Wishful Thinking in Major Gifts
It is an amazing thing to watch—truly amazing. Some authority figure casually deciding to hire a major gift officer to chase what Jeff and I would call ghosts and rabbits. It’s wishful thinking at its best, and stupidity at its worst. I know that’s strong language, but I just cannot understand why a fundraising professional would even think this way.
Let me give you context to explain what I am talking about.
There’s a nonprofit that either has a direct marketing program in place to acquire new donors, or there is some other program that is bringing in hundreds, sometimes thousands, of new donors. The heavy lifting has already been done. A good donor acquisition program goes out into the public square and culls through all the potential donors finding the ones who have an affinity for the cause. That is how good donor acquisition works.
So that program is in place. Please note that there is no shortage of newly identified donors currently in the house. This is the first contextual point.
Secondly, over time, some of these donors have expressed greater interest and support for the organization by giving more. Now they are giving larger one-time gifts. Some are giving regular monthly gifts that cumulatively add up to a large sum of giving on a yearly basis.
Now you have the two points:
- Large influx of prequalified new donors.
- A highly visible group of donors within the new donor group who are giving larger gifts.
Take this situation and imagine you are the development director or VP for advancement: You have been tasked to raise more money. So, you come up with a brilliant idea, which has the following key points:
You will hire a new MGO.
- You will task that person with looking at a six-year-old screening of your donor list to identify those folks who have not given yet, but have a capacity of $350,000 or more and who are not currently assigned to other MGOs.
- You will tell this MGO that they are to go out and get as many of these people to give as possible.
- And that this should be done with people who meet this criteria all over the country.
This is classic “grass is greener” thinking in major gifts—and a recipe for a disaster, not only for the MGO, but also for the organization and the authority figure. There is no way this will succeed. And it is a horrible misuse of money and good MGO talent.
Jeff and I find some version of this situation in way too many places. Where a director of development looks right past the good donors who are already in the house and spends good money and time looking for good donors in far away places. And many times, it is not just the director of development or authority figure who has lost their way on this point. It is the MGO as well. It is the MGO who has a qualified group of caseload donors right in their hands, but who is obsessed with “all the new potential donors out there” who need to be found and drawn into the cause.
I just cannot understand why this happens. Maybe you have an answer. If so, please let me know.
Here’s the application of this thought to your work today: Are you talking to the right donors? Stop for a minute, and look at who you are dealing with. Are they the donors who have, by the recency and amount of their giving, proven they are with you? If so, carry on. If not, please stop and reorder your focus.
There is nothing worse in major gifts than wasting time and money trying to prospect for major givers outside the pool of the donors you currently have. It is wishful thinking and acting.There is nothing better than building relationships with the people who have “voted with their wallets and pocketbooks”—they are the ones who have stepped up and said, “I am with you!” They are the good people who not only merit your attention and care, but who have also made a real commitment to your cause. Take care of them.
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.