When Qualified Caseload Donors Become Unqualified
You’ve done everything right.
You’ve accepted the major gift principle that not all donors, who meet a financial metric, want to relate to you.
You’ve laboriously gone through a larger list of donors who meet your major gift criteria and qualified a group of 150 people who have signaled they want to relate to you more personally.
And now you are into the work of meeting with them and matching their passions and interests to the needs of the good cause you represent. But there’s a problem.
Some of the donors who originally said they wanted to meet with you do not return your calls or emails. Some of the donors, when you approached them with a request to upgrade their giving, politely refused to increase their giving. And some of the donors have told you they are just not interested in the organization anymore.
Welcome to the world of the dynamic and ever-changing caseload. It is not surprising that you are experiencing this. It is the normal and natural cadence of a healthy caseload. In fact, on any caseload you have, you will always have three things happening that will have you thinking that you no longer have a qualified donor:
- Some donors, who said they love the cause and were interested in a relationship, have changed their minds about having a closer relationship.
- Some donors will not upgrade their giving. Some will actually downgrade.
- Some donors will tell you they are just not interested in the cause anymore.
Before I get into talking about what to do in each of these situations, I want to remind you about an overarching principle Jeff and I feel very strongly about. Here it is: Success in major gifts increases when the major gift officer spends their time with qualified donors. If you use your labor to talk to or relate to unqualified donors, you will experience less success in major gifts.
This means that how you use your time is very important. We have repeatedly talked about not spending too much time in the office or on administrative work. We have cautioned against spending time prospecting and, instead, to focus entirely on your qualified caseload. These activities pull you away from your qualified donors, which is why you should not spend your time that way. Every minute you spend on non-qualified donors or on activities that are not directly related to building relationships with your qualified donors is a wasted minute. Your labor is a very precious commodity.
So, assuming you are using your time wisely, here is what should you do in each of the three situations I have outlined above:
1. Donor No Longer Interested in the Cause
I wanted to start with this one because it is pretty basic and easy to deal with. Once you learn this fact, there are two things you need to do. First, if you can, find out why the donor is not interested anymore. That would be good information to have. Second, immediately remove the donor from your caseload and replace them with another qualified donor. You cannot afford to leave a non-interested donor on your caseload. It is not a good use of your time.
2. Donor Still Loves the Cause, But Changed Mind on Wanting a Relationship
If you can find out why they are not interested in a relationship anymore, that would be good to know. It might be that you are using a communication method that they are not comfortable with. They might be an email person, and you keep trying to call them on the phone. Or you might be making them uncomfortable with pushing for a meeting when all they want to do is talk on the phone. Who knows? But it would be good to find out.
It could be they don’t like the frequency of contact. It could be that your style is off-putting. Or it just could be that they just don’t want to relate to anyone. Take this donor and move them into a high-touch direct marketing program, where either all they receive is direct mail or where they receive direct mail with some thank-you calls (not asking calls). This point, much like No. 1 above, nets down to the same conclusion. If the reason is not something you can repair, you must move this person off of your caseload and replace them with another qualified donor.
3. Donor Will Not Upgrade—Some Are Downgrading Their Giving
This one is a bit more complex. There is merit in retaining a caseload donor who will not upgrade their giving if for no other reason than to retain the donor as good solid donor. We see many situations where good donors have gone away, because no one paid attention to them. You don’t want that to happen. Also, no upgrade now could mean several things.
It could mean the donor does not have the means to upgrade. It could mean that what you are proposing does not match the donor’s passions and interests. It could mean the donor has other pressing priorities, like their kids’ college bills or the starting of a business, etc. It could mean many things. You need to find out what it means. And if you can’t, then just serve the donor outrageously, and time will sort it out. If the donor is downgrading, it could mean a changing life situation: divorce, death, business downturn or shifting priorities.
It could mean any number of things. Try to find out, so you can serve this good donor with understanding, compassion and care. Jeff and I, and our team, routinely counsel our clients to go slow on downgrades, because they are often driven by a life situation. If the downgrade is simply a change in interest, then you have to decide whether to keep the donor on your caseload. And that decision is a return on investment decision (i.e. what is the cost of your time and labor against what the donor is giving to the organization?). There is a point where you cannot economically justify being in a relationship. But take it slow to measure this very carefully.
The important thing in making decisions regarding who stays and who goes on your caseload is to be proactively curious about what is happening with each donor on your caseload, and then to respond with care. And you need to do this in a timely fashion. If you know the answer to one or more of the situations I have addressed above, do not wait until the prescribed annual event that is scheduled to review your caseload. Do something now. It will be good for the donor, the organization and how you use your time.
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.