“. . . if we had another major gifts officer. ”
“. . . if we had more money in the budget for our direct response program.”
“. . . if our board would provide more philanthropic leadership.”
“. . . if our major donors responded more generously.”
These are common misunderstandings about why institutions aren’t raising more money. They are misunderstandings not because they aren’t true. Each of them could very well be true!
They are misunderstandings because they confuse the order of how we should conceptualize and carry-out our work. In other words, these sayings are putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
Let me explain it like this. If you received an additional major gifts officer, more money for your direct response program, and if your major donors and board members were more generous , you should raise more money. That’s easy.
However, very few institutions will invest to add a major gifts officer or throw more money into a direct response program simply based on the promise of an advancement leader that each will bring in additional gift income. Similarly, if you want your board, advisory councils, or other major donors to give more generously, you can’t get there by complaining about a lack of resources or their engagement.
Instead, what is needed is a clear, concise, compelling longer-term vision for the institution. What does the leadership believe and value? What does the institution stand for? What is truly distinctive about the institution? What are the strategic plans for the future? If the institutional answers to these questions align with the values of major gift prospects, we have a beautiful outcome typically resulting in a gift. A vision for the future is what captures the imagination, engages, and energizes others to provide the provisions that are needed.
In some instances, smart development people get this wrong. They think the above provisions should come first and then a vision can be created. But it rarely works that way — and it never consistently works that way.
Instead, vision always comes before provision.