Your Major Gift Work Is Not About the Money

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By Richard Perry

You’ve been called into a meeting to review how you are doing against goals. The primary question that is asked is, essentially, “How’s the money coming in?”

The question needs to be framed that way because the finance office needs to know because it can’t pay the bills with air. You have to remember that the goal you created also set an expectation that a certain amount of money would come in. So, it is a fair question. How is it going?

There are scores of reports that try to answer that question in your organization. Everyone associated with fundraising needs to report in. That’s comforting. At least you aren’t the only one who is on the hot seat.

This is one of those questions that you, as a major gifts officer (MGO), just cannot and will not avoid. Ever. As long as you are an MGO you will need to live with the fact that others need to know how you are doing on the money thing.

And that voice – that genuine drive for knowing about the money – will pull you off course if you don’t watch it.

Here’s how you will get off track if you don’t manage it.

You’re in the office in a meeting and someone — your manager, your manager’s manager, the CEO or the chief financial officer — will ask about the money. And you will feel the pressure of that inquiry. You will also get emails to report on progress of giving from your caseload donors. There will be regular meetings that you need to be in where the question will be asked. You will have to submit regular reports. It’s a constant thing.

And that steady inquiry that comes in meetings, in emails and on the phone seems to permeate the air. You can almost breathe in the expectation. You can certainly feel it. And, if you aren’t careful, you will start to think that this whole thing is about the money. It’s normal. Everyone is talking about it. Always. So it must be about the money.

Then you start to change how you treat your caseload donors. You start to look at them as a source of money – a way to get to your goal. And that is when things start to go bad.

I want to be clear that this is a normal progression of things. You start with clarity that major gifts is not about the money and then, over time, as all the money messages hit you, you begin a migration to the money point of view.

And this is where you have to catch yourself. Here is an exercise you should do every day to remind yourself that your work is not about money. You can do this any time, although I think the best time to do it is in the morning before your get going on your work. Do these three things:

  1. Notice the level of anxiety you have about getting the money. Talk to yourself about the reality that the money is best achieved by serving your caseload donors.
  2. Say the following statement out loud: “My work with my donors is not about the money. It is about helping each of them fulfill their passions and interests. Today, I will focus on how to do that better.”
  3. Then think of the donors you will work with today to do what you have said. Or, if you are sending a touch point that goes to a group of your caseload donors, think of them as a group and purpose to organize your content to achieve the objective of fulfilling their passions and interests.

If you do these three things you will actively combat your tendency to believe that your work is about money. And the result will be happier and more fulfilled donors. And, you’ll get the money.

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