The Caseload and New Donor Conflict
You have 150 qualified donors on your caseload and you’ve been told not to exceed that amount. You are assigned a specific geography. This means that your job is to serve the donors in your area.
But now, because of an effective direct marketing program, there are old and new donors who meet the major gift/caseload criteria and are giving to the organization.
You are getting anxious because the reports are coming to you every week with one, sometimes five or more, donors who are giving $1,000, $4,000—even one who gave $10,000!
What are you supposed to do?
The question springs from a well-placed donor-services mentality that says when a donor gives a gift, thank him or her immediately and affirm the donor as a partner to your organization. It also says that when a donor gives an amount above the major gift criteria, somebody in major gifts—a major gifts officer (MGO), a major gift manager, somebody—needs to do something right now!
But what? This was the question posed in a just-finished Veritus Group retreat where Jeff and I, along with our colleagues, processed this situation, which happens in nonprofits—large and small—around the country every week.
The first principle we established was that it is not the MGO's responsibility to play a donor-services role for the organization. This statement can cause a bit of anxiety because a good MGO is not going to have a donor who just gave a major gift just sit there un-thanked.
But here’s the problem. If the MGO starts taking care of new donors coming into the organization, he or she will ignore the caseload. And there is nothing worse than that. In fact, this is one of the biggest problems in major gifts—keeping the MGO focused on the good group of donors he or she has committed to.
Maybe I should rephrase that last part of that sentence to say–keeping the managers above the MGOs from asking them to do something other than minding their caseloads. We recently heard of a situation where a manager asked an MGO to spend a good chunk of his time prospecting for donors. What? Leave the good donors on your caseload to go find new ones? Nope—not good!
So, it is not the MGO's responsibility to be the donor-services person in the organization. Well, who should do it?
A good development director will have figured this one out—he or she will have a thank-you system in place where donors, large and small, are thanked immediately and put into a process that cares for them appropriately.
One client of ours has a person assigned to this role to handle all unassigned (no MGO-assigned) donors who give above the major gift criteria for the organization. This solution gives the organization time to figure out what to do with the donor—the good thing is she has been thanked profusely and will be watched carefully through a special handling process.
Another client has a mid-level program in place that takes care of the situation. Still, another has two very competent and donor-friendly administrative assistants who thank donors.
But this does not solve the ultimate problem of what to do with the donor. If there is a restriction in place that a MGO cannot have more than 150 donors on his or her caseload (remember, this is a good rule), who is going to handle the donors coming in the front door? Here are several ideas and principles:
- Add more MGOs. Jeff and I find this idea as one of the most difficult solutions for an organization to execute. Why? Because it costs money. And even after we point out that it is a solidly good investment, a manager will hedge on it and wait way too long to put it in place. I know of one situation where there are more than 400 really good major donors dying on the vine because the manager will not hire an MGO. And these 400 are giving less and less as time goes because they are unattended. This is crazy. The organization is losing way more money than it would have spent. You would be surprised how many managers are doing this. Unbelievable.
- Replace unresponsive caseload donors with these donors. This is a viable solution, but it has to be carefully managed. Here’s why. On one hand, you do not want to have a situation where an MGO who is not handling his or her donors properly just gets to trade them out indiscriminately. On the other hand, we all know that as time passes, it becomes very evident that a certain portion of the donors on the caseload, due to changing circumstances or interests, are no longer giving to the organization. These donors should be replaced. Why? To maximize MGO labor use. This is an important value in major gifts—to make sure that the labor of each MGO is used most effectively and efficiently.
We spent a considerable amount of time discussing how to execute this second point, especially in light of the apparent conflict between the 150 caseload donor limit and the new donors in need of a home trickling in.
Here is what we came up with. I think this process is an effective solution to the problem:
- First of all, keep in mind that a caseload, much like a donor pyramid, has a hierarchy of values. This means that there are high-value current donors and low-value (sometimes no current value) donors. These lower value, non-current donors could be replaced.
- Think of caseload size as an average of 150, not a constant 150. This means that it can, at one time, be 140—at another time 160, etc. This allows room to handle the incoming current donors who meet the major gift criteria.
- As the new donors come in, assign them to the appropriate MGO to immediately thank and qualify. The qualifying bit is important. You may have a situation where the donor is giving a one-time gift or there is some circumstance where, once you know it, you would not add the donor to a caseload. So, thank first, then qualify.
- Once donors are qualified, add them to the caseload and remove low value, non-current donors in order to keep the caseload size at an average of 150.
There is one caveat to this whole idea. If the amount of new donors who meet the major gift criteria coming in is too large to manage—and the MGO's caseload would increase way beyond what it should—then the addition of a new MGO is the way to go.
We did this recently with a client where we split an existing MGO’s caseload into two regions, then added new donors according to the system above and successfully increased major gift capacity to handle all the donors who met the major gift criteria.
The one thing you cannot do is let a situation like this just sit there. These donors must be thanked immediately and placed into a relationship as soon as possible. If you don’t do that, you will lose the donors and their revenue.
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.