Is your annual fund tail wagging your major gift dog?

I always find it stupefying when a major gifts team tells me they need to get permission from the direct marketing team or higher up to be able to approach a donor to build a relationship.

The reason permission is necessary, they explain, is because the direct marketing team doesn’t want to lose the revenue against their goal. Of course, they know that a potential major donor will likely contribute more to help them reach their direct marketing revenue goal.

But what they (and the organization’s leadership) fail to recognize is that the same major donor prospect they say they’d ‘lose‘ could give exponentially more. Although, it is highly unlikely that they would do that absent a deeper relationship with a facilitator (fundraiser) and more involvement.

Now, here’s the rub.

That same major donor is very likely to give millions of dollars to another smarter organization (either a direct or indirect competitor) that does offer them that kind of opportunity. Then, when your staff read about their massive gift or bequest to that organization in the news, they’ll scratch their heads and say, “Gee whiz! I wonder why she didn’t give that amount to us?”


Doesn’t anyone else agree that this is nothing short of idiotic?

Listen, wealthy people are longing for a home for their charitable dollars. If you only offer them an arms-length relationship, that’s all they’ll accept. But if you offer them a deeper connection and a way for them to truly find meaning in their lives (through giving… to support your cause), they might jump at the chance.

This ‘tail wagging the dog’ behavior, by the way, is not the fault of the direct marketing/annual fund team. It’s a failure of leadership— plain and simple.

Clearly, in this scenario, the direct marketing staff is only concerned about themselves, not the organization as a whole. And that only happens because their leadership set the system up to work that way. So, if leadership would simply develop goals for each department so they align with one another in support of the common goal (to help supporters migrate and become major and/or legacy donors) everyone, especially the beneficiaries of the donors’ gifts, would be far better off.


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[…] was reading one of Greg Warner’s posts on MarketSmart’s blog recently, where he goes off about creating silos within non-profits. He […]

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