Make The Program Person Your Best Friend

The three strategic drivers of a major gift program are an offer, a donor and a major gift officer. When these three things come together, in a mutual way, great things happen.

MGO’s are always consumed with the donor: making a connection with her, relating to her, sending her information, etc.  When I sit down and talk to MGO’s about THE most important aspect of their job, they always say something about the donor.

It is true.  The donor is very important.  Without her there are no funds.  And without funds there is no organization.

But I’ve seen a number of situations in which an organization has great donors and above average MGO’s but they are failing to cultivate the donors and raise the money they could for their cause.  Why?  Because there isn’t any offer. No one has taken the time to look at the budget of the organization and frame it into offers or “asks” that can be presented to donors for funding.

Many of the leaders and managers in these organizations believe it is enough to just make the overall case of their mission to donors and ask them for a gift.  “That will do it”, they say. “You don’t need specifics on anything else!”

So if it’s a rescue mission, they believe that all you have to do is simply tell the donor that you need funds for food or shelter to take care of the homeless.  Well, that “offer” will take the organization somewhere.  But believe me, it won’t raise the kind of money the organization needs.  It is just not enough.

As I have studied this topic over the last few years I’ve come to realize that, in most organizations, the finance, accounting and business people are the ones who are really running the show. And that’s not all bad.  Controls need to be in place to make sure the money is handled properly.

But the whole orientation is one of putting money into nice little boxes and categories not for the donor, who is the source of the money, but for the board, the government, the watch-dog agencies, the auditor, the bank, etc. – all those other people who, for the most part, are not concerned about program impact as much as they are about percentages, overhead, proper controls, etc.

Again, please don’t get me wrong.  I am not against any of those practices.  I am just wondering where the donor is in all of it.

So, one of the major efforts Jeff and I are leading in the organizations we serve, and the industry in general, is to bring program and offers back to the forefront of everyone’s thinking.  This is why this post is about making the program person your best friend. 

Without a close and cooperative relationship with your organization’s program person, you, as a MGO, cannot succeed.  He or she holds the key to information that is critical to the offers you will construct for your donor.

Here are our specific suggestions on how to make program people and their information a bigger part of your major gift efforts:

  1. First, develop a mindset that sees program as a critical part of your success.  While on the surface you may think you have program at a higher level of involvement in your daily work, my experience often shows that the MGO is really not spending enough time integrating program process, values and information into his or her major gift work.  Remember, program is the fuel that drives the fundraising engine.  You cannot live without it.  So, before going further, commit yourself to making program a bigger part of your thinking, your preoccupation and your use of time.
  2. Regularly spend time with program people. Regularly visit program sites.  One client of ours insists that all the MGO’s and their managers must visit a different program site every month and develop a comprehensive report on (a) what the program is, (b) what need is being addressed, (c) who the clients are, (d) how the funds are being used, (e) what financial needs there are, and (f) client testimonials of success AND need.  You must regularly place yourself INTO the program to hear, smell and feel all of it.  You also need to regularly sit with program people to hear about the successes and the challenges they face.
  3. Always look at what your organization does through the donor’s eyes.  Donors really do not care about your financial categories, your organization, your financial reports, etc.  Only the insiders care about that.  Donors want to know (a) how they can help, and (b) that their helping actually made a difference.  Period.  Nothing more.  Don’t make it more complex than that.
  4. Construct offers that are big.  It’s fine to create an offer for a donor that is in the $1000 to $5000 range.  But how about coming up with one that is in the $100,000 to $500,000 range?  Or $1 million to $5 million range!  There are donors in your file right now who will support a larger ask;  you just haven’t asked them.  And you haven’t asked them for two basic reasons.  First of all, you don’t believe they will give that much.  Secondly, you have nothing to present to them.  This chicken and egg scenario repeats itself in major gift programs every day.  Break through to a new paradigm by (a) finding the three donors on your caseload who can give substantially and (b) creating an ask/offer that has vision, high energy and boldness to it.  You can do it!
  5. Construct offers that include all the costs.  Jeff and I have said this many times before.  It is not enough to ask a donor to just fund the direct program costs.  If you do that for every program, your organization will be 25% or more UNDER funded!  That is not good.  Add the proportionate share of overhead to every program and ask for that amount.  It is the right thing to do.

I have seen so many organizations where the program people and the fundraisers never meet.  Or, if they do, it is a perfunctory meeting to exchange some rather dry and meaningless information vs. treating the whole subject of program content as the lifeblood of fundraising which is what it is.

It is shocking to me to hear a MGO say they have never talked to a program person – they just read the reports and that is the sole source of their information.

If you are not currently talking to program folks– please – get out of your office and go look them in the eyes, go see the program, go get into the trenches and let it affect your mind and your heart! Please do this.

It will not only move you to higher levels of performance with your donors, it will increase your technical knowledge of what your organization does.  At the same time it will increase your job satisfaction as you begin to more fully understand that you, your colleagues and your donors are truly making a difference in our hurting world.

Richard

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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 Major Gift Officers, Mission, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Make The Program Person Your Best Friend

  1. Really great advice. You can’t preach religion until you get religion. Knowing the programs backwards and forwards is a precondition to being able to spread the passion.

  2. Richard Perry says:

    Exactly! Thanks for writing.

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