That Donor Who Can Do Something Significant
Two things happen when you do this: You remove donors who no longer meet your caseload criteria and you add new donors who do. This is important because, as a successful major gift officer (MGO), you need to be regularly renewing the donor mix on your caseload and bringing more valuable donors—who want to relate in more personal ways—into relationships with you .
And while you are doing this, you are tiering donors from high to low to help you focus properly and use your time wisely. This is what many MGOs do, as they should.
But a very important focusing activity is often left out of this process. And it is the practice of purposefully identifying and targeting one or two donors who could, if the MGO does all the right things, do something financially significant for the organization.
Why is this important and critical planning step often overlooked? There are several reasons:
- The MGO is too busy planning for his caseload. All the demands of tiering, setting goals and making plans leaves very little room to think about anything else.
- The MGO does not value the plan and is now focused on how much work there is to do. Essentially, the plan is written, and now it’s time to get to work. So the MGO moves away from the plan to "get some work done." You may think the dynamic I’ve just described here doesn’t happen. Well, it does. In fact, Jeff and I have seen many plans written that never were implemented. It is tragic. But in defense of our good MGOs, I can see how the looming financial goal for the year and all that needs to be done to achieve that goal can undermine an MGO’s judgment and focus.
- The MGO does not really believe there is anyone on his or her caseload who can give a significant gift. Jeff and I have seen this happen quite a bit. The caseload actually does have a number of high-capacity, high-inclination donors on it, but the MGO either does not see them that way, does not have the facts about them, or, if the MGO does see them, he or she doesn’t really believe that the donor would want to make a sizeable gift.
- The MGO is not confident that he or she can secure the gift. While the idea of the previous point is that the MGO has not, for whatever reason, identified a high-capacity, high-inclination donor, this point is about the MGO's confidence to secure the gift. In this case, the MGO knows about several donors. He or she knows they could give, but lacks the confidence to be able to successfully present a case to those donors.
- There are organizational factors that will limit the MGO's ability to secure a significant gift. In this case, there are able and willing donors, and a confident and capable MGO, but the lack of organizational will and/or know-how to prepare a case or program that the donor will want to give to. In some organizations, either finance is killing the design of a fundable program or the program people themselves are not willing to work with development to put together a project that the donor can fund. Or, it could be any number of organizational villains who make it their business to squash initiative and progress in this area. You know what I am talking about here—you have them in your own organization.
We could analyze this situation for weeks and it would not do a bit of good—nor would it get you closer to identifying one or two donors on your caseload and then taking the time to plan how you will approach them in the coming months. So, let’s move to what you should do:
- Move away from the negative list of limitations above and commit yourself to a positive, proactive course of action. Adopt a mindset that you will find one or two donors in your caseload who do have the capacity and inclination to make a sizable gift to your organization in the months ahead.
- Identify those donors. Find at least one donor, hopefully two or three, who, if you do all the right things in the coming months, could give your organization a gift of $200,000, $500,000 or $2 million. Pick the number that means "significant" in your context.
- Get rid of the fiscal year limitation. Jeff and I find that many MGOs simply give up on pursuing promising donors because they believe they need to get the whole thing done this year. Forget about it. In your head, take as long as it takes to move that donor from interest to desire to the gift. We regularly tell major gift managers and development directors that a truly significant gift may take a year to 18 months, maybe even two years, to cultivate.
- Make bold, energetic and visionary plans for each donor you have identified. Do whatever it takes to get them engaged. Get others in your office to give you their ideas. If you have a colleague or friend that works for another organization, ask them what they would do. But whatever you do, focus on the donors, and their interests and passions. Ask yourself: "What would it take to get the interests and passions of my donor so engaged that the donor could not contain him or herself and would make a significant gift?" Dream big.
- Enlist others in your organization to make it happen. Pull in your manager, development director, a top executive, program people, finance folks, etc. Make it an internal campaign.
- Implement your plan with enthusiasm and confidence. Know there will be failure and turns in the road ahead, but that you will prevail and make this happen.
I know from experience that this really does work. It is a mindset and a specific plan working together toward a successful outcome. You can dream up a hundred reasons why you can’t do this. Toss all of those reasons out and get going. You’ll be surprised how far you will get.
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.