The Conflict Between Caseload Management and Prospecting
If I gave you $1 million, but told you I needed to control the investment and after one full year, the investment became $520,000—then at the end of the second year, the investment became $330,000—you would think I was either the worst financial advisor or just plain crazy. But this scenario happens every year in caseload management, because of the direction and guidance of either well-meaning managers or “over-the-fence-looking” major gift officers (MGOs).
There is a group of qualified donors on a caseload giving $1 million, but because the MGO does not steward them and, instead, goes off and tries to find “better” ones, the donors in-hand simply go away. And the $1 million over 2 years turns into $330,000.
You might be saying that this doesn’t happen in your organization. I hope it doesn’t. But, it is likely happening and the reason you don’t know it is because new money from new donors is covering up the loss of old money from those good donors that have now gone away.
And the reason this is happening is because there is poor management of current donors. This poor management is often driven by a conflict between caseload management and prospecting.
Jeff and I have seen this happen over and over again, where a MGO has a perfectly good caseload of qualified donors—donors who love the organization, have capacity and have proven their connection to the cause through their current giving—and a perfectly good caseload of donors is tossed aside by an obsession with prospecting for new donors.
It is classic “grass is greener” behavior.
So, the question is this: Is prospecting for new donors a legitimate and good activity for a MGO? Yes, it is, if it is limited. And here is where an argument can begin. What does limited mean?
Limited means that the MGO’s primary responsibility—the activity that occupies the most of his/her time—should be managing the current caseload of donors. Because if he/she doesn’t, the value attrition over time will be enormous with losses reaching hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars.
We have seen this happen so many times. A perfectly good caseload of donors, which is generating more than $1 million a year, is compromised when the “grass is greener” gaze turns to “much better possibility” and the good donors on the caseload die on the vine.
This movement from the old, familiar, stable, predictable to the new and possible usually happens one of three ways:
- A manager gets it in his/her head that there is this wonderful person he/she has just met who is very wealthy and who, “with a little cultivation could do great things for us.” He/sje asks the MGO to chase after the person. Another version of this same thing is a manager who is convinced that a certain group of movers and shakers in the community need to be cultivated, so he/she directs the MGO to divert his/her attention from the caseload to working that agenda.
- The MGO finds it more stimulating and easier to be looking for new donors vs. managing the current donors. So, they go to events, organize events, go to social clubs, worm their way into celebrity gatherings, etc. to find that one person who will “do something great for us.” And the caseload of good donors, with proven loyalty and giving, is neglected.
- The prospect researcher on staff, hired by the organization or the prospect research function in the organization uncovers a very high-capacity donor who they think could “do something great for us,” and they convince the MGO and the manager to divert resources and attention from the caseload to chase after those folks.
It is usually one of these three people or a combination of all three that is the cause of the MGO moving off the caseload on to “bigger and brighter things.” And this is where it all goes wrong and where prospecting actually hurts caseload management. And the result is that good donors go away because the MGO does not have the time or the interest to service their interests and passions.
“Now wait a minute, Richard,” you might say. “You seem to be saying that all prospecting is wrong.”
Nope, not saying that at all. I am saying it needs to be managed and controlled. Obviously, if a new donor who has inclination and capacity surfaces, then we had better figure out how to manage them. We can’t do nothing. But this is where a specific protocol of prospect management needs to be in place. That protocol might look something like this:
- A MGO should have only qualified donors on his/her caseload. This means the MGO has connected with the donor and determined that the donor wants to have a more personal relationship with him/her. Now, there may be a situation where the donor is put on the caseload as a way to “mark or tag” the donor as belonging to the MGO, while the MGO qualifies them. But the point is that the caseload ultimately needs to have qualified donors.
- There should be a prospecting system in place where the organization is constantly looking for high-capacity donors who either have current inclination to give or a high probability to give. This is a critical function that actively supports the major gift program.
- The MGO should always have a small pool of donors he/she is trying to qualify. These would be the donors the prospecting system is handing to the MGO. But it is only a few—maybe 10 prospects. So the MGO’s caseload of qualified donors would be 150, and he/she would have another 10 prospects he/she is qualifying to see if they should be added to his/her caseload, replacing lower performing donors, because the MGO needs to keep the total number of donors on the caseload at about 150.
- There is management in place that watches the balance of these two areas—i.e. the function of caseload management and the function of prospecting to make sure that current donors are being managed properly and that prospecting is done in an intentional way. This also means that new MGOs are added as the number of donors needing to be managed increases.
The net result of this kind of system is that each donor on each MGO’s caseload is carefully stewarded, while the organization is making sure that the top donors (current and potential) of the organization are actually being managed by a MGO.
This approach supports the objective of a good major gift program—and that is to connect MGO labor to the most valuable financial asset of the organization in order to cause donor fulfillment and the acquisition of financial resources for program.
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.