Ask not what a consultant can do for you , but you can do for yourself.

The caller made quick work of introductory comments and then cut to the chase. “We’d like to do more with major gifts. Can you help us?”

handshake_money_exchange_13216His tone communicated loud and clear that he wasn’t looking for a conversation. I’m certain he had a lengthy list of folks like me to contact and not much time to do it. As he told me, the board expected a report at its meeting a few days hence.

So I skipped the nuanced response that his question begged and stuck to my standard sales script. But as I speed-spoke, I was itching to turn the question back on the organization – to ask what they are doing to help themselves in three critical ways.


First, I’m interested in the organization’s track record in raising smaller dollars. More often than not, major gifts come as the result of how an organization responds to and nurtures donors at lower levels on the gift-range chart. It’s an organization’s faithfulness in small things (e.g. prompt and personal thank you letters) that leads to more significant giving. A robust, growing annual giving program is the seed bed from which major gifts grow.

Second, I want to know if they’ve counted the costs of their major gifts aspirations. Slapping a major donor focus on top of what the development team is already doing seldom works. Major donor fundraising is one-to-one and on other people’s schedules and timelines. It’s not well suited to fits and starts. If the organization isn’t able and willing to spring for an additional staff person, my help won’t much matter. As the saying goes, to raise money you’ve got to spend some money.

Third, do the CEO and board understand that their involvement is key to the organization’s success in raising major gifts? Individuals capable of making significant gifts expect to relate to folks in significant positions. Development staff can identify prospects, open doors, and pave the way, but cultivation and solicitation need to come from the top. Success depends upon the CEO and at least some board members throw themselves into major donor work.

So back to the caller’s question. Can I help the organization develop a major giving program? You bet. Should I? Not unless the organization commits to helping itself. I (or any other consultant) can nudge, encourage, nag, resource, coach, counsel, and console, but in the end, the best help is self-help.

That’s what I would have said (at no charge) had the caller stayed on the line a few minutes longer.

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