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Major Gift Fundraising: It’s About the Problem, Not the Process

Friday, July 10, 2020   /   by Erik Bjorklund

Major Gift Fundraising: It’s About the Problem, Not the Process

I once sat in a long meeting discussing strategy with a group of major gift officers. We asked the program team to attend to give us resources for constructing donor offers.


I should have brought a pillow to the meeting so I could take a nap — it would have been more productive.


The meeting went on, with good people talking about the process of solving problems, and not the problem. While it’s important to understand how a nonprofit is going to address the problem it exists to solve, it is only important if the nonprofit has clearly defined the problem it’s going to solve.


What’s the Problem? 


This situation reminds me of a very popular Wendy's ad from years ago. The creators of this commercial, in a humorous and memorable way, got us right to their core point: There is more hamburger in a Wendy’s hamburger.


For many nonprofits and their messaging, a similar commercial could be created that asks: “Where’s the problem?” Often, in our experience, our team just can’t find it. So it’s no wonder that many MGOs struggle to create offers for their donors. And when a MGO struggles to create offers, then revenue goes down.


One of the most frustrating parts of my journey in major gifts is to get leaders to understand the need to provide MGOs with usable resources for offer development. Their eyes glaze over even if I say: “The six- and seven-figure gift you want your MGO to secure depends on you giving them usable information on a societal problem you are solving that the donor is interested in.”


Often, leaders can’t respond because they don’t actually have the answer. Last month, I discovered one region of a nonprofit where only 10% of the $2 million they spent in the region actually went to solving a problem. All the rest funded infrastructure.


Where’s the Problem?


Try this for the next two weeks: At work, in every meeting you are in, with every email you get, as you consume any electronic or printed message your organization produces, in every conversation you have — in all of these situations quietly ask: “Where’s the problem?” Or “What is the problem?”


See if you can answer it. If you can’t, then ask out loud.


Here is why this is important and critical to your success as a MGO:



Without a societal problem to solve…


There is no compelling donor offer.


Without a compelling donor offer…


There is nothing to present to your donor.


With nothing to present to your donor…


There is no chance you will serve the donor’s interests and passions.


With no chance to serve the donor’s interests and passions…


There will not be a gift.



There is a direct link between generous giving and the donor clearly understanding they are solving a problem and making a difference through their giving. While all of this seems so obvious, believe me, it is not executed properly in most of the situations we encounter.


Which is why I am suggesting that you heighten your sensitivity to this dynamic. And you will do just that if you proactively — in everything you do in the next two weeks in your organization — seek an answer to: Where’s the problem?


Try it.


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