Far too often I witness strategy discussions about major gift donors and prospects that leap too quickly to observations focused on what a particular donor “will do,” in terms of his or her gift amount.
The conversation plays out something like this. The Associate Vice President (or whoever supervises the Major Gift Officer) asks in a prospect planning meeting, “Ok, what about John and Jane Smith?”
The MGO responds, “I think they will do $250,000.”
The problem with this oft-repeated exchange is that the AVP has asked the wrong question and the MGO has answered the wrong question. A more helpful exchange would look like this:
AVP: “Ok, what is the gift amount you are requesting from John and Jane Smith?”
MGO: “I’m going to invite them to give $500,000.”
The AVP should ask specific, not general, questions during strategy sessions. And the MGO should focus first (and primarily) on the aspirational amount being requested as opposed to the amount he or she thinks the donor ultimately will give.
We know that asking good and thoughtful questions of donors leads to better outcomes. The same holds true in the guidance, leadership, and management of our team members.
Additionally, when we are engaging our major gift donors and prospects, the first hurdle is always the one created in our own minds. Focus enthusiastically on the joyful activity we are inviting others to participate in, not on how they might ultimately respond. It just might be that our focused aspirations for our donors might encourage them to think more generously and positively influence their response.