Five New Year’s Resolutions for an Outstanding 2013–#2—Prioritize Your Life


How many times during the day do you find yourself in the middle of something you and stop and say, “Why am I doing this?”  Or, as you look back over the last month or last year, how many things did you do that you’re still scratching your head over?

I know there have been quite a few head scratchers for me over the last year.  I’m thinking to myself, “Jeff, what were you thinking? Why were you even trying to do that?”

Well, it’s time to start taking some of my own medicine.  And I would love it if you joined me.  Here’s what I mean.  If you’ve been a reader of our blog for some time, you know that Richard and I have discussed in great detail how MGO’s need to prioritize their caseloads.  We’re really big on making sure you’re cultivating the right donors by qualifying and tiering them, levels A,B,C.  This allows you to focus your time and energy on the right donors.

Well, the same holds true for your work in general, but also for figuring out what is important to you in your life.  What are your priorities in your professional and personal lives?  Have you asked yourself that lately?  If not, along with being more reflective, this can be your second New Year’s resolution for 2013.

Now, there are many ways you can do this.  One way is to simply take a piece of paper and write “Professional” and “Personal” on each side of the paper, draw a line down the middle and begin listing  priorities under each category for 2013.

After you’ve written several under both topics, take the top 4 or 5 from each as your “Top Priorities.”  Write them down on a separate piece of paper along the left hand side, listing them vertically.  Then along the top, write out the months of the year horizontally.  (You may find this much easier, like I do, in an Excel spreadsheet.) Next, begin to figure out what your strategy will be, month by month, to make each priority a reality.  This will be your guide for the year to achieve or “make happen” the priorities you’ve listed for 2013.

For example, if one of your work priorities is to “Get more education on major gift fundraising,” you would specifically write in which month you were going to take a class, attend a conference or read a book so that you can pinpoint when this is going to happen.  It’s so simple, yet so powerful for keeping you on task to achieve the priorities you have for yourself.

Next, go make a copy of this, or print it out and give it to someone who will sit down with you every three months and ask how you are doing.  This is critical.  It will have to be someone you trust and someone who is not afraid to hold you accountable.

Now, if you’re not into making a spreadsheet or tracking this month by month, I have another exercise for you to help you with prioritizing.  My colleague, Karen Kendrick, sent me an exercise that she has found to be very meaningful.  It’s called “Reviewing, Releasing and Reclaiming.”  It was put together in 2006 by a woman named Kathy Pike.

I will send you the complete version you if you e-mail me ( write in the subject line, “I want to prioritize.”  Essentially this exercise asks you three things.

  1. What did you do last year that you wanted to do, or planned to do, but in the end, didn’t?
  2. What are some things that you can “let go of” that you really don’t need in your life?
  3. What are some things you want to “reclaim” in your life?

I find this to be another great way to figure out what is truly important. It can help to set your heart and mind in the right place as you begin the New Year.  And, if you are like me, and you’re anticipating a busy year, you will need this to become more focused and held accountable.


Richard and I want to wish you a very Happy New Year!  It’s going to be a great year for you.

Posted in Development Directors, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Five New Year’s Resolutions for an Outstanding 2013–#1 Take Time for Reflection


Sometimes it feels like time is going so fast that a week or even a month has gone by and I have no idea how it happened.  Do you ever feel like that?

Our world seems like it’s speeding up every year.  Faster connection rates, quad-core processors, 4G LTE cell coverage…as the words leave your lips they travel around the globe and back.

If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is tune into TV Land on your super fast FIOS network and watch a sitcom from the 60’s or 70’s.  Notice the dialogue.  It’s about as slow as molasses.  Or, at least it seems that way to our 2013 brains.

We are conditioning ourselves to want it yesterday.  It has to be done fast and there is no time to wait.

I have to admit, I love all this new technology and the speed of communications.  I see it as a great benefit to my work.  But there is a “dark side” to all of this speed.  That dark side is that I have become accustomed to going so fast and hard that many times I don’t take time to reflect on what I’m actually doing or where I’m going.

I feel that if I do slow down or pause I’m going to miss out on something…an important e-mail, a request from a client, a new opportunity.  Sometimes I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about all this.

It’s not good.

This is why in 2013 I’m committing myself to take time off to reflect and slow down.  And I’m asking you to come with me on the journey.

It’s not going to be easy.  I’m conditioned, like you are, to “keep it going.”  But I also find that many folks in the non-profit world have this sense that if they don’t keep going the world is somehow going to fall apart.

Non-profit work is hard, not just because of the “work” side of it.  There’s the added pressure of feeling that if the work doesn’t get done the mission will not get accomplished.   Something bad could happen, whether it be animals not getting adopted, hungry people not getting fed, or someone actually dying because we didn’t get to them in time.

I’m not sure there is anything so physically, emotionally or spiritually draining as working for a non-profit.  This is why taking time to pause and reflect everyday is so vitally important to your health.

Richard and I have seen first hand the damage it has caused folks.  I’ve known good people who, after working in the non-profit sector for as little as five years, look as though they have been to war and back.

Is any of this resonating with you?  I know it is because in talking with folks like you over the past several years, this seems to be a growing problem.   And with the poor economy hitting non-profits hard, both in having to add more services and providing those services with fewer people…well…that is just the makings of a lethal cocktail.

So, what does taking time out to reflect and pause look like in 2013?  Here are some suggestions for you.

  1. Everyday, take 20-30 minutes to just sit and breathe.  Stop thinking!  Just be.  Anytime of the day is fine, but take this time to not do anything.  It will be really hard at first, but it will get easier.  Hey, even if you start with just 5 minutes a day…that’s a great beginning.
  2. In the middle of your day, take five minutes to stop what you are doing and listen to what is going on around you.  Be aware of others, sounds, and your thoughts.
  3. Every morning, as you start your workday, write down everything that is on your mind that you HAVE to do. Put your list on paper or in your smart phone. Writing it down releases the power it has over you and frees up your brain.
  4. At the end of every month, spend an hour reflecting on all you have accomplished, celebrate it and let it go.
  5. Once a year, take a 2-day personal retreat.  Go off to cabin in the woods, retreat center or your favorite hotel and just relax and get away.  This allows for self-reflection and gives your body time to slow down.
  6. Take all of your vacation time.  I’ve known people who work for non-profits who have almost a year of vacation time racked up.  That is insane.  You have to take time off to allow yourself to re-energize.

2013 can be the year of creating balance for you and me.  That balance can only be achieved with taking time out to pause and reflect.  As you take more and more time for reflection it will allow you to move toward figuring out what is most important in your life.  And, it will help you to be more focused, actually help you get more accomplished, and make yourself a happier person.  Say “yes” to more reflection in 2013.


Posted in Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Mission, Non-Profits, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Reflecting on 2012—How did YOU do on those Resolutions?


Wow, can you believe 2012 is about to come to a close?  I can’t.  This year has just flown by.  Naturally, at this point in December, I begin to think about all that has happened this past year and then I remembered that exactly a year ago I wrote the “Six New Year’s Resolutions that will Change Your Life” series.  So, I thought it would be fun to revisit them and ask you how you did.

Then, starting Friday, I’m going to introduce five new resolutions for 2013 that will blow you away.

But, before we get to 2013, let’s look back at those 2012 resolutions.

  1. Serve Your Donor—Did you spend your year coming up with fantastic ideas on how to provide outrageous customer service for your donors?  The idea was not to “sell” to your donor, but to “serve your donor.”  How did you do?  If you took a pen and paper right now and had to list all the ways you served your donor, could you come up with 20 really quickly.  If not, there is more work to be done.
  2. Love Your Work—If you have been reading our blog for any length of time you will know that Richard and I firmly believe that if you don’t love major gift fundraising there is no sense in doing it.  Unfortunately, there are still lots of people in our profession who don’t love it, but still are in it.  Why be in a situation that brings you down, causes anxiety and stress and could be making you physically sick?  Find work you love.
  3. Set Goals—Last year I stressed that setting goals helps you focus and stay accountable.  There are three areas in which to set goals: caseload goals, professional goals, and personal goals.  How did you do in 2012?
  4. Make Mistakes—I received a lot of responses on this post from folks who told me how glad they were that I was bringing this to light.  We’re generally afraid to make mistakes and therefore we don’t take risks.  If you don’t take risks you don’t move forward and you stagnate.  I hope you made many mistakes in 2012.  I sure did!!
  5. Be Curious—Ask More Questions—I said to make 2012  “The Year of Curiosity.”  Did you?  Richard and I have found that the best MGOs ask the most questions.  They ask questions because they know that they will only get to authentic answers when they allow donors to be real with them.  That takes real engagement with donors.  That only happens when you are curious.
  6. Seek Joy.  Finally, the last resolution of 2012 was to constantly seek joy in all you do.  This is a tough one, I know.  I’m sure there were a lot of things that went wrong in 2012, but guess what?  You’re still here.  You learned from those tough times and often, through those hard moments, joy was waiting on the other side.  In fact, if you look back at 2012 you will see a lot of joy.

Well, there they are.  How did you do with your resolutions in 2012?  If you are like me, I’m sure you blew a number of them.  The good news is that in 2013 you can start anew and re-commit yourself.

I love resolutions.  So, next time I’ll start my new series on the “Five Resolutions that will make 2013 your BEST YEAR EVER!


Posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

They Spoke Well Of Me

When you sum up all that you have done this year, will the overwhelming opinion be that you did well?  I hope that’s true for you.  I also hope that’s true for me.

When Jeff and I think about major gift fundraising and how we did this year and what people thought was important to us – when all our actions, words and counsel are complete –and all the chatter dies down, when all those we have touched and served are quiet and reflective –  will folks have said we accomplished our tasks and did well?

I suppose its normal to want to be thought of in a positive light.

After all, the entire program we are involved in, that of helping good people do good with their resources, is a very special thing.  I hope you see it that way.  It’s not just a job, it’s a way of being.  It’s a mentality – a way of thinking.  It doesn’t only happen from 9 to 5.  It happens all the time.

I love reading the works of philosophers and teachers on this subject.  No matter what your position is on faith, philosophy and ideology, there is always something good to extract from the thoughts and writings of others.

On the subject of “speaking well of me”, I particularly like these thoughts from an Old Testament writer:

Whoever heard of me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because:

  • I rescued the poor who cried for help.
  • And the fatherless who had none to assist him.
  • The man who was dying blessed me.
  • I made the widow’s heart sing.
  • I put on righteousness as my clothing.
  • Justice was my robe and my turban.
  • I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.
  • I was a father to the needy.
  • I took up the case of the stranger.
  • I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.

For Jeff and me, this is a good list to help us measure and guide our attitudes and behavior.

I pass it on to you with a hope that as you look at the year that is coming ahead you will find a glimmer of light for your journey in doing good.


Posted in Development Directors, Major Gift Officers, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting The Heart Along With The Cash

“I hate the giving of the hand

unless the whole man accompanies it.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Several posts ago I told you that the giving and getting of gifts is a difficult thing for me.

Here’s why.

I was sent off to a boarding school in another country when I was six years old.  I rarely saw my parents.  I did not really know them.  I felt abandoned and this has been the subject of many a counseling session throughout my life.

The few times when I was home my mother showered me with gifts.  I soon learned that the gift giving was a sincere and generous attempt on her part to make up for sending me away.  But it did not replace the yearning I had in my little heart to be with her and dad and to know I was valued and needed.

So the gifts became hollow and shallow physical objects that had no meaning.  I’ve carried this scar all of my life.  But rather than wallow in self-pity and darkness I have come to learn that I can turn this painful part of my personal journey into a positive force for good.

And here’s the point as relates to life in general and to major gift fundraising:  People – all of us – and donors – all of them – desire meaningful relationships, not transient symbols of relationship, in other words,  gifts.  Everywhere Jeff and I turn we see this play out.  And we see wonderful ways these delicate transactions are handled.  We also see a lot of abuse.

I was talking to a friend yesterday about the topic of gifts and relationship and she said, “Gifts can often be a path to relationship – a discipline to remember the other person – a reminder to re-engage.”  That was really helpful.  And I realized that I am not really against gifts – I just desire to give and receive relationship.  And that’s an important distinction.

This same dynamic applies to each one of your donors. When they are parting with that gift they are reaching out to give relationship.  That’s why the whole transaction is such a sacred thing – it is the giving of the whole man, as Emerson stated, not just the giving of the hand.

Now, as you read this you might be saying, “Nice thought, Richard, but honestly, not everyone is really wanting relationship.  They are giving out of guilt or the need for a tax deduction, etc.  So, don’t tell me that relationship is the planned objective of their giving.”

Well, I disagree.  Those reasons might be their conscious, top-of-mind reasons.  But I don’t think they are the underlying desire of the donor.  I’ve had many discussions with donors, of all socio-economic levels, who initially give a superficial reason for their gifts.  The conversation that follows (shortened for space) is true and illustrates what I am saying here:

“So, what was the reason you gave that gift, Ann?”

“Well, my husband and I were talking about the need that was presented and we agreed we needed to DO something.  And that’s why we gave.”

“So when you say, ‘We needed to do something’, is the underlying reason one of obligation or guilt?”

“I wouldn’t say guilt.  [long pause]  Well, we ARE obliged to do something.  I mean we have been blessed.  So, we should do something, don’t you think?”

“I suppose.  So, it seems you are saying that because you are blessed you feel obliged to do something about this need.  Is that right?”

“Well, to be honest, it goes a little deeper than that.  You see, several years ago our teenage daughter got caught up in drugs.  It was one of the most painful things that has ever happened to us as a family.  We got her into re-hab and, thank God, she came out the other end free from addiction. [pause as Ann re-lives the pain and seeks to get control of her emotions]  Now, we want to help other kids – we want to provide the help we got to other parents.”

You can see in the dialogue above that if you stopped with the initial reasons Ann and her husband gave it would simply be guilt or obligation.  But when you “look under the blankets” you find the real reason.  There is a desire to provide real healing through their giving.  There is a desire to give another opportunity – a desire to give themselves to others.  That is REALLY what is going on.

In this situation, as in so many we see, the donor is not giving a gift.  He is giving something of far greater value.  He is giving relationship.  You just need to find those real reasons in every donor relationship.

So how does all of this apply to you and your donors?  In several ways:

  1. Look for relationship in every gift.  If you adopt a mentality of seeking relationship in every gift you receive you will treat the gift and the donor with respect and honor.  It will affect your behavior and your systems in so many positive ways.
  2. Ask for “the whole man, not just the hand”.  When you are asking for a gift, make it a practice to seek the involvement of the whole person, not just the gift.  It will mean so much more to you and the donor.  This doesn’t mean the donor has to drop everything and become physically involved with your organization – it simply means you are in touch with the heart reasons for the giving and you are actively in dialogue with the donor about them.  This brings relationship into the giving – it brings the heart along with the cash.

Just do these two things with your donors.  It will change you AND it will change them.

Lastly, there are two things Jeff and I wish for you this giving season:

  1. That your life will be filled with authentic relationships.  As you prepare and give those gifts, be sure you are also giving yourself.  THAT is the most important thing you can do and it will mean so much to your children, your friends, your partner, your spouse, your employees.  Just give yourself – this is the true path toward authentic relationship, the very best gift you can give.
  2. That you will fill your donors with authentic relationship.  Do the same with your donors as you are doing in the significant relationships in your life.  Find a way to build the relationship that is behind the gift.  It will radically change each donor relationship.


Posted in Development Directors, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

I Can’t Ask Again!!


Your major donor has just given in the last month or last several weeks and you are now turning your attention to the donors on your caseload who have not given so far this calendar year.

This is good.

But you may be missing an opportunity to bring additional joy into that recent giver’s life. You may be missing an opportunity to ask again.

“What?” you say.  “Ask again?  I can’t do that!  It wouldn’t be right.”

Well, let me present a different point of view.

While it may be true that the last gift your donor gave is the only one she either can give or wants to give, it may also be true that if the donor is able to give more and the last experience with you has been outstanding,  another gift is not out of the question.

Let’s examine those two points:

  1. The donor is able to give more. If you have followed the advice that Jeff and I put out there, you have done a great deal of research on your caseload donors.  And if you have done that research you know the giving patterns and capacity of your donor.  You know if they are able to give more.  While it is true you may not know how much they have given to others, you do know their general ability to give.  If you do not know this information, some good research right now is in order.
  2. The experience the donor just had with you was outstanding.  Have you ever had this experience:  you were asked to do something and were so sure you didn’t want to, but changed your mind and did?  The experience turned out to be so overwhelmingly satisfying that, when asked to do it again, you did.  Has that happened to you?  It has to me.  I have been in a situation where I was asked to give to something that matched my interests and passions.  Initially I stalled and wondered if I was able to give, or even wanted to, but when the situation was presented in such a compelling way, I just had to give. I had to.  And then all the information and input that was sent to me after I gave was, again, so compelling – so rewarding, that when I was asked to help again, I did.  Here’s my question:  are you giving your major donors that kind of experience after they give?  If you are, they could very well be ready to give again.

Remember, this giving thing is NOT about the money.

Jeff and I keep saying that, but I am not sure it is sinking in.  Think about it.  If it is not about the money then the transaction frequency is about the satisfaction that happened around the past and last transaction.  If something magical, rewarding and uplifting happened, then making that happen again could very well be a desired and attractive experience.

I remember a story of a wealthy donor who was just not giving.  He was on the caseload of an MGO and no matter what that MGO did it did not work.  Then the MGO discovered that he was presenting information and giving opportunities to the donor that did not match the donor’s passion and interests.  So he changed that.

Bingo!  Things started to change.  As the donor got closer and closer to all the things that were satisfying about giving to the areas that interested him, the more energy he got and the more he gave.

[Clue:  giving goes up because transaction satisfiers go up].

So, take notice here.  The giving did not go up because the MGO did a better job of asking.  Nor did the MGO do a better job of asking for more.  Nope.

The giving went up because the MGO did a better job of matching the donor’s interests and passions to the needs of the people/cause the organization was serving.  AND then, after doing that match right, the MGO made the giving experience rewarding and fulfilling by giving the donor a ton of “You made a difference” information – information that was so compelling and so satisfying that the donor wanted to give again.

See how this works?

Here’s how you need to put this dynamic to work for this year-end, which is just weeks away.

If you have a donor who has the ability and whose experience with you has been satisfying, ask her again for a year-end gift.  Do it boldly to meet the needs of the people or cause you are serving.  And promise the donor that the experience will be just as good if not better than the last time she gave.

Remember, this has nothing to do with money.  It has everything to do with helping the donor find a way to do even more good this year and feel good about doing it.


Posted in Donor-Centered, Major Gifts, Marketing Plans, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Donor Pays For Overhead!


There is something about overhead that is so toxic to major gift officers that they literally run away from it every time it gets close to them.

And it’s not only MGOs that are repulsed by the topic.  Managers and leaders feel pretty squeamish about it too.  You bring up the subject and you can see their bodies tighten, as they get ready to defend this nasty but necessary thing.

I was in a meeting recently with some managers where the “O” word came up.  You would think we had just moved into the ring of a major boxing match.  Goodness.  Some managers were defensive.  Others quietly retreated into their spreadsheets.  Still others moved into some language about “We’re doing the best we can to keep costs down.”

So I stepped into this swamp with the following question:  “What do you think donors think about overhead?”  And we were off on a fun journey that mixed one cup of philosophy with another cup of reality and ten pounds of anxiety.

The core assumption in this meeting, and in non-profits in general, is that major donors do not like nor will they pay for overhead.  I think this is wrong for several reasons.

  1. Overhead is a good thing.  What?!  A good thing?  Yep.  And we need to start talking it up.  No more of this sniveling, shifty, wandering into a dark corner about this subject.  We need to embrace it for the good that it is.
  2. Overhead is necessary.  Here is what is so funny about this topic.  If you didn’t have overhead you wouldn’t have anything.  It is still mind blowing to me to sit in a meeting with seemingly intelligent people and have them imply that overhead is bad, must be pushed down to levels that make it impossible to run the organization and must be hidden in financial reports so ill-informed donors can’t find or discern where they are or how much they are.  This is truly comical.  I remember a meeting I attended in which I got into quite a heated debate with a top finance guy on the need for overhead.  You should have heard the positions he was taking.  It was like we were on a different planet.  I would say, “But, Bill (not his real name), you just cannot run this organization on the 10% you are saying you run it on. Your costs are really in the 20-24% range.  Why don’t you just come out with it?”  “Because the donors won’t pay for it, Richard.  That’s why!”  And we went round and round.  Here’s a guy, not unlike hundreds I have met, who (a) really believes overhead is nasty, (b) can’t find a way to tell the truth about it, and (c) is trapped in the circular argument he has created.  I even made the following argument:  “OK, Bill, let’s eliminate this overhead item and that overhead item, etc.  Now, can you run the program?”  He had to admit he couldn’t, which made my point.  Overhead is a necessary and needed part of pulling off the mission of the organization. Why is it that we can’t get this in our heads?!!
  3. The non-profit world and the watch-dogs have perpetuated a misconception about overhead.  There are many people out there, non-profit leaders and self appointed watch-dogs, who find virtue in propagating the idea that overhead under 20% is right up there with sainthood.  Unbelievable.  And for many of these people, when you look under the blankets in their organizations, the real number is far higher than what they are publishing – they simply have adopted sophisticated legal ways of packaging it all.  I wouldn’t say it’s ethical – but it is legal.  This just causes more pressure on the sector and keeps donors in the dark on the subject.  There are a few glimmers of light out there on this subject with some leaders who are showing courage by speaking out and taking action.  But it is slow in coming.

Let me suggest three things you can do in 2013 to change this overhead discussion from a negative one to one that is logical, makes sense and is warmly embraced by your donors:

  1. First, get YOUR head right about this issue.  The way I worked through this topic to get to a balanced place was to look at how much effort it takes to make a product or make profit in a commercial company.  I also looked at how much effort it takes to get anything done.  What I mean here is that when you start to examine the relationship of effort put out to achieve a result,  you begin to understand that it takes far more effort to get a result.  As I have examined this in a number of areas of life I finally settled on the fact that the relationship of cause and effect – of effort to make something happen vs. achieving the result –  was a lot larger than I had thought.  If all you had to do in life was make a 10% effort and get a huge result, life would be easy.  So, this is how I did it. You might have a different path, but stop and think about this a bit.  And ask yourself the question – what DOES it take to get the program delivered in a non-profit?  And how important a role is overhead to making program happen?  Your honest answer will help you land in a better place.
  2. Realize that major donors can understand how overhead is a critical part of delivering program.  More and more, enlightened donors are really getting it in this area.  They know what it takes to get things done.  Many major donors are business people and entrepreneurs.  They know what they went through to be successful.  They know what overhead they had to have to make things work. They really do understand.  But YOU need to talk sensibly about this. And that is why…
  3. You can make a difference in this area.  If you start talking about this in a calm, professional and sensible way, you can start to change this around as your donors begin to understand that delivering life changing help to people and to our planet will not happen without these basic support systems in place.  Another way you can make a difference here is to place the overhead costs, on an allocated basis, as part of the program costs. Too many MGOs are presenting programs to donors without the two overheads attached – Overhead #1 is the overhead of the program itself.  Overhead #2 is the allocated portion of overall organizational overhead the program should carry. Both of these should be attached to the program as you present it to donors funding. This makes sense.  And, it’s right thing to do.

I love overhead!  And you can to.  It is the power – the driver that makes the good happen. It is the fuel in the engine.  What a great thing!  Start working to really believe this and help your donors believe it as well.  It will make such a difference to them, to you, to your organization and to the non-profit world we are all operating in.


Posted in Development Directors, Major Gift Officers, Non-Profits, Overhead, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments