Major Gift Fundraising: Insights from The North Wind and the Sun

One day the north wind and the sun were arguing as to who was the strongest.  They decided to resolve this when they spied a traveller wearing a coat.  Whoever could get him to take his coat off was the strongest.  The north wind blew and blew but the harder he blew the more the traveller wrapped his coat around him.  When it was the sun’s turn, he smiled gently on the traveller and shone his rays.  Soon the hot traveller removed his coat.

This reminds me that bringing philanthropic change into an organisation cannot be done by force. Staff of an organisation should see the need for a philanthropy culture for themselves and as a result want to embrace any required changes, not be forced into this.  This takes time.  The major gift executive or even the excited major gift team can sometimes be a little insensitive to the history of the organisation and the sensible reasoning behind the way things are done.  The team can appear to be demanding the changes before staff have had time to buy into the need.  This only sets the programme back as ‘the traveller tightens his coat against the wind’.  Nothing wrong with enthusiasm but the team has to earn the right by showing graciousness, respect and the willingness to serve others first.

A philanthropy culture equals everyone in the organisation understanding their part in each significant donor journey and the committed acceptance that major donors need to be served and stewarded.  It means the major gift executive recognises that their primary role is not fundraising but rather to build the philanthropic culture so that philanthropic relationships can thrive. This includes building internal communication with staff and on occasion waiting patiently until the time is right to get the answers they need……….. not always easy for a major gift executive.

A good way to start is, through consultation, to build a set of philanthropic values that set out how the organisation will work with potential philanthropists and what the organisation will and won’t do.  This helps steer staff away from believing that philanthropy is only fundraising by clearly stating the value of building deep, long term relationships.  It may also include the importance of accountability and feedback to a significant giver, building this in as an expectation for the whole organisation who may otherwise be ‘too busy’ to give a feedback report required to show an important donor the difference they have made.

It means staff are willing to carve out time to be part of the programme recognising the importance of building relationships, one by one.  It means leadership is willing to strategically plan programmes further ahead so that donors can be encouraged to give multi-year donations.  Also for leadership to think bigger in terms of attractive and meaty projects that can be offered to wealthy individuals to fund and will happily look for ways to include this within their planning.  It means the finance director is willing to take time to ensure projects are costed fully including core costs.  In summary, leadership champions philanthropy leading their staff through the first year or two of the programme when there is little income, helping staff to recognise the groundwork achieved and the anticipation of increased income in the future. A philanthropic culture means there is no apology, the programme is intentional.

As this change happens, led by leadership (including the trustees) and fuelled by the major gift team, the organisation slowly begins to feel the warmth of the sun, respects philanthropy and gradually understands the programme as an important way for its mission to be enhanced.

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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