, the CEO, your finance director and program director to this meeting. This allows all the top folks to know exactly what you are doing.
4. Update Emails
When you have successful meetings with donors, you need to tell others. For example, lets say you just landed a $10,000 gift from a donor to a specific program. Let the organization know this immediately. Remember to include your manager, CEO, program team and finance team on the email. This is so important for the organization to hear these anecdotal stories of what your donors are doing. It’s just continues to create a positive feeling and idea in their heads on the importance of major gifts.
5. Twice-Yearly Staff Meetings
Richard and I recommend holding a couple of staff meeting per year, so you can report to the entire staff what is happening with the major gift program. You can cite your numbers to date, tell donor stories and encourage your staff in how important they are to the success of the major gift program. You could even invite a donor in to tell their story as to why they support your organization. This is all positive PR for major gifts.
6. Informal Face-to-Face Discussion
We believe some of the best conversations and positive influence you can bring to your organization’s entire staff is that, from time to time, you can schedule time away from the office. Invite staff out for lunch or coffee and have informal conversations about what staff is concerned with. Empathize with them, and look for opportunities to talk about what you are doing in your work every day. Demystify the work you do. Make it accessible to your colleagues.
Doing these six (and more), will help your organization understand why major gifts is so important and why leadership should be investing more into it. Richard and I know for a fact that if you engage your colleagues in meaningful conversations about your donors and proactively reach out to them to “keep them in the light,” you will build a positive culture of philanthropy and further your major gift program agenda.
So, don’t be afraid to speak out on behalf of major gifts!
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.