Is Your Major Gift Officer Too Passive—or a Pest?
“Should I call? If I do, will I be a pest?”
It is not an uncommon dilemma. A major gift officer worries about being too aggressive in the relationship, so they turn down the contact volume and miss an opportunity. Or they turn it up too high and offend the donor. How do you strike a balance?
First, it is important to be aware of one very important dynamic I call the “frequency blindfold.” Here is how it works: the insider (the MGO) has a written plan for the donor. On that plan are pre-designed contacts and touches. There may be more than two in a month. And when the MGO looks at that plan, they say the following to themself: “Goodness, I am contacting the donor quite often. Maybe I need to slow things down a bit.”
Now this statement, or some form of it, is not logical. It is an emotional response to seeing all the donor touches in one place. It feels like a lot and that is why I call this the frequency blind-fold because the MGO is blinded to the reality of the situation. The frequency of touches is really not too much, it just feels like it is.
Look at this from the donor’s point of view. If the donor is receiving information they like to receive—in other words, the information matches their passions and interests—then frequency is not a big problem. If, on the other hand, the donor is receiving contact from you that they are not interested in, your contact will not be welcome.
The MGO is asking, “Am I contacting the donor too much?” instead of asking the question, “Am I sending the right things?” There is a huge difference between these two questions. This is a point that is missed so often in major gift communication. In fact, there are entire seminars, books and consultants out there offering all kinds of advice on how to ask and how to approach the donor and very little help on sending the donor the right information.
I was once on a call with a MGO who was trying to decide how to communicate with his donor. (Notice that the focus of our conversation was on strategy or how.) I asked the MGO: “So, what is the donor interested in?” He replied: “I’m not sure. I think it is X.” I said: “I think you’d better find out more about what your donor is interested in before you create your communication and contact strategy.”
This MGO came back to me later very excited about how the relationship with this donor had progressed. He said: “Richard, I made contact with the donor, found out what she was interested in and started sending her material (email, news clippings, info on the phone), and she just can’t get enough! Sometimes I can’t get off the phone!!”
That was not surprising to me. You and I both know that if someone is talking to us about our interests, and we perceive that that person is not trying to “do something” to us, we can spend a great deal of time interacting with them. That’s true for me and I am not naturally inclined to sit around and be chatty.
The reason Jeff and I spend so much time repeating ourselves on this topic of identifying interests and passions is because (a) it is the key to major gift success, (b) it is the only way to meaningfully engage with each of your caseload donors and (c) it is, surprisingly, not done very much.
So, take some time right now and do the following six things:
- Get out your list of caseload donors.
- Go down that list and identify the passions and interests of each of your donors.
- If you can’t do this for some of your donors then create a plan to get this information and write down the execution of that plan on your calendar.
- Once you’re done with the first three points above, revisit your contact plan for each donor. Do NOT worry about frequency of contact. Just plan what comes naturally.
- Work your new plan.
- Sit back and watch how those conversations and contacts develop into healthy meaningful and mutually profitable relationships.
Frequency of contact is not the critical point. In fact, it has hardly anything to do with why your donor is pushing you away. The critical point is relevant information. And that is what you need to correct in your management of caseload donors—switching your focus from trying to get the donor’s money to talking to them about what matters to them.
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.