How to Deal With Unrealistic Management Expectations When Fundraising
I will never forget the meeting. I had just started working with two major gifts officers and the manager came in and said: “Richard, I don’t care about your forecast or what the donors have been giving. What I want is new money.” And then he walked out.
Well, I would have felt OK about what he said if that is what we had agreed to in our budgeting process earlier in the month. But that’s not how it went.
In our budgeting process, I had laid out a logical basis for a forecast:
- Every donor on the two caseloads was qualified. Each had agreed to a relationship with the major gifts officer.
- Every donor had a goal that the major gifts officer had agreed to reach for the year.
- There were a couple of larger, one-time gifts that the major gifts officers were sure would come in and could be counted on for the year for which we were budgeting.
We had agreed on a number. The major gifts officers were happy and secure, and all was well.
That is until the chief financial officer pointed out that the caseload donors gave in the past and they could be counted on to give in the future. Therefore, the amount they gave last year should not be counted in the major gifts officer’s goal.
And that is where the new money topic surfaced.
And this even came up after I showed the manager that the total giving from those donors on the caseload would have attrited 36% had they not been managed (the attrition rate for regular donors was 51%).
This is one real example where management inserts itself into the major-gift forecast process with an expectation that cannot (in full) be delivered.
Another one is the growth from year-to-year expectation. One manager told me she expected to have a 22% increase from one year to the next. I asked her how she got to that percentage. She said, “It’s what I need.”
Huh? How does that work? Take that one statement down to one donor. She is giving $5,000. That is all she can give next year, but the major gifts officer should pressure her to give 22% more or $6,100. On what basis?
I believe in growth and upgrading the giving of donors, but not all donors are equal. With some donors, simply maintaining their giving level is a major achievement. Others can give exponentially more. And there are donors in between those two positions.
Our philosophy is to have donors drive the numbers with a little help from the major gifts officer. It is a bit of art and science. But it never approaches a place where the donor just has to deliver to reach organizational goals. That just doesn’t work, and it chases donors away.
Now, you might be thinking: “Well, how can the organization meet its objectives with a philosophy like that? It seems too passive.”
Here’s how it works, and it is a bit counterintuitive.
When your major gifts officer is truly serving the passions and interests of each of the donors on his or her caseload, the donor will truly serve the organization. Note, I said that the donor will serve the organization. It is amazing and mystical to see this happen. It is a perfect example of karma. It is how service given attracts service. It actually happens.
But putting this into practice does not mean that when the major gifts officer or the major gifts manager presents their first forecast that management cannot come back and say: “This is a little low. Can you work on it?” Because often it is a little low. The major gifts officer has really not carefully thought through what each donor could do if their passions and interests were more fully fulfilled.
So, the question from management is a good one and one that should be expected. But when management just arbitrarily, after a solid back and forth with the major gifts officer on goals, says: “I need X or I need Y” and there is no basis but organizational need, then things begin to spin out of control. And that is when the trouble starts for the major gifts officer and then the donor. And then this trouble cascades down to the organization as the donor feels used as a source of cash and leaves the organization behind.
This is the dynamic that every manager must avoid. And I know it is difficult especially when the organization is facing financial pressure. But remember this, truly caring for the donor is the best way to care for the organization. Do not let unrealistic expectations get you off that basic truth.
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.