What Does a Double Knee Replacement Have to Do With Major Gift Fundraising?


My husband had double knee replacement surgery before Thanksgiving. He’s doing great – better than we could have ever expected. The whole process of rehab after major surgery had me thinking about how his process mirrors that of major gift fundraising.  

Indulge me, if you will. 

  1. The actual is not nearly as bad as the anticipated. 
    We heard horror stories about the rehab process after a single knee replacement and that having both knees done would only intensify that horror. As it turned out, his rehab process progressed much easier and relatively painlessly than we both anticipated (said the one with her original knees). Major gift fundraising operates in much the same way. People I talk to dread the idea of asking people for money to support their organization. Yet, when they talking about their mission and the people they help, they ooze passion. Meeting with people who share that passion and asking them to invest in it becomes a natural next step – and a step that in actuality is not nearly as bad as you anticipate! 

  2. It takes time… lots of time. 
    My husband’s knees did not rehab overnight. It took months of hard work and determination. Likewise, you will not realize major gifts from most donors overnight (although exceptions do exist). Instead it takes months, even years, for a gift to come to fruition. I talked to a colleague a few years ago whose organization had received an 8-figure gift; that gift took them decades. Now your gifts won’t take that long to mature, but patience is certainly a necessary virtue in both major gift fundraising and rehab. 

  3. It takes baby steps. 
    The first time my husband got out of bed after surgery, he could barely take a step. Walking down the hall took major concentration, effort, and a guiding hand. He slowly regained his strength, balance, and flexibility until he could walk without a walker, then without a cane, and then unassisted. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. Likewise, getting comfortable with major gift fundraising doesn’t happen overnight, nor do major gifts from your donors. Your major gift prospects may initially make smaller gifts and slowly increase their gifts to your organization until they reach major gift status. Take baby steps, but take steps. And celebrate each small step as it moves you closer to your ultimate goal. 

  4. It’s a process. 
    Rehabilitation after knee surgery progresses through a series of steps as different muscles and ligaments get stronger after the trauma of surgery. You can’t skip from step 1 to step 4 without risking sometimes serious physical damage. Likewise, major gift fundraising goes through a series of steps: 

    Identification > Education > Cultivation > Solicitation > Stewardship 

    Skipping one step will not risk physical harm, but it may take the relationship and donor’s potential back a step or two. In both, you need to work the process … with patience and confidence that the end result will come. 

  5. It helps to have a mentor to help you understand your next steps, keep you motivated, and answer any questions you have.
    My husband had a phenomenal physical therapist who walked him through the rehabilitation process, told him how well he continued to progress, and answered his questions. He didn’t do any exceedingly hard or complicated exercises, but knowing what to do when, how many reps, and when to stop become important nuances for his rehabilitation process. Likewise, once you understand how to raise money from major donors, you will find the process relatively easy to understand and implement. Knowing how to approach a major donor, what to anticipate, and how to adjust become important for your success. Just like the physical therapist helped my husband move through that process, a mentor who can walk you through the major gift process can help assure your comfort and success with that process. Having someone in your corner never hurts. 

  6. Each major donor experience differs from the one before. 
    The physical therapist talked about how every person rehabs differently. Even each of my husband’s knees responded differently throughout his therapy process. If each knee on one person’s body can react differently, how can you expect each major donor to respond the same? Rather than a script, you need a standard protocol for approaching major donors and the knowledge to adjust accordingly when things don’t go as you expect or anticipate. Having that baseline knowledge and a standard approach gives you something from which to deviate when the donor takes you in a different direction, just like his therapist had a process in mind that she adjusted as my husband progressed faster or more slowly than she expected. 

The hardest part about any new venture – knee replacement or major gift fundraising – comes with getting started and anxiety that comes with the anticipation of all that could go wrong. Once you do your research, know what to expect, what questions to ask, and make that first call, you will find that it becomes as simple as riding a bike … or in this case, walking across the floor unassisted and pain-free. 

What’s stopping you?