We are often asked the question “am I doing this major gifts thing right?” You can find the answer for yourself by going through this list of questions; if all of them have a “yes” answer from you, you can be secure in knowing that you are doing things right.

  1. Are you working with the highest-capacity, highest-inclination donors in your organization? If you aren’t, and no one else is working with them either, then you are likely working with donors who cannot deliver the highest economic value to your organization. And that is not a good use of your time or your organization’s investment in you. Remember, “highest inclination” has three factors: frequency of giving, recency of giving and amount of giving. If you take those three measurements and select off the most recent givers who are giving the greatest amount and giving frequently – and couple that data with capacity information – you are working with the right donors with one exception, which is the next point.
  2. Are the donors you are working with qualified? Have you tried to connect with them and determined that they actually want to talk to you? And by “talking” I mean they have connected with you by phone, on email or in person. If you have, then you can answer “yes” to this question. If you have donors on your caseload who will not connect with you then your answer is “no.”
  3. If you are full-time, is your qualified caseload 150 donors? If not, things are not right. In order for your organization to have a proper return on their investment in you (salary, benefits and operating costs) you need to have at least 150 qualified donors on your caseload. If you have more or less, you are wasting your time and your organization’s money.
  4. Are you doing anything other than managing a caseload of 150 qualified donors? If you are, that’s a problem. You will not be as successful. You need to be 100% focused on your donors. Nothing else.
  5. Have you identified the passions and interests of every donor on your caseload? You need to. If the interests and passions of even one donor on your caseload have yet to be identified, then there is more work to do.
  6. Have you set an individual financial goal, and do you have a personalized plan for every donor on your caseload? You need to.
  7. Does your plan have two concurrent moves managements tracks? – one for stewardship/cultivation and one for setting up the ask?
  8. Does the stewardship track have regular and frequent donor touches, where you are telling the donor her gift made a difference and you are proving that her giving actually made an impact?
  9. Do you find out within one day when one of your caseload donors has given? Do you respond to that gift with a thanks and acknowledgment within three days? If your organizational system takes too long to inform you of your donor’s gift, you will need repair that. You should know right away. And if you cannot send an acknowledgment within three days of the gift, this is another area to work on.
  10. Can you match a specific problem your organization needs to solve to the donor’s interests and passions? And is that problem a budgeted item in your organization? This needs to be an integral part of your ask, so that you’re raising money for your organization’s budget and not extra things.
  11. Do have a compelling donor offer which could upgrade your donor’s giving? It is important that every offer/ask that you present to your donor matches his interests and passions and makes an easy-to-understand and compelling case for how the problem will be solved through the donor’s giving. Proof that you have done this correctly is (a) the donor gives, and (b) the donor likely gives more.
  12. Do you spend more than 50% of your time in the field? If not, there’s a problem. You need to be out with donors, not in the office – and certainly not in a bunch of meetings that are taking you away from being with donors.
  13. Are you tracking your moves in your system? It is critical that every donor contact you make is recorded in your software system so that (a) you can remember what you did, and (b) the MGO who follows you can have a record. If your organization is small and does not have a software-based moves management system, then keeping written notes in an organized fashion is what you need to do.
  14. Are you giving referrals to planned giving? Part of the important work a MGO does is not only to relate to his or her caseload donors for current giving, but also to listen well for planned giving opportunities which should be referred to your planned giving representative.
  15. Are you asking more than once a year? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your caseload donor is an annual giver. Many organizations do this – they have the annual fund, and they plan only to secure the “annual gift”. This is not good. If you are presenting your donor with compelling offers that match her interests and passions, you do not need to pay attention to the frequency of the ask. Instead you need to pay attention to how the donor is interacting with your presentation of the offers. Your donor will give you all the information you need in this area.
  16. Are you visiting program regularly to secure specific problem and solution information to buttress your work with your caseload donors? We suggest you visit program sites or talk with program personnel at least once a week. You need to know what is happening in program in order to provide adequate information to your donors.
  17. At least twice a year, are you refreshing your caseload? I’m talking here about looking at your caseload in February (after the past calendar year has closed) and in August (just before the final quarter of the calendar year) to remove any donor who has either passed away, told you they are no longer interested, or whose giving has dropped below your major gift criteria. This is also the time you go back to point #1 of this list to see if there are other donors who should be on your caseload. If they should, then you will need to replace current donors with these new ones.
  18. In everything you are doing, are you treating your donors as partners rather than just sources of cash? This is important. Even though much of this list is about securing money, the WAY you do it and the spirit with which you do it is what is important. Check yourself on this point. If you are sincerely trying to fulfill your donor’s interests and passions, then your behavior with your donor will be passion and interests oriented, not money-oriented, and your donor will experience the joy of having his heart’s desire fulfilled. That is how you will know you are focused properly. The money is really a result of doing this right.

If you were able to say “Yes” to each of these questions, Jeff and I think you are “doing major gifts right.” There may be other nuances to each of these points I have not addressed, but these are the big ones, in our opinion. This is a good list to keep in front of you all year round. I suggest you check yourself at least once a month, so you can make course corrections as you go along.