The Shocking Truth about Major Gifts: It’s Not about MoneyEveryone wants to develop a major gifts program. Or to strengthen their existing major gifts program. Why? Because they want to raise more money. If you approach major gifts development solely from this perspective you’ll ultimately fail. You might raise more money for a little while. But over the long-term you’ll lose more support than you gain. Because it’s not just about money.
Successful, lifelong major donor relationships are about two things:
(2) GratitudeThe heart of effective fundraising is about uncovering people who share the values your organization enacts; then making a match that enables these people to do something about which they’re passionate. Yes, they end up giving you money to accomplish this end. But it’s not about money. It’s about the impact this money will make. It’s about feeding a hungry family. Saving a grove of trees. Helping an abused woman and child find refuge. Curing a disease. Righting a wrong. Once the gift is made, your job is to show your donor the impact their gift made. To demonstrate gratitude for that impact. To show them again so they’re reminded of the benefits of their investment. To thank them again so they feel truly appreciated. Then, when you think your donor is filled to the brim with the joy of giving, and is ready to re-enact their passion, you show them a way they can do it all over again. Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to build a rich, rewarding relationship with donors you hope to move towards increasing levels of commitment with your charity.
The Right Way to Approach Major Donor Development
First, you must understand your goals:
Find an impact to bring donors joy.
Authentically demonstrate how your donor makes a difference.
Always think from your donor’s perspective.
Reach out proactively to help donors joyfully enact their passions.
It Takes a VillageYour donor needs to be stewarded continually, every time they interact with your organization. It’s not just about what the development department does. It’s how they’re treated by the receptionist. The gift processor. The volunteer coordinator. The program staff. Even the recipients of philanthropy (e.g., students, alumni, families of clients, and more). Everyone has a role in creating positive, productive relationships with your donors.
You have to be in the groove all the time.If you merely act friendly and grateful when you’re in front of donors, but then get snarky and cynical when they’re out of sight, you’ll never be able to create authentic relationships. Because you’ll be in two places – two frames of mind – at the same time. You’ve got to be focused and very clear about your feelings. Otherwise you’re just enacting transactions; not building transformational relationships. Create a culture where folks:
- Model the joy of giving. Encourage staff and volunteers to (1) connect with the ‘why’ of their affiliation with your organization, and then (2) give accordingly.
- Listen to each other. Spend time learning what program staff do and also teaching them about fundraising. Share success stories. You can’t learn about the work going on that may connect with prospective donors if you don’t do this. You can’t inspire each other if you don’t do this.
- Listen to your constituents. Regularly engage with folks. Ask them for feedback and advice. You can’t learn what floats people’s boats if you don’t listen.
- Keep everyone – staff, volunteers and donors – in the loop. Connect the dots for each other. Development staff should make it a regular practice to let other staff and volunteers know how the great job they did resulted in an act of philanthropy to continue your mission. Make it clear that philanthropy happens because of needs being successfully addressed by your organization; not because of development staff. Make all of your staff and volunteers – your entire village – the heroes.
- Treat everyone like a major donor. Instill a ‘customer’-centered culture where everyone is treated with consideration, honor and gratitude. You don’t always know who your current and potential major donors are.
- Make stewardship a priority. A donor-centered culture flows naturally from a customer-centered culture. When you’re used to thinking your job is to learn what your constituents desire and to make your constituents happy, it’s easy to extend this to donors.
Claire Axelrad , J.D., CFRE was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of Clairification. A sought-after coach and consultant, Claire is a member of the Rogare Fundraising Think Tank Relationship Fundraising Advisory Panel and writes monthly columns for Nonprofit Pro and Maximize Social Business. Clairification was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine. A member of the California State Bar and a graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco California.