Why Support of the Trustees is important to your major donor programme and the story of the wild goats

I am convinced that it is vitally important to have Trustee support for your major donor programme and here’s why. Firstly, ultimately Trustees hold the purse strings to the budget. If they believe in the programme and can see the positive results they will be encouraged to invest more into the programme.

A major gift programme may start out with one major donor executive and one administrator (see Major Gifts Unwrapped Book 1 Principle 6 to see why it is essential to hire an administrator at the same time as your major donor executive) but over time the team needs to build to add more major donor executives and a full-time prospect researcher as the programme grows. Without full Trustee support it is hard for a Director of Fundraising or even a CEO to build the case to Trustees to keep the investing going.

Secondly, Trustees may have important contacts that could become prospects for the major gift programme. Until the programme is successful it is unlikely Trustees will handover friend and contact details until they believe they will be treated with respect and dignity, and not be asked for a gift too soon (see Major Gifts Unwrapped Book 2 Principle 26).

Thirdly, they can question a CEO’s ‘bright ideas’, that perhaps on occasion are detrimental to the progress of the major gift programme. I remember one Director of Fundraising who loved putting on a ‘high profile event’ every year and who were the staff who had to organise this event? The major gift team of course. For 4 months of the year the painstaking detail of organising an event took them away from the important one to one work of relationship building with their key donors and prospects.

Often these bright ideas formed by a Director of Fundraising or a CEO can have a discouraging effect on the team who will begin to look for new jobs, as happened in this case. I am reminded of The Goatherd and the Wild Goats fable where a farmer saw some wild goats on the hillside while looking after his own goats. He herded them home and gave the wild goats as much food as they could eat so they would stay whilst giving his own goats very little food. Once the wild goats were herded out of the pen to the hillside they immediately ran off. The farmer was furious and asked why they had run off having fed them so well. One wild goat turned back and answered ‘If you treat newcomers like us better than your own flock it is very likely that if another group of wild goats joins your pen you will treat us badly too’. So often a CEO is chasing something new and not looking after his major gift team.

How do you gain this Trustee support? One method is to form a Steering Group for the major gift programme right at the start. This will be made up of a cross section of Heads – the CEO, a head(s) of programme, Director of Fundarising and a Trustee, together with the major donor executive. The Trustee will represent the Trustee Board. It is a group that all have a vested interest in the success of the programme and meets regularly to oversee its progress. Within this group a Trustee can curb any excessive ideas from a CEO or Director of Fundraising.

The Trustee on your Steering Group is responsible to report back to the Trustees, excite them about its progress and will eventually be instrumental in recommending to the Trustees that more investment is made. It can work really well. What is your experience?

Photos by Unsplash.com

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

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