Raise Cash. Save Lives. Embrace the Major Gifts Buddy System.


I was with a non-profit Executive Director not too long ago, who had this observation about building relationships with the organization’s key supporters, “I feel strongly that fundraising staff shouldn’t meet with our biggest donors, since they won’t stay around here anyway.” And so his solution was to keep his staff away from his donors.


I have said quite enough (and have the hate email to prove it) about relatively short tenures in the fundraising profession, but let’s examine this statement. The Executive Director is keeping all the key relationships close, going on calls by himself, doing the asking himself, following up by himself, and generally keeping his own counsel. That sounds like a recipe for failure. What happens when he leaves or gets hit by the subway?

Major gift fundraising is the most delicate dance of planning, listening, and boldly asking. It is also the ultimate team exercise, where bringing as many organizational assets to the table as possible is smart practice. Do you want your major gifts program to soar? I say, employ the Major Gifts Buddy System.

The Major Gifts Buddy System could not be simpler and works like this: virtually every donor or prospect visit should be staffed by two organizational representatives. Why?

  1. Fundraising is HARD. Spreading the work to multiple staff/board/program folks makes it easier, and much more fun. We need to do a better job spreading joy around our non-profits, encouraging each other and celebrating wins. Want to be the hero in your office? Take your CEO along for a slam dunk sponsorship renewal. Let her walk out with the check or signed agreement. Everyone is going to be happy.
  2. Fundraising is about LISTENING. We all hear things differently, and make daily judgements and biases based on our own experience. A two person visit means the organizational will be much more likely to hear what the donor or prospect is actually saying, instead of what we want/hope/wish to hear. And I think it is okay for one of the two to take notes while you talk.
  3. Fundraising is SCARY. Many CEOs are brilliant at discussion specific programs and the vision behind a strategic plan. They can often get hung up on the Ask itself. By partnering with a staff fundraiser, someone can be ready to circle back to the Ask if the conversation drifts off. Someone Asking is always better than no one asking.
  4. Donor relationships must be institutionalized for follow up and posterity. I am nervous whenever a CEO or ED goes and meets with a key donor to discuss something important without a staff member along. Why? Who is going to take notes about the conversation and follow up? Who is going to make sure that a promised next step is planned and accomplished? We drop the ball too often in fundraising. A two person call prevents that.
  5. Two person calls are a perfect way to engage volunteers. Board members generally have the best of intentions. They want to help you raise money, but they don’t know where to begin. By bringing board members and fundraising volunteers along for a carefully planned conversations with donors and prospects, we model behavior. We teach by doing. We build confidence. We win.
  6. The Buddy System is even better way to grow your own staff fundraising talent. I am a huge believer in the development of fundraising staff. Your entry level annual giving person can only grow and mature through the opportunity to see senior staff in action, meet donors, and to learn first hand relationship fundraising. Your organization will save a lot of cash down the road by promoting from within as staff turnover inevitably happens. I like to see the CDO and CEO spend time in the field with as many fundraising staff as possible, bringing them out to donor visits (where appropriate) as an investment in human capital. What better way to inspire confidence?
  7. You can engage program staff in a useful way. The Holder and Keeper of our missions in the program staff. They know the best stuff, and have the best stories. But we cannot send them out to meet donors solo. Instead, invite them to participate in donor and prospect interactions. You will be surprised by what happens. Even the most shy program manager can shine when discussing her work and the impact to clients. It can be magical.

Make your donor visits more joyful. Go in pairs. See brilliant results. Email me your success stories!

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
This entry was posted in Cultural Entrepreneurship, Fundraising, Philanthropy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Raise Cash. Save Lives. Embrace the Major Gifts Buddy System.

  1. Dan Shephard says:

    Your buddy system links perfectly to my philosophy on how the frontline fundraiser can partner effectively with the boss. Think about the four decisions every major donor will make – WHY I care enough to meet with someone I know wants to ask me for money; for WHAT might I seriously consider making a major gift; HOW can I best do that; and only finally – WILL I?

    Here’s how the partnership works. The fundraiser gets the meeting. Once there the boss engages the future donor on WHY and WHAT (the CEO’s expertise). Once gift motivation and a likely purpose are identified the boss can then turn to the fundraiser to discuss HOW the gift can best be made. Both parties contribute, both parties succeed.

  2. Tim Chaten says:

    What a fantastic post Jeremy. Love this concept of the buddy system. Reminds me a little bit of this concept of having your staff do what they do best and build a team all doing what they love to do and excel at – https://imarketsmart.com/how-to-structure-and-staff-your-planned-gift-shop-for-the-21st-century/

  3. Pingback: Fundraising Job #1. | artful fund raiser

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