The Heart of Fundraising: Major Gift Strategy

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Malik Sooch
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Major gift strategy for university and nonprofit development officers

Major Gift Strategy:

Strategy is the essential element in major gift work today. There are many demands on a donor's philanthropic attention, and without fully embracing and understanding strategy, a major gift officer is setting themselves up for failure.

On the other hand, strategy is often an overused and misrepresented concept. Simply declaring some grand and lofty strategic initiative, will not compensate for poor execution and planning. And such lofty strategizing often masks an inability to organize and execute development work, in a way that conveys passion and authenticity.

Major Gift Fear:

Even when traditional principles of strategy are applied, to modern-day philanthropy, fear often drives most major gift work, and it is the key obstacle standing in the way, of a development professional having satisfaction and success in their work.

Fear can often push a development officer into avoidance, which can manifest itself in ignoring lower rated prospects, deferring contact reports, and most importantly, avoiding significant action. This type of fear most often happens when a major gift officer is at their desk, trying to organize their work for the day, and visualizes all the things that can go wrong.

Many debilitating thoughts may come up as you are organizing and planning your work. For instance, you may be afraid that the donor won't remember you when you call them, or that they'll change their mind about the gift they said they'd make. Or maybe you're afraid that the donor who made a verbal commitment, won't sign the actual gift agreement. And of course, there's the daily fear and pressure of achieving metrics and goals.

The Unpredictability of Major Gifts:

Closing most major gifts will rarely happen in an exciting or thrilling manner. The donor will typically have thought about their commitment enough between your conversations with them, and while some aspects of their gift decision may happen in the moment with you, their response to your ask, whether it's a yes, no, or a maybe, can often come across as matter of fact.

Despite a frequent matter of fact demeanor, the content of a donor's response can often seem unpredictable and puzzling. Despite the best efforts of an organized development team, it can be very difficult to predict when a major gift will come in, even when you're in a serious gift discussion with the prospective donor.

Some gifts will seem to land in your lap with little to no effort, while others may take up the majority of your time, and not come to realization, at least during your desired timeline. With such a high level of unpredictability at play, it's important that a major gift officer adopts a principle based approach to their work.

Self Expression in Major Gift Work:

Unpredictability, fear, and the trap of lofty strategy, can lead you away from executing effectively, and lead you away from enjoying the important work that you do. While it's worthwhile to spend the majority of your time and effort on donors, who have the greatest capability to give, purely objectifying donors will not give them the experience they are looking for in their philanthropy. This is why a principle based approach, applied in a daily planning process, will lead to the greatest amount of self expression, and the strongest engagement of major gift prospects...

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