Are You Organizing Nonprofit Caseload Work Instead of Planning?
OK, let’s be honest. It’s just you and me talking. No one else can hear our conversation. This is about planning for donors on your nonprofit caseload. Tell me the truth. Are you really planning what you will be doing with each donor on your caseload this next week, this next month, over the next few months? Or are you just shoveling work around, organizing it and re-organizing it?
Please stop and think about this. It is very important to your success as a major gift officer (MGO).
Here’s why I am bringing this up.
Over the last few weeks, I have encountered at least six situations where, if I boil it down to the core points, it sounds like one of these scenarios:
- The MGO can’t seem to make headway with many of the donors on his or her caseload.
- The MGO is wondering why donors are not responding to his messaging and communication.
- Revenue is down for many of the donors on this MGO’s caseload.
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? Or is there any other situation where the donor is simply not engaging with you and you are wondering what is going on?
Well, what is going on?
Unfortunately, the reason this is happening has more to do with the MGO and what he/she is not doing vs. anything else. Now, hang on, don’t get frustrated and defensive as you read this. Just let me get through this because it is a common problem for all of us (me included).
Think about this using a personal relationship of yours—a person who you really value. A relationship that has nothing to do with your job—someone who you feel very connected to. Think of that person. I have one in mind as I am writing this. I am going to ask myself a series of questions about that relationship and I’m going to put down my answers as I ask them. I want you to answer the questions as well—using the relationship you value.
OK, here goes.
1. Question: How do I show that I value this person?
Answer: I stay in touch with them. I value what they have to say. I listen to them. I do things for them I know will be meaningful and appreciated. I understand what is irritating to them and what they do not like—with that understanding I make sure not to get into those things.
In addition to doing things I like I make sure I do things they like. In short, I pay attention to what they value and need and try to serve them in those areas. I am also honest about what I need in the relationship so there is understanding and mutuality.
2. Question: When things don’t go well, what do I do?
Answer: I am honest about how I am feeling, but I try to communicate that without judgment, so there is understanding and acceptance. I try to find a solution to what is not working well for me. I also try to figure out how that solution will work for the other person. Honest and timely communication is the key, along with seeking mutual solutions vs. just thinking about myself.
3. Question: When I feel selfish and self-serving how to I control my impulse to just do my thing at the expense of the other person?
Answer: The most helpful thing for me is to remind myself that when I do things that are just for me the relationship will eventually turn against me. I remember that the greatest way to protect self-interest is to genuinely care about and service the interest of the other.
Now, you may have answered the questions differently and, if so, I would like to hear how you answered them. But the main point I am trying to make is this:
If a donor relationship is not going well, it is likely not going well because the donor is not getting anything out of it. It is about this simple.
So the lack of headway, the lack of response and the lack of money are symptomatic of something that is not working relationally.
You might be saying: “OK, Richard. I get it. This is so basic! Don’t you have something that will really work for me?”
And that is where I get frustrated.
I am thinking of a MGO right now who is constantly talking to us about how he is not being very successful with his caseload. There is constant chatter about how this donor is not doing that or that donor is not doing this, etc. etc. It is an endless stream of complaints, negativity and dark thinking.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been on the phone with this MGO and said some version of this statement: “Andrew (not his real name), are you doing real donor-centered planning that treats the donor as your best friend and takes into account her interests, passions, timing and concerns?”
The answer is always the same: “I’m doing the best I can, Richard. But things are not going well, and I just can’t seem to make things work.” And then I, once again, go back to the same sheet of music and play the same old, and by now boring, song which goes something like this:
- You need to have a personalized plan for every donor that takes into account their interests, passions, communication preferences, timing and concerns. I’m not talking here about boilerplate plans, like “I’m going to mail this out to these 21 donors and do this with those other 46 donors…” I am talking about a personalized plan with personalized touches and messaging that fits the donor. Last week, we had a MGO finally realize what we were saying about this, and now her caseload planning is highly personalized for each donor and really personalized to the top 10 donors on her caseload. Gone is the boilerplate, same-old-same-old mass marketing approach to her caseload. Now these donors have become the individuals they are, and I guarantee she will be successful.
- You need to work that plan and change it as you go along and new information surfaces.
- You need to stop being so obsessed with getting money from the donor and just serve them. The vibe—the energy—you are putting out there is self-serving, and that is why she is tuning you out.
I have said this so many times I am about ready to yell in frustration. But it does not seem to sink into Andrew’s head. So what does he do? He organizes work. Then he re-organizes work. And then he organizes it again in order to be efficient and effective—in order to get the activity numbers up.
And never—NEVER—does he just stop and think: “Goodness, if I treated my best friend, the friend I value so much, the way I am treating my donors, I would be without a friend.” He never makes that connection. And that, my friend, is why failure will always be with Andrew.
So my question to you today is simply this: Are you just organizing and re-organizing work related to your caseload, or are you truly planning messages, steps, touches, encounters with someone you really value. You know exactly what I mean. And the reason I wanted to have this private chat with you was so you could do some soul searching and start drawing the connection between your personal successes and failures and how you are doing things.
Remember, what you are putting out there is what is coming back. If you don’t like what is coming back, put something out there that the donor values. It will make a huge difference.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.