Are Your Major Donors Qualified?
So, I have a bit of a rant.
Here is something I see all the time in nonprofit fundraising, and it really has to stop!
A donor who has a fairly long history of giving, $50 here, $100 there in response to regular mail or e-appeals, suddenly gives a big check for $1,000, or $5,000. That's awesome, right? Yep.
But then, WHAM! Immediately, that donor is taken out of the regular donor communication stream and put into someone's caseload as a major donor because she hit the almighty $$ criteria.
The $$ criteria is someone's idea that simply implies that because a donor used to give X and now gives Y, he or she is now part of the major-gifts program.
When a donor is handled this way, in the majority of cases we've come across, that donor's giving actually goes down. Why? For two reasons: 1. The donor who was getting 15-22 touches a year now gets two or three, and 2. the person in charge of cultivating this "major donor" forgets about him because he or she is going after "bigger fish" on the file.
This is why Richard and I always advocate qualifying a donor before introducing that donor to a major-gifts program. Qualifying? What do you mean, Jeff?
I mean actually asking the donor if he or she wants to be part of a group of donors who receives personal attention from an individual.
The reason for qualifying a donor is that just because a donor meets a certain dollar figure or WealthEngine indicator does not necessarily mean the donor wants to be part of a major-gifts program or relate on a personal basis.
In fact, our experience is that many donors don't want to be part of a major-gifts program. In fact, only one out of three donors who meet a major-donor criteria actually want to relate more personally. This means that a majority of major-gifts officer caseloads have 50 percent or more donors on them that don't want to relate personally! What a waste!
With everyone talking about being "donor-centered," you would think qualifying a donor is a no-brainer for most nonprofits, right? Wrong.
Whenever we mention qualifying a donor, we get this really strange look on people's faces.
"What is that? You mean, you want me to ask a donor if they want to have a more personal relationship? That's kinda weird."
Actually, it's not weird if done right. But it is critical if you want passionate major-gifts donors supporting your mission.
The problem is that when you don't correctly qualify a major-gifts donor, you end up with a lot of donors on a caseload who actually stop giving, become C- or D-level donors, and are no longer engaged with your organization.
And, from some of the major-gifts files we have audited, I can tell you this is a major reason there is so much donor attrition from year to year … there are a bunch of donors who don't want to be part of a caseload!
It's really quite sad, yet so easy to remedy.
Now, when you do have a caseload of real, qualified donors, you now have donors who want to be engaged with you. They're on board! And, if done right, in the qualifying process you are going to learn a ton of information that will help you honor and serve them in future.
Believe me, when donors feel like you are honoring their wishes, whether they want to be on a caseload or not, you create trust and mutuality with the relationship for you and your organization.
So, how do you qualify a donor? Here is how we do it at Veritus Group.
1. Review everyone who has met your major-gifts criteria as they relate to current giving. That might be $500 total year to date, $1,000 year to day or more. We call this measurement "inclination." How is your donor currently giving, and does it show inclination to give? Next, look at capacity. What is the donor's ability to give? Use any of the wealth indicators to get to this information. It is the confluence of inclination and capacity that gives you the clue that the donor meets your giving metric.
2. If the donor meets your giving metric, then it's time to qualify. Here is a way to do it:
- Introductory letter. Explain who you are, thanking the donor for past support, that you want to contact the donor about her interest in X organization and that you will be calling within the next week.
- Phone call. In the phone call, you tell the prospect you're following up your letter, that you have been assigned as his personal representative, you thank the donor for all his past support and you would love to get to know what the donor is most passionate about in regard to your organization. If the donor is forthcoming, try and find out what other organizations she loves, why she likes your organization, how she would like to be communicated with in the future and, if appropriate, ask if the donor can sit down to meet with you sometime.
- Survey letter. If you cannot get a hold of the donor on the phone after a few tries, leave a message letting him know you called and give your phone number. If after a week you do not hear back, we advise sending out another personal letter asking for the donor's feedback in a personal survey. This survey asks questions about the donor's passions, what he likes about the organization, what programs he likes the most, how he wants to be communicated to, etc. Basically, all that you were going to ask in the phone call. Make sure you send a stamped reply envelope to make it easy for the donor to respond.
- Final note card. If you still haven't heard from the donor, you may want to send one final note card, handwritten, asking the donor how she would like to be communicated with, and let her know your contact information.
- Final phone call. We would reserve this for those high-dollar donors that you have yet to hear from.
Now remember that what you're going to find is that roughly 1/3 of the donors, maybe more, who you contact are going to want more personal relationships with your organization. But there is nuance at play here. Many donors you are cultivating you already have relationships with. You know they will be on your caseload, so you don't need to go through this whole process. However, sending them a survey or phoning them to thank them and follow up with good questions is a good thing.
Unfortunately, I've seen caseloads with 450-500 people on them. That's a disaster waiting to happen! This process is perfect to get you down to the 150 you can actually manage and serve well. And this process works great for the small nonprofit where only the executive director is cultivating major donors.
In fact, I just helped a small nonprofit take a list of 150 potential major donors and got his caseload down to 45 (a number he can handle with all his other work). Just this process alone helped raise over $40,000 in new revenue because the executive director took the extra time to get in touch with donors.
That is another added benefit of this qualifying process: donations and a ton more information about your donor. There are only positives that come out of this process. You get donors who want to be cultivated in a personal way, you obtain revenue you didn't expect and you find out what your donors are most passionate about.
Awesome, right? Now, it's time to start qualifying!
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.