Best major gift fundraisers might be those who ‘challenge’ their donors

Howard Lake | 3 April 2014 | News

The best major gift fundraisers could be those who challenge their potential donors to think in different ways, rather than those who seek to build “passive” relationships with them.
That’s the hypothesis being tested by an ongoing piece of American research being conducted by the Advisory Board Company.
Speaking at Fundraising Insights conference (organised by the universities of Bristol and Warwick and sponsored by JustGiving) in London last week, AJ Nagaraj, who is conducting the year-long study into university fundraising, said it has been based on a similar study in the commercial sector.
Nagaraj said this study, conduced in 2013 by a sister company to the Advisory Board Company, had revealed a “profound shift” in the sales role by categorising sales people according to their approaches to customers.  ‘Relationship builders’ aimed to ensure things ran very smoothly for customers but there approach was quite “passive”. ‘Challengers’ on the other hand – who made up 23 per cent of sales staff – were those who tried to give the customer new insights and teach them something new about the product.
Of the highest performing cohort of sales staff, ‘challengers’ were disproportionately represented, making up 37 per cent, while ‘relationship builders’ constituted seven per cent of the high performing group, even though 26 per cent of all sales staff were ‘relationship builders’.
“We want to know if there has been a similar shift in the fundraising world,” Nagaraj told delegates. “Our research is looking at what makes a great major gift officer and my hypothesis is that there is a lot more transferability [from sales into fundraising] than most people think there is.”
However, Nagaraj acknowledge that this was a “provocative hypothesis”.
“Some people love it but other absolutely hate it,” he said. “They say they are building relationships with donors and that sales reps wouldn’t be able to operate in university fundraising as it’s totally different.
“One fundraiser told me: ‘If I was salesman, I would get a gift, but I wouldn’t get a giver.’”
The research into American major gift fundraisers will by published in July this year.