Why Leadership is the Real Elicitor of Major Gifts

People give to people.

It’s not such a bold, innovating statement—but it’s one we often forget. As fundraisers, it’s a statement that should be engrained in our heads.

You’re probably thinking, “Of course people give to people.” In the literal sense, sure; but what we’re talking about goes much deeper.

Karla Williams, ACFRE, explained the concept further at the AFP Mid-America Conference on Fundraising last week. Williams has accrued more than 35 years of professional nonprofit leadership experience working as an organizational consultant. She is the author of “Donor Focused Strategies for Annual Giving” and “Leading the Fundraising Change.”

Let’s explore exactly what it means to give to people.

Ask This Question

There’s a singular question that you can ask at your organization to figure out how to find more gifts.

Who is the “someone” where major gifts are coming to?

Williams argued that it’s actually leaders who receive gifts, not simply the organization. The leaders Williams is referring to could be board members, the executive director, staff members—or maybe it means you. You don’t even have to be affiliated with the organization other than having a passion for the cause.

Your first instinct might be to say that the major gifts are coming in for your cause. While that’s true, there’s most likely a reason that’s happening, and it comes down to a person.

Consider this—let’s say your organization supports breast cancer research. Donors give because they know somebody who was affected by breast cancer, or they heard a touching story that made them want to donate, or maybe even because your staff members said something that catalyzed the donation. In each instance, they’re giving to the cause because of a person.

Donors might go through the staff to give, but they give to their peers.

Try This Exercise

Williams suggested a simple yet incredibly telling exercise. Is your organization up for the challenge?

  1. List five values that are important to your organization. What do you stand for?
  2. Next, list five values that your donors would identify with your organization.

Do the two lists match? If so, continue down the path you’re headed on. If they don’t, why not? When there’s a disconnect between what your donors value and what your organization values, it’s the difference between a ‘yes’ and a ‘no.’

Also, consider how easy or difficult it was to come up with the values. If it was difficult to write down what your donors value, it could mean that you haven’t done enough research on your demographics. From there, it’s as simple as taking the time to figure out the disconnect and patch it.

When you start to question the types of people that elicited the donations and what was important to them, you’ll secure lifelong supporters who feel valued and understood.

Key Takeaways

  • Focus on the people that draw in donations for your organization.
  • Cultivate leaders and advocates for your organization to increase donations.
  • Make an effort to understand not only what your organization values, but also what your donors value.
nonprofit leadership

Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

May 16, 2016

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