Making Major Donors Your Priority Now

By Larry Johnston

Major donors play such a vital role in funding your organization's priorities, programs and projects you simply can't leave their involvement to chance. It takes a concerted and consistent effort to "do justice" to your major donors. Remember what Abraham Lincoln said: “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend four hours sharpening the ax.” Here are some things good major donor reps, development directors, board members and executive directors (in short, ANYONE who has responsibility for cultivation and solicitation of major donors) pay attention to. The best reps do so consistently:

Pray! – Having great skills and abilities is vitally important but they’re no substitute for wisdom, discernment, and the favor from On High that are the result of concentrated “closet” time. (Major Ian Thomas is reported to have said, “There is nothing more pathetic or nauseating than human flesh trying to glorify God!”) If prayer is indeed the slender nerve that moves the muscles of Omnipotence, the failure to pray is profoundly counterstrategic!
Focus! – knowing what matters most, the best reps refuse to get stuck in the thick of thin things like organizational redtape, fruitless activities and time-wasting antics, and the “grip and grin” rituals that entail endless lathering but never shaving. The best reps are acutely aware of the difference between hunting and mere hiking.
Listen!! – My partner, and the guy I still consider the “Dean of Development” after 33 years of partnership, says there are four keys to success in major gift fundraising: 1) Get involved in the lives of these folks; 2) Discover what their hopes and dreams are; 3) Show them how your organization can be a great vehicle for the realization of those hopes and dreams, and: 4) Challenge them to make those dreams come true now. Discovering the hopes and dreams of donors and prospects can’t be done without asking smart questions and elevating listening to an art form.
Measure – Good reps may take some things by faith, but personal performance isn’t one of them. The best reps don’t wait to have their work measured; they would measure their own work whether or not anyone else did and use these measures in a disciplined way to consistently improve performance against quantifiable targets. They’ll measure lag (efforts or performance drivers) and lead (results) indicators and will strive to focus on the critical few activities that yield the greatest fruit.
Learn – In today’s marketplace, if you’re not getting smarter, the sad truth is you’re getting dumber. (The amount of information on deposit at today’s colleges and universities is doubling every three to four years.) You can rest assured that the competition is raising the bar in terms of their knowledge base, and all you have to do to fall behind is move slower than your competitors (In today’s marketplace, “It’s not the big that eat the small, but the fast that eat the slow.”) The best reps, like the best leaders and managers, are lifelong learners with an insatiable desire to improve their knowledge, skills and performance.
Ask! – It’s tragic but true. Some reps never get around to asking for the gift. Perhaps they feel that “hope” is a strategy and “hinting” a sound tactic. There’s simply no doubt about it: of all the reasons why people give, the most important is that someone asked. The wisest reps don’t ask people to give to the organization, but through the organization to those it serves in Christ’s name.
Persist – Field rep work is clearly not for the feint of heart. The work can be wearying and the temptation at times is to throw in the towel. Many failures in development can be attributed to those who quit not knowing how close they were to success.