Peddling Bike on Blocks—Going Nowhere
I will never forget the discussion I had when I was managing a sales team for a commercial company. I had been meeting with various sales people going over their performance, and now it was time to meet with Brandon (not his real name). Brandon was an energetic high-achieving sales person. He had a good heart and meant well, but I soon discovered that Brandon was not in touch with what mattered.
Our company had a variety of product lines, some with good margin, others almost loss leaders, meaning that if you sold a bunch of the good margin products the company would make good profits. And if you sold only loss leader type products the company basically broke even and might even lose money if you counted all the cost. The loss leader products were intended to capture the attention of new customers who then we would sell the high-margin product to.
It was a classic sales strategy and a little more complex than how I am describing it here. But the point is that Brandon had been told, along with all the other sales people, that his sales goal had a mix of 85 percent good margin product for current customers and the other 15 percent to be used to secure new customers.
When we met, Brandon was excited. He had already passed his yearly sales goal by 32 percent. And he expected me to be excited, too. Only I wasn’t. Because 92 percent of everything he had sold was low-margin loss leader product. I had warned him earlier that he needed to get off the path he was on and service existing customers with high-margin product. But he had ignored my advice and now was upset that I was not excited about his “remarkable sales achievement.”
He had focused on sales volume vs. profit, the outcome the company needed.
It’s like a discussion I had with a major gift officer (MGO) who had just received an unexpected $1 million gift and promptly announced to me that she could take it easy for the rest of the year now that she had reached surpassed her goal. I took the $1 million out of the equation and pointed out that she was only at 51 percent of her goal and seriously at risk of not meeting goals unless she got busy. It was not a pleasant conversation.
She had focused on the gross numbers vs. retaining and upgrading all the caseload donors, the outcome the organization needed.
And then there are the finance people and management leaders who will be all puffed up about the 12 percent or 19 percent or even 8 percent they have for overhead while they sit on an organization that is accomplishing very little with the money donors are entrusting to them.
They are focused on the cost of doing business vs. the business itself, which is what the organization is organized to do (i.e. the business of service to humankind and the planet).
This always amazes Jeff and me—that intelligent, well educated, experienced men and women who lead these organizations can look at what they are NOT achieving in program, ignore it and then take pride in the fact (which usually isn’t true) that their overhead is “so low.” Amazing.
All of these stories would be like having your bike on blocks and peddling hard for an hour but going nowhere. You would put out a lot of effort and likely get some satisfaction out of it. But you would not move one inch. And if you had the intention of moving, you, being a self-aware individual, would certainly know that you did not move, but you wanted to move and that the experience left you unsatisfied.
Which leads me ask you two questions:
1. Are you actually getting something done?
It is important to stop and ask yourself the question at least once a month. And I would do it with a copy of your caseload performance in front of you. Here is the central question as relates your job performance: are you retaining and upgrading your caseload donors?
You will not retain all of them, but you should retain most of them—like 90 to 95%. If you aren’t, something is wrong. And are you retaining value? Are you, at least, keeping the same dollar value that your donor gave last year? If not, there is something wrong. And are you upgrading some of your donors—like 30 percent of them? Are they giving more? If not, there is something wrong. Are YOU actually getting something done? Now, to be fair, some donors will move. Some will pass away. Others will decide not to give, etc. I understand that. But do you know what the story is for every one of your donors? If not, there is something wrong.
2. Does each of your caseload donors know they are making a difference through their giving?
What if Jeff or I were to call each of your donors on the phone and ask them: “Do you think your giving to X is making a difference in our hurting world?” Would they say that they were satisfied with their relationship with you? Would they say their giving relationship with you was providing satisfaction and fulfillment to them? If not, there is something wrong.
You see, when you boil your job as a MGO down to these two points you get to what really matters in major gifts. You get a desired organizational outcome (i.e. donors retained, upgraded and giving). And you get to a donor’s desired outcome (i.e. to make a difference).
If you don’t secure these two outcomes you are up on the blocks peddling and going nowhere. And that is not good. So take a look at what you are doing and make sure you are on track. It will make you more successful, you’ll be a happier professional and your donors will be fulfilled in their giving.
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.