Who Do You Love?

As fundraisers, we talk often about the official definition of philanthropy: love of humankind. But did you know that Plato referred to “philanthropia” in his philosophical dialogues as a state of being productive to benefit humans, associated with freedom and democracy? The acclaimed Greek philosopher considered philanthropy to be absolutely vital to building a humane and cultured civilization.

So for this inaugural blog post and with a grateful nod to the countless acts of philanthropy that took place long before Plato defined it, we celebrate this Valentine’s weekend by talking about love. What is it? And how can you apply it to bolster your major and principal gifts work at your organization? Here are five ways:

Love your donors. She’s an entrepreneurial philanthropic investor, he’s a family foundation trustee. These are your major donors, and without them, your organization would either cease to exist or stay around limping along, making little if any impact because you wouldn’t have the resources needed to advance your mission. So keep that in mind the next time you’re not feeling the love for your donors!

In a study undertaken by The Education Advisory Board last fall, it was the “curious chameleons” who came out on top as being the best major gift officers, the highest performers: The chameleon “changes tone, inflection and vocabulary based on the background and experiences of a prospect”. Empathizing with every individual is key, with the approach changing each time based on the prospect’s background and experience.

Love your CEO. Whether that’s you or your supervisor, you know that the CEO is the most important staff person when it comes to building a successful major gifts program. The CEO’s ability to deliver your mission message, and do so with passion, authenticity and purpose, can literally make or break your major gifts efforts.

Some of us already love our CEO – an exceptional leader who is a gifted Ambassador and/or has successfully closed many major gifts. For the rest of us, it is our job to identify our CEO’s strengths and challenges, and help to put this person’s best foot forward to elevate the organization in our major donors’ eyes. If they trust the CEO’s ability to lead the organization towards making an ever greater mission impact, our philanthropic partners will be much more likely to give more often and at higher levels.

Love your Board of Directors. Ah, Trustees. Why do we love to hate them (or hate to love them)? So often, development staffers become frustrated because they feel that the Board isn’t doing enough to grow philanthropic revenue. Have you ever taken the time to show them the love by providing each board member with specific expectations regarding their role in fundraising – whether it is to open doors, be in the room to help cultivate, or even solicit a targeted personal connection? Handing out generic board member job descriptions at a board meeting is not enough.

One of the ways to become more sympathetic, and even empathetic, to your board members’ challenges is to serve on a board yourself. The simple act of serving has provided me with myriad insights into the joys and challenges of adding value to an organization in a volunteer role, when the personal commitment must be purposeful and strategic, as precious time is at a premium.

Love your Staff. Whether that staff member is in Development, Accounting or Program, building bridges between departments is crucial to your major gift program’s success. For example, building your mission message most effectively means partnering with Program to learn more about their role in mission delivery, showing interest and respect (dare I say love) for that critical role, and working closely with them to identify their financial needs and challenges.

You should also make your CFO your new best friend. The two of you can reconcile Accounting and Development’s records, which will make your job easier – and save considerable time for your CEO when the Board has budget questions or concerns. Of course, committing yourself to building, supporting and mentoring a strong and cohesive Development team with sufficient resources devoted to Major Gifts is also essential.

Love Yourself. Groan if you want (you know who you are), but loving yourself is absolutely critical to major gifts fundraising success. Understanding and embracing your strengths and weaknesses will make you a stronger and more effective major gift fundraiser. If you’re comfortable inside your own skin, you will exude confidence, reassuring your donors they’ve made a worthy and worthwhile investment.

No doubt, you have at least one major donor, board member, staffer and/or other stakeholder who regularly gets under your skin. That’s O.K. Love can take many different forms, and the key to closing principal and major gifts is to make those sometimes challenging relationships work to benefit your organization – and you.

Happy Valentine’s Day a little early! Enjoy your weekend, and consider pausing a moment to think about how you can build a culture of love and philanthropy at your organization to advance your important major gift goals.


P.S. Love really is in the air – visit to see the winners of last year’s AFP Philanthropic Idol contest and National Philanthropy Day Awards. Then nominate candidates for one, two or all six of the 2015 National Philanthropy Day awards @ All you have to do is fill out a very short form and upload your 2 – 3 minute video describing your nominee’s impact. Winners will be recognized in NYC in November. The deadline is midnight this Monday, February 16th. Spread the love by sharing this information with your colleagues!

Posted on February 13, 2015 in Maven

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Martha Schumacher

About the Author

Martha H. Schumacher, ACFRE, CFRE, MInstF(AdvDip), is President of Hazen Inc. Hazen partners with nonprofits to provide effective fundraising solutions, with a special emphasis on major gifts and capital campaigns. From time to time, she will share her thoughts on issues that impact mega, principal and major gifts at your organization. Please send us your major gifts thoughts, challenges, questions or insights to @HazenInc or

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