It’s Time to Let Those Donors Go
Letting go… It’s not always easy, is it? Anyone who has had to take their child to college or end a relationship knows saying goodbye is never easy.
It’s also not easy for you as a major gift officer (MGO) when a donor, who you have been stewarding and cultivating over time, no longer meets the criteria as a major donor. Richard, our team and I see this dynamic quite a bit when we first start working with a new organization.
Many times, we’ll see MGOs have two, three or even 500 donors as part of their portfolio. When we tell the MGO they are going to have to pare that down to 150 donors, they are shocked!
“But, these are MY donors,” they will plead. “You can’t take them off of my caseload—they really like me. They won’t give if I’m not their MGO.” But, when we dig into the donor’s giving history, we find that they are no longer giving at a level that justifies them being on a caseload.
The MGO has to let them go.
In cases where MGOs have way more than 150 donors in their portfolio, it’s much easier to pare down their list than when an MGO has 150 donors in their portfolio, and there are donors “waiting in the wings” who actually have more capacity and propensity to give.
This is where we get into some fairly tense discussions about the responsibility of the MGO to the donor, as well as the organization. In many cases, an MGO does not want to “give up” one of their donors for a new donor who has either greater value or much higher potential because they have spent time nurturing that donor along.
I get that. But, usually I find that the MGO doesn’t want to give a donor up because they feel some personal connection or for some reason they think they have failed by not moving that donor up. At Veritus, this is where we have to remind the MGO that these donors are not “their” donors. They belong to the organization. And, because of that, the organization has to properly use their resources in a responsible manner.
As much as we want to believe that all donors in the donor base are equal, the fact is that they are not. Especially in major gifts, some donors are much more valuable to the organization than others.
Yet the cost to cultivate each of those donors is relatively the same. I say relatively because you do spend more time on some donors than others, but there are some donors on your file today that you simple can’t justify the ROI to cultivate them. So, to keep a low performing donor on a caseload because you are emotionally tied to that person or you feel bad, you simply can’t do it if you are being a good steward of your organizations resources.
Here is some practical advice on the process of letting go of donors in your portfolio:
1. Creating a quarterly check-in meeting with your manager. In this meeting, go over donors who are either not performing and who have told you they will not be giving and/or discuss donors that may be in jeopardy. They will go on your “watch list.” This will help you focus to spend a little more time on them and help you decide if they will be staying in your portfolio.
2. Having bi-yearly handoffs. Twice a year, Veritus recommends making decisions about taking donors off your caseload and adding new qualified donors that have more capacity and propensity. If your organization has a mid-level program, those donors you take off your caseload should move into it.
3. Moving a donor to a new MGO. While some donors coming off a caseload will be put back into your regular or mid-level donor program, some donors may move to another MGO. In that case, the best way to handle that situation is to have the former MGO write a cover letter introducing the new MGO and depending upon the relationship, either participate in a call with the new MGO or have the new MGO follow up on their own to introduce themselves.
While it’s difficult sometimes to say goodbye to a donor, it’s part of the work that great MGOs have to do. It’s all about creating the strongest portfolio you can and to use your organization’s resources wisely. And, ultimately, it’s in the best interest of your donors. So, schedule that quarterly review today and start examining your portfolio. Who do you need to say goodbye to?
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.