Major Gift Officers: We’re All Replaceable
I call it the “Zen of major gift fundraising.” It’s the tension between holding on and letting go of donors on your caseload.
Here is what I mean: We have many clients who, at this time of year, are evaluating their caseloads. Some are contemplating removing donors who have not been performing and communicating with major gift officers (MGO) and replacing them with new, qualified donors. Other MGOs are making decisions on letting go of donors because the major gift program is expanding and they need to give some of their donors to a new MGO.
Richard and I, along with our Veritus colleagues, find this is a great way to understand if we’re really working with great MGOs or not.
You see, great MGOs understand the donors on their caseloads are really not theirs. They understand that in order to grow the major gift program, sometimes they have to “sacrifice” some of the donors they have been cultivating and “give” them away to another MGO who is building their caseload.
Great MGOs also know that they need to be cultivating donors who really desire to have a meaningful, more personal relationship with the organization. They also don’t have a false sense of hope that one day that donor who hasn’t been engaged in the last couple of years will suddenly give a large gift. So they are able to let them go.
Additionally, we have found that great MGOs work to create a seamless and smooth transition for their colleague and the donor. When we see this happen it’s a thing of beauty. Especially when an MGO actually leaves the organization for another position. The MGO knows never to take their donors with them or bad mouth the organization they are leaving. They will always lift up the one who comes after them in the eyes of the donor.
Unfortunately, too often we see the opposite. When it’s time to discuss either moving donors off the caseload or over to another caseload for someone else, these are the kinds of things we hear:
“I can’t give up that donor. He is so special to me. I need him on my caseload.” Or, “This donor absolutely loves me. If I don’t get to keep that donor, he will walk away.” Really? Sometimes, we even hear, “You know, I can’t give her up. I know she doesn’t have capacity but she is such a sweet person; she really needs me to visit her.”
There are many more objections we hear as well. I could go on and on.
Richard and I will tell you that in every case we have handled where an MGO thinks they cannot move a particular donor off or over to another caseload, nothing bad happens, except if that MGO makes a serious ethical error—they either bad mouth the organization to that donor or take a donor with them if they leave.
Terribly, this happens quite frequently. Doing this honors no one—it doesn’t honor the organization (no matter how you feel about it), it doesn’t honor the donor and it doesn’t honor you.
As an MGO, how do you guard yourself from holding on to your donors too tightly?
1. Remember they are not your donors. They are the organization’s donors. You don’t own them. No one does.
2. When you give up donors, you understand it allows for new possibilities. It’s like pruning a fruit tree. It may hurt a little at first, but the outcome will be much greater.
3. Keep yourself humble. One of the wonderful traits Richard and I see in great MGOs is that they are humble people. They have confidence in their own abilities and know their strengths, yet they are not so self-absorbed that they think a donor can’t live without them. In other words, they are emotionally healthy people. They aren’t needy. If you are going to be a great MGO this is absolutely essential.
4. You think of others. As an MGO you need to be constantly thinking about what is best for the donors on your caseload, the organization and for your colleagues.
5. Understanding you are “not all that.” This is related to keeping yourself humble, but it’s also really about knowing who you are and accepting that no one is so important that the world cannot go on without you. It does and it will.
I understand that there usually is anxiety around transitions and letting go of donors. There is also fear about what is going to happen if we let go of a donor to another MGO or an MGO leaves, but in reality it all works out. The donors end up embracing that new MGO, MGOs find they are more productive and it all actually ends up being just fine.
Remember this: In the end, all shall be well.
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.