Developing Major Gift Habits

According to Wikipedia, habits are routines of behavior that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously.  An interesting point about habits, though, is that even though they may “tend to occur subconsciously,” we can develop and shape them.

For instance, after my second bout with kidney stones a few years ago, I made a very (painfully) conscious decision to start drinking tons of water each day.  Now, as those close to me know, I drink water constantly.  I drink very little other than water.  Pain forced me into a new, almost subconscious habit of drinking water.

Every educational and healthcare institution or charitable organization wants to raise more major gifts.  Every one.  But when I work with many institutions I find that their habits – what they do on a daily basis and almost subconsciously – have little to do with major gifts.  In other words, their habits don’t match up with their stated goals.  Instead of habits that lead to major gifts, they may spend their time working on committees.  Or, they spend their time behind a desk doing administrative work, answering emails, or attending to budgetary matters.  Or, they spend their time creating ever longer to-do lists.  Or, they do all of these things.

And it’s not that any of these tasks are unimportant or not needed.  They all are!  They simply aren’t the habits that lead to major gifts.  So, what do habits that lead to major gifts look like?  Here are 3 habits that you can develop that will give you the time and space to focus more on major gifts:

  1. A habit of making one day each week your “meeting” day.  For most who have cultivated this habit, the meeting day is Monday.  Get the administrative meetings completed at the beginning of the week and allow for the remainder of the week to be spent on major gift work with donors and prospects.  I can hear the concerns now.  “Jason, I can’t always control my meeting schedules.”  True, but when you strive to make the “one day of meetings per week” a habit, you will be surprised how often you can make it work.  And even on the weeks when it doesn’t work and you end up in meetings on a Wednesday, that week is simply an outlier.  It happens, but the habit remains.
  2. A habit of using your “best” time each day to strategize on your major donors and prospects.  What do you do when you first wake up or first come to the office?  Check your email?  Go through the stack of papers in your in box?  For many, the first part of the day is the time when we are the freshest, most energetic, and most creative.  Instead of wasting this highly productive time on mundane tasks, develop a habit of strategizing on your major gift donors and prospects.  Who can help you with the cultivation of Mary?  What questions do we still need answered prior to making an ask on John?  How can you engage Carol more fully in the new building project you are planning?  Such questions take time to think through and take all of your best creativity to answer well.  And once this habit takes root, you will find you are thinking more and more about your major gift donors and prospects throughout the day.  The major gift pump has been primed.
  3. A habit of delegating administrative decisions to others in your care.  Not only does this help grow future leaders for your institution, it frees you up to be out of the office on major donor visits.  Is this habit easy?  Absolutely not.  It means giving up pet projects or control (and very few folks are comfortable with that).  But it is absolutely essential.

For many institutions, becoming habitual about focusing major gifts means doing things differently and doing different things.  The good news is that we can shape and develop our habits.  While developing the 3 habits above won’t guarantee you will raise more major gifts, when we develop these and other major gift habits, we give ourselves and our institutions the best possible chance of success.

Time for some more water.

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