This post was originally published to Amy Eisenstein’s blog and is being shared here, with her permission.

Red flags are often used as a sign of warning or danger. Unfortunately, most red flags are not literal, but figurative, and are often missed by the people who need them most. Once you know the red flags of major gift fundraising, they might be easier to identify and tackle.

Here are the top red flags to watch for at your organization. Once you eliminate these red flags, you’ll be ready to raise major gifts in a major way.


1. The development director doesn’t attend board meetings.

From time to time, I receive a call from a development director looking for advice because they aren’t allowed to attend board meetings or speak with the board members. This is an indication that something is terribly wrong. It shows a lack of trust between the executive director and the development director, and there is no way to raise major gifts in this environment.

My advice is, generally, it’s time to look for another job.

2. Board members don’t give or help with fundraising.

Board members who are able need to give leadership level gifts. All board members need to give something, and they also need to give early in the year.

Board members should be engaged and involved in the fundraising process, including helping identify, cultivate, solicit and stewarding donors. This is challenging for most board members, so it is up to you to create easy and engaging opportunities for them to get involved.

Another big red flag is the overwhelming sense of…

3. Needing money NOW.

Every organization needs money, however there is a difference between being desperate — like not being able to make payroll, and having an urgent need — like finding a cure for cancer.

If your organization is desperate for money, you won’t be able to raise major gifts because you won’t be able slow down enough to focus on the donor’s needs.

Which leads me to the next red flag:

4. Not focusing on the donor.

If you are more concerned about your organization than your donors, then you won’t be able to raise major gifts.

Recently, I got a call from one of my coaching clients who was frustrated because she was having a hard time securing a visit with a donor named John. John was unavailable to meet because his wife is terminally ill. The development director was frustrated because she was focused on her organization and her need to raise money. Instead, she should have been focused on John’s needs.

I recommended sending John and his wife cards and cookies made by her clients.

John is much more likely to make a gift in the future if he feels loved and supported during this stressful time in his life. On the other hand, if the development director continues to contact John for a meeting while his wife is ill, there is little chance of ever getting a gift.

Focusing on the donor is just as important as focusing on the needs of the organization.

And finally, the last red flag is…

5. No compelling case for support.

If your organization doesn’t have a great story, it’s going to be hard to raise major gifts.

Take 30 minutes at your next board meeting to ask board members key questions, including why your organization is important to them. Ask why they joined in the first place, and why they continue to serve. This will help reignite the passion and help you develop a compelling case for support.

Once you eliminate these red flags, you’ll be ready to start raising major gifts and join the #MajorGiftMoment.

Are you facing any of these red flags? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Do you really want to raise major gifts this year? If so, don’t miss Mastering Major Gifts (7 week, online course) which starts on Tuesday . Click here for details.