In major gift philanthropy, we regularly talk about “helping donors align their values with their giving,” or “aligning our funding priorities with the donor’s values.” We regularly say we are striving to get to know our donors deeply and to engage them personally.
These types of major gift donor engagement axioms are now ubiquitous in the nonprofit sector. No self-respecting advancement leader or gift officer will say anything different at conferences, conventions, or in the workplace.
And, for the most part such statements represent helpful approaches to the work. But when we find ourselves creating major donor strategy, its not uncommon to find that the plans we craft clash with our stated advocacy for donor-centeredness.
A donor prospect with significant giving capacity and a history of major gift activity has indicated an interest in re-engaging with the institution. Additionally, because of past experiences, she has indicated a desire to engage with the institution’s president. But since our best practice operating principles suggest that the president doesn’t go on discovery or early cultivation visits, a senior director of development is tasked with meeting first with her.
Or, a current major donor has indicated that he greatly enjoys getting student phone calls during the phonathon. However, because he is assigned as a major donor to a gift officer portfolio, he is automatically removed from phonathon calling lists.
Or, a current major donor who has far more capacity to give than she is currently, has indicated a dislike of the symphony because she never enjoyed playing instruments as a child despite her mother’s persistent nagging to try. But, because significant donor and prospect outreach for your institution each year is centered on receptions prior to symphony concerts, she is invited anyway.
Everyday, especially in major gift donor engagement, we should ask the important question: “what does this donor want?”
And as we respond, we need to be certain we aren’t actually answering the very different question of “what do we think is best for the donor?” Or, even more problematic, “what is easiest for us?”