Relationships or Numbers: Which Do You Care About?
"All you care about are the numbers! Relationships really don’t matter to you!" or "All you care about are relationships. We do need to secure our budgeted revenue, you know? The numbers do matter!"
These two statements—these two positions—came into sharp focus for me when a good friend and colleague told me he had been part of a discussion about how some folks just care about the numbers and others just care about relationships.
Hmm. Interesting, I thought. At least there’s a discussion about this important subject.
But which one is more important? Relationships or numbers? Take an inventory on who in your organization lands on one or the other of these values. You will find it interesting.
Relationships Over Numbers
The relationship-only folks will say that if you don’t have relationship, you won’t have the money. This is true. But, more often than not, when we look under the covers of how these people do business, we see a couple of disturbing behaviors.
1. On the extreme side of things, they don’t ask for money: You heard me. They do not ask for money. Jeff came across a situation like this where the development director, who had been in his position for more than five years, proudly announced to Jeff that his four major gift officers (MGOs) do not ask for money. They just build relationships. In fact, he told Jeff that he has never asked for money himself. When Jeff heard that one, he called me up in a heightened state of agitation.
"Richard," he said. "Can you believe this? I have never heard of anything like this in all my career!" He was practically yelling into the phone. "This guy doesn’t ask for money! He has told his MGOs, all four of them, to not ask for money! No one is asking for money!"
I about fell out of my chair. Where this director of development got the idea that the purest form of fundraising is to not ask for money is beyond my comprehension, but it was true. Sadly, when we looked at the caseload values of his MGOs, each was in the $300,000 to $400,000 range, a pitiful, disgraceful sum of money for four years of work!
2. They believe that anything related to goals, numbers, metrics or accountability violates relationship and the donor: Therefore, they should not be in place in any good major gift program. What? Can this be true? Are there really people out there that think this way? Yes, there are. I can name them. There are certain major gift consultants, alleged professionals in the field, who have made a living peddling this philosophy. They don’t come right out and say this. In fact, in their defense, I don’t believe they consciously think this way. But this is the net of applying their philosophies to major gift work.
Here’s how it works with them. First of all, all of the men and women in these firms put all their consulting and advice-giving attention on the art and science of moves management. That is good news, to a point. And bad news in the end. I’ll tell you why in just a minute.
Numbers Over Relationships
The numbers-only folks are just as bad as the relationship-only people. Their orientations have them doing business with their own sets of off-center beliefs and behaviors.
1. The donor usually is missing from the equation: When you are around these kinds of folks, you won’t see the donor anywhere in the conversation. It’s all about the money. Have you got it? Are you going to get it? There is a lot of anxiety about reaching goals, which usually are missed because—OK, don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret—a lack of relationship. This kind of situation is pretty sad to observe. And the managers who behave this way are usually very good people who are grossly misguided in their approaches.
2. MGO performance metrics are all that matters: How many calls, how many visits, how many emails, how many this and that. That’s all that matters. It’s all about keeping track of how the MGO used his or her time—not about how effective he or she was. There are a lot of reports, and the MGO always feels like he or she is in a perpetual state of an audit. It’s like having a very dominant, obnoxious person pecking away at you all the time. It’s irritating.
I think you are beginning to see how neither one of these approaches, to the exclusion of the other, is either very helpful or actually works. The fact is that every major gift program needs a balanced blend of the relationship and numbers philosophy. And, sadly, Jeff and I do not see much of that out in the marketplace.
The direct response sector of our industry has made some progress along these lines, starting with a sole focus on the metrics and performance, with some of the more enlightened firms putting into practice the soft side (relationship) of fundraising strategy.
The major gift field is, for the most part, still stuck exclusively on the relationship moves management side of things with very little practice on actually measuring the effects and results of their work to see if, in fact, the donor really is being honored through the application of their strategy.
Here is what I mean:
If you don’t measure value retention on your caseload, you will not see that the relationship strategy you are using is not working. Jeff and I see this all the time. High-value donors just flying out the back door with their money to go find a better relationship. The MGO thinks that he or she is applying all the best "moves" but, in fact, the approach is not working. The MGO doesn’t know it isn’t because he or she is not watching it. In the last week, I have looked at major gift donor files of two large nonprofits that practice the "latest in moves management" and are losing millions—yes, millions—of dollars from donors who are abandoning ship rapidly.
If you don’t manage MGOs toward a proper focus, you will not see if the donors are really being valued and treated properly. This is not because all MGOs are lazy, stupid people who don’t know what they are doing. Nope. In fact, most of the MGOs we meet are bright, intelligent, hardworking professionals. It’s just that, like anything in life, it is always helpful to have another set of eyes on what we are doing to help guide us toward being as effective as we could be. That is what our MGO management and accountability systems do. They are not pecking at the MGO, but guiding the MGO toward a profitable and effective use of labor and time, which ultimately values relationship and keeps the donor.
Don’t buy the relationship or numbers argument. Don’t let yourself be persuaded that one is more important than the other. Instead, embrace the fact that both are needed for a balanced approach to major gift fundraising.
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.