What Does It Take To Be Successful?

Success. Everybody wants it. A lot of people have ideas on how to get it. But what actually contributes to success?

I once was asked to put together a list of the major themes that ran through the marketing successes I’ve been involved in. Here’s what I found:

  1. We had a market-driven plan that had a unique and desired product or service.  Is what you are offering to donors in your major gift program donor driven?  In other words, does it match their interests and passions or is it just something your management wants to do that donors are really not interested in?
  2. The critical objectives were clearly defined in that plan.  Jeff and I have seen so many programs that have no objectives at all, not to mention critical objectives. Often, when a donor asks, “So, what are you trying to accomplish?” the MGO cannot really answer.  You must have objectives that are specific for each of the programs you are presenting to donors.
  3. There was integration of effort in the plan.  Is the activity in program integrated and consistent with what the organization is doing in fundraising and finance?  Believe me, donors can tell when they are not.  It is rather embarrassing when an MGO is saying one thing and finance is producing a different picture.  For instance, we have a situation right now where finance is saying the project is fully funded and the MGO, who has talked to the people on the ground, is saying it isn’t.  Not good.
  4. We tested the premise, idea or opportunity in a very small, low-risk way before we rolled it out. While this point doesn’t always apply to a major gift situation, my point here is this:  do not just roll out your big idea before you test it in a small, measurable way first.
  5. We treated people as an end first, then as a means to an end. Here’s our people theme again.  People first.  Donors first.  Others first.  I hope you don’t get tired of hearing Jeff and me say this all the time, because it is so important. There is a direct link to success in major gifts and putting the donor first.
  6. We knew that relationships were key to causing transactions. I just can’t understand why this one point doesn’t sink into every MGO’s head!  Seriously.  Relationship first.  Then transaction.  You just cannot jump into the lady’s purse and expect to extract any significant sum of money.  And if by some remote chance you are successful getting something, it will not happen again.  Money flows OUT of relationship.
  7. We were obsessed with measuring cause and effect (or return on investment). This is so important.  There is one MGO I know who just cannot help getting involved in activity with donors on her caseload that produce no revenue.  She will spend hours fooling with an idea that has no bearing whatsoever on funding program.  It’s insane!  If only we could get her to just stop and see that the money she is spending to process something with no return is a waste of time. Getting her to see this would make all the difference.  You must stop and measure return on investment for every donor – every relationship – you have.  If you don’t, you will get lost in useless activity.

Those are the seven principles that run through successes I have had in the past and continue to have now.  I was then asked what threads ran through my most impressive failures. I said, “I got cute. I went for flash and impression rather than results. I should have stayed practical and used common sense.

Well, that one statement says it all, doesn’t it?  Failure is so easy to find if you start focusing on yourself and give life to that latent “me energy” inside of you.  You have to manage this.  Now, failure is inevitable. But you can do a lot to avoid it in the first place if your planning sticks to the seven points above.

Jeff and I firmly believe that major gift program planning must be logical, strategically designed, and carefully executed. You must pay attention to how all the parts of your organization and major gift strategy work together. Remember — it’s a symphony, not a solo.

And there’s that other side of the business: People.  We have some principles regarding this most important asset as well.  Here they are:

  1. No one can go it alone, because no one has all the gifts and abilities needed to achieve an organization’s goals. Get rid of solo players.  Lift up and honor team players.
  2. If someone doesn’t love the organization’s goals first and his own goals second, you don’t want him on your team. Get rid of him.
  3. We are meant to work in relationships, dependent on each other. It doesn’t work any other way.

We believe good strategic planning and thinking, coupled with people who value the whole effort, are the keys to success. It’s what makes the work we do successful.

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!
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