The Boring Indispensables of Major Gifts – An Introduction

“Can’t you come up with something creative?”  the MGO asked, frustration filling her face and impatience hanging on every word.

And, once again, we were thrust into the world of belief that successful major gift fundraising is primarily the result of using cutting edge, creative, never-heard-of-before ideas and moves.  If only one could get his or her hands on that really cool idea, approach or strategy then the money would roll in.

I have heard a version of this belief a hundred if not a thousand times.  And it is one of the core reasons the MGO or major gift manager is failing.

“What?” you say.  “Are you telling me that creativity and innovation aren’t good things to have around for the major gift program?”

Nope – I am not saying that.  I am saying that you should not lean on new ideas and creativity as the main driver for success – that, in fact, there are some very boring and tedious activities and categories of work in major gifts which you must pay attention to if you are to be successful in this work.

That is why over the course of the next six posts I am going to address what I am calling The Boring Indispensables of Major Gifts.  This includes:

  1. Having the Right Job Description
  2. Valuing Administrative Support
  3. Getting Through the Grueling Day to Day
  4. Having to Meet Expectations
  5. Pursuing Management Values
  6. Having to Go Solo and Feeling Alone

I could have called this series “Valuing the Fundamentals” because all of this IS very much about the fact that life just runs better if you pay attention to the basics.  But what I have found over the 20+ years of doing this work is that there is a direct correlation between the lack of success in most endeavors, be they commercial or non-profit, and the constant unbalanced need for “new creative ideas” on the part of the major players.

Have you ever met the person who has a new idea, a new job, a new “great thing” that is really going to make it and that new thing changes almost on a daily basis?  I have.  We call them dreamers.  And we scoff at them and talk about how silly they are.  Why is that?  Because, we say:  “If they would just stick to something they might make it.”, with emphasis on the words, “stick to something”.

I remember a situation where a leader decided he was going to aggressively grow his organization over the next five years.  He set up a process to explore all the new and wonderful ideas to get him to his objective.  The interesting thing about it was that not ONE of those ideas had to do with actually gaining a new donor.  And you and I both know that a donor is the economic engine of a non-profit.

Without a donor there is no non-profit.  But somehow,  this gentleman had imagined that he didn’t need to think about something so basic as securing or keeping a donor.  Instead he was going to fix the brand, do some PR, have some events, make some friends, etc. – all good things, but none of them having any real lasting economic value.  I am sure all his planned activity made him FEEL good.  I know for a fact it really didn’t get him anywhere.  And that is sad.

So we can mock and laugh at “those kinds of people” and not realize that we ourselves are just like them in many ways.  We are always reaching out for that special thing that is going to get us over the top.   It’s kind of like the urge to buy a lottery ticket and skip by all those “losers” on our way to becoming a millionaire.  It feels like a great idea and we might get lucky, but the truth is, it will not work.  Skipping past the basics never does.

That is why I like pausing every once in a while and focusing on the basics – those repetitive and often dull things that must be done to do a job well.  I hope, through these writings, to elevate these areas up to a respected level in our thinking.  Valuing the basics in major gifts and making sure they are operationally in place will assure your success.



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!
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