Even Fortune Cookies can Teach us About Major Gifts

“A friend in the market is better than money in the purse.”  This was the message of my fortune cookie at P.F. Changs on Sunday afternoon.  Richard and I were having lunch and what’s weird is that we were talking about this very subject all during the meal.

The subject dominated our conversation because we both have been talking lately to clients and other major gift officers who are really feeling the pressure to “go for the money” when they really need to understand who their donors actually are and “go for the relationship”.  Then, at the end of the meal, I opened up my fortune cookie.

Not only do major gift officers, or anyone working with major donors, need to understand who their donors are, but they need to know why they give, what their passions are, what motivates them to get up in the morning and why they care about the organization.

I know, we have discussed this stuff before, but we are continually coming up against this in our work, so I thought it would be good to keep hammering away at it.

In the last month I’ve heard some real horror stories about how some major gift professionals are conducting themselves out there.  Feeling the pressure to either make their numbers or to ensure a campaign is successful, they have been afflicted with temporary brain damage and have bypassed “knowing the donor” while making inappropriate asks and then losing the relationship with the donor.

This stuff happens when you feel pressured.  You feel pressured because something has broken down.  It could be that you didn’t really know your donor; or you didn’t have a real plan with a goal for each and every one of your donors; or perhaps you do have a plan, but that plan wasn’t communicated correctly up the chain.

If you find yourself in this situation, you need to ask yourself,  “Do I believe that developing relationships where I KNOW my donor is THE way I should approach major gift fundraising?”

If your answer is no, then you may still bring in money for your organization and do it quickly, but I guarantee that you will run over people and ultimately ruin relationships and lose money.

If the answer is “yes” then you have to, with all your heart and soul, tell yourself this everyday and, when the little “pressure demons” come out, you have to take a deep breath, believe you’re doing it the right way and, most importantly, keep doing your work the right way.

And the right way is this:

  1. Know your donor.  There is no shortcut here.  You must KNOW your donor.
  2. Have a goal and strategic plan for every donor that everyone on the major gift team and the Executive Director agrees with and has blessed.  This is important because if everyone knows what you are trying to do and how you are going to go about it, then everyone is on the same page with you.
  3. Continually communicate your progress.  There is no excuse for not communicating up the chain both positive and negative news about your donors.  Your boss should never be surprised.
  4. Work your plan.  If you’ve created a strategic plan that is donor-centered, built on KNOWING your donor and establishing a deeper relationship with that person, then the only thing that would get in the way would be anything that distracts you from working your plan.
  5. Be constantly curious.  The more questions you ask, the more you wait and listen, the more you will understand.  This is true about understanding your donors, your organization, why you do what you do, why your boss behaves they way he or she does, etc.  If you are not curious and don’t ask why things are the way they are, you will have a short life in major gifts.

These are the “five to live with” principles right now.  If the “pressure demons” try to come out and distract you from any of these, you can pull out your plan and say, “This is how we’re approaching this…you agreed.  If you want to change something, let’s talk about it.”

I know all this relationship building and KNOWING your donor talk can sometimes feel counter-intuitive to bringing in “the money.”  You have to believe me – it will pay off.  It works every time.

And now I leave you with the message of Richard’s fortune cookie: “Endurance and persistence will be rewarded.”

See, even Chinese Fortune Cookies say so…



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Marketing Plans, Non-Profits, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Even Fortune Cookies can Teach us About Major Gifts

  1. Thank you for yet another great post on the importance of building relationships prior to “going for the gold”.

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