Why You Should Never Give Up on Donors
I have a story I want to tell you. Recently, I’ve been working with major gifts officer (MGO) Janice (not her real name) in the San Francisco Bay Area to help her get to know her donors on her caseload.
Previously, this MGO had been so distracted with other things—managing people, running events and tending to administrative work—that she had little time to cultivate the 150 donors she was expected to cultivate on her caseload.
Does this sound familiar to you?
We worked on a process to free her up from all that other “stuff” by helping senior management understand how much money was being left on the table through donor attrition each year. So, this allowed her to start focusing solely on her donors.
There was one donor, in particular, that Janice was trying to reach. Recently, Janice saw the donor at one of her organization’s events and made a connection with her. The donor had been a long-time patron to this organization (I mean years and years of support), and was very wealthy, but had never really given that “big gift” that the donor was capable of. No one previously had spent much time with this donor, nor had challenged the donor to really invest.
Before the encounter at the event, Janice had been trying to reach out to her through emails and phone calls, yet the donor never returned her calls. Janice was beginning to get discouraged and was starting to think she just wasn’t interested in the organization any longer.
However, seeing the donor at the event ignited a new energy to reach out to the donor once again.
So, Janice wrote her an email, saying how lovely it was to see her at the event, and asking if she could stop by and talk to her about some new programs she might be interested in. The donor graciously responded that while she loves the organization, as she gets older, she wants to concentrate her efforts on projects in Oakland, Calif.—not projects in San Francisco any longer. She said she always will continue to support the organization, but only in a small way and that the MGO's time would be better spent with other donors.
Obviously, Janice was upset and disappointed that she had “lost” a donor, but wait—it doesn’t end there.
Janice called me up and we started brainstorming. I asked her one question: “While your organization is all about San Francisco, is there anything that you do that includes Oakland?” Janice was actually not sure, but after we hang up, she started talking to her program people.
To her surprise, the organization did have some programs that are educational in nature and work with the most vulnerable population in Oakland. Janice had no idea. (Listen up. Please, please know all of your organization's projects and programs.)
Janice then proceeded to write this beautiful letter to the donor explaining that she understood that she wanted to concentrate her philanthropy in Oakland, Calif., and that she had found a great program that her organization conducts with vulnerable children in inner-city Oakland. She asked if the donor would be interested in seeing the program and talking about investing in it.
Well, within an hour, Janice heard back from the donor. “Janice, I couldn’t have been happier to have read your email. Yes! I would love to see this program. You are so good at cultivating me. This could be what I’ve always been looking to support!”
Imagine getting a note like that back from your donor!
Here is the lesson. No. 1, never give up on a donor until you have exhausted all possibilities, and, No. 2, get to know your donor's passions and desires by taking the time necessary to do it right.
You might have given up at the point where the donor said not to bother with her any longer, but Janice was determined to figure out a way to connect the donor’s passion with her mission. Janice did not give up.
None of this would have happened if Janice had not been able to give up all those other distractions and focus on her caseload. Thankfully, management relented and gave her that ability. Because of that and Janice’s determination, a nice seven-figure gift is on its way.
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.