5 well-meaning (but toxic) myths about Major Gift Fundraising

Having coached hundreds of fundraisers to improved results over the last nine years, I have found a handful of well-meaning myths that swirl all around and are hard to escape. A simple way to make fundraising easier is to take responsibility for what you are willing to believe and pass on yourself. You can start by checking you are not falling for any of The Top Five Whoppers which could be crushing your potential:
 
Toxic Myth 5. ‘Our cause is too hard to raise major gifts for…’
 
How many fundraisers out there do you think feel their cause is easy? Certainly some can be easier than others, but even the ones you’d think have it easiest of all, often have things in their organisation, brand, strategy, size, that present big potential barriers to donors. To focus on how hard our cause seems, misses the point. If it was easy they wouldn’t have needed to hire someone talented and proactive like you. The question to focus on is not ‘what is hard / unfair?’, but what are our advantages?
 
Trite though this sounds, there are always advantages, when you commit to finding them. Many say ‘disability’ is one of the tougher causes to sell. But at Scope, by focussing on what they could do, enabled the philanthropy team to harness their resources and re-write the rules for what can be achieved through Social Investment models. Their award-winning Major Gift programme shows what is possible.
 
Toxic Myth 4. ‘Very rich people and trusts won’t meet someone from a charity…’
 
What exactly are your strategies for persuading past donors to meet you for tea / coffee or new prospects to come to your brunch event? (ie what do you say and how do you say it, and through what medium?). If what you’re currently doing isn’t working, it is of course tempting to conclude that this is the donor’s or the cause’s fault. Tempting, and comfortable, but not helpful if you’re really serious about great results.
 
I know of one fundraiser who following my course set her will to securing more meetings with wealthy people than ever before. She worked out the most persuasive reasons, picked up the phone for an hour each morning for the next three weeks, and generated 10 meetings with wealthy people. Seven of the meetings generated value, including 5 gifts and appeal pledges totalling £55,000. Could you fill the first hour of your day, every day, with actions that prove as lucrative?
 
Toxic Myth 3. ‘Rich people are meaner than poor people…’
 
I was running a course recently and someone was adamant about this. And he claimed he had statistics to back it up. He may well have done, (and they may be useful at a political debate) but if you are a fundraiser who would like to raise as much money as you can for the cause you serve, what is the use of tracking down such a statistic? What you focus on expands. Why expand any idea that will make it harder for you to boldly seek out more wealthy people who could care about your cause? If you can accept that generous would-be donors exist, then focus your attention on them. If this presents too big a conflict with your beliefs, consider changing them, or if not, major gift fundraising is probably not the career for you.
 
Toxic Myth 2. ‘It’s impossible to get any decent stories about my cause…’
 
There are a number or reasons why a fundraiser may think that it’s almost impossible (and probably someone else’s fault) to find concrete human examples to convey a) the urgent need for the work and b) the feeling that the service is effective. Most stem from a lack of clarity of what you’re looking for. In the Major Gift Mastery Programme 2014 I reveal proven techniques that help you find and tell the more persuasive stories.
 
In the meantime, one thing you can do is ask your brain for an example, any example, of why your charity’s service is needed. Unless you currently meet the needs of the entire country / region, someone somewhere is suffering. As a start, be able to provide an example of one such person / animal and what is tough for them (without mentioning your charity yet). This helps the donor feel why your service is needed.
 
Toxic Myth 1. Your current ability is what matters most. Either you can or you can’t do the key skills of major gift fundraising.
 
Most people instinctively think that Talent is the key factor in your future success. You hear it all the time. In Bounce, Matthew Syed comprehensively debunks this lie. What is comforting about the Myth of Talent is it saves us from taking responsibility for improving our current knowledge and skills. But the danger is we are not aware of just how much greater our impact could be.
 
It’s true that we do not all share the same interests and potential strengths. So if you’re not currently in the right type of job, work out simple steps to get closer to that job. But assuming your current role is broadly right for you – what are you doing (today) to get better at ONE key skill that is essential to results in your job? If you’re not currently clear on that skill, decide on one now.
 
Then throw the kitchen sink at getting better at it: What book could you read? What high achiever blogs on this topic? Who, inside or outside your organisation, is really good at it? Could you ask their advice? Why not get yourself on a decent course?
 
The essential thing is to do several tactics within a defined time period to improve this one skill. If you actually do this, there is no way your results and work-confidence will be the same in six weeks’ time.