The Year We Almost Didn’t Get the Gift

The Year We Almost Didn’t Get the Gift

For many years, I worked as an Executive Director for a counseling center in Northeast Georgia. Almost all of the staff were mental health professionals except for me and almost all the work other than therapy—fundraising, communications, IT, HR, maintenance, grant writing—fell to me (along with just one or two others).

If our donor newsletter was going to go out, I wrote it personally. It was challenging sometimes to get it done. One year, it just seemed like it didn’t get done and it didn’t get done and it didn’t get done. We sent out a few electronic newsletters, but the print one just never got written or sent.

We had an incredibly supportive major donor who annually made a very generous $10,000 gift. Looking back, I appreciate her even more now than I did then. She demanded very little attention. She just gave and gave and was incredibly supportive. With no effort on our part and no fanfare on her part, her generous gift would just appear on our administrative assistant’s desk one day each December.

Then, the year we were too busy to communicate with our donors, our Board President got a call from her. She asked to meet. When they got together, she said she wasn’t sure she was going to give that year. She just didn’t feel connected, she said. She couldn’t remember the last time she had received a newsletter from us and she felt like she didn’t know what was going on with the organization.

3 Ways to Not Leave Money on the Table

I’ll never forget. It was Christmas at my first Director of Development job. It was actually the second nonprofit I had worked for, but the first one I had ever served as the director of the fundraising program. I was also the first full-time director of development in the organization’s history. The organization, a children’s shelter, received a large portion of its donations for the year from its end of year campaign. I felt a lot of pressure that first holiday season to succeed.

In response to an appeal letter I had mailed, one donor called and asked to come visit. Of course, I readily agreed. We sat in the living room of one of our buildings talking and then, he asked me (!) how much he could give. He got out his checkbook and waited for me to give him a number. This, of course, is a fundraiser’s dream.

The problem was, I was such a novice at that time that I sat there pretty much frozen and didn’t know what to say! 

Should Nonprofits Blog?

As I was leaving the building, a few workshop attendees approached me in the parking lot. One said, “A few of us wanted to talk to you because we were puzzled. You said it was really important to blog but we had just attended a fundraising workshop, before your workshop, on major gifts and the workshop presenter had said “Blogging is a complete waste of time. It won’t raise major gifts for you and you need to be getting major gifts.”

Wow.  Great to know what the confusion was about. We were able to have a terrific discussion. My only regret was that we couldn’t all have the discussion with the other presenter with us.  We could have had a really interesting exchange because I understand why he said what he said and in a way he is right. You certainly don’t ask for or receive a major gift because of anything you’ve written in a blog or posted on your website. 

HOWEVER, I think he has missed the point. 

Happiness, Habits, and Major Gift Fundraising: #AFPFC Wrap-Up


Note:  This blog post is part of my #AFPFC wrap-up, a series of posts writing about my take-aways from the 2015 International Fundraising Conference of the AFP in Baltimore last week. Happiness, Habits, and Major Gifts Fundraising was the title of a session led by Amy Eisenstein.

One of my personal favorite speakers is Amy Eisenstein, author of  Major Gift Fundraising For Small Shops.  At the AFP Fundraising Conference last week, she had us dancing in the aisles to the “Happy” song (no one else at the conference did that) as she led a session on “Happiness, Habits, and Major Gift Fundraising.”

The workshop was partly about major gift fundraising and how to be better at it; and partly about time management, work-life balance, the power of positive thinking, as well as self-discipline.  Oh yeah.  And then there was the dancing.

To boil her message down to its barest elements:

  1. Positive Thinking has Power:  The old adage “think you can and you can” (or think you can’t and you can’t) applies in fundraising as in all else in life. – So Stay Positive.