“Should I call? If I do, will I be a pest?”
It is not an uncommon dilemma. A major gift officer worries about being too aggressive in the relationship, so he turns down the contact volume and misses an opportunity. Or he turns it up too high and offends the donor. How do you strike a balance?
First, it is important to be aware of one very important dynamic I call the “frequency blindfold.” Here is how it works. The insider – the MGO – has a written plan for the donor. On that plan are pre-designed contacts and touches. There may be more than two in a month. And when the MGO looks at that plan she says the following to herself: “Goodness, I am contacting the donor quite often. Maybe I need to slow things down a bit.”
Now this statement, or some form of it, is not logical. It is an emotional response to seeing all the donor touches in one place. It feels like a lot, and that is why I call this the frequency blindfold – the MGO is blinded to the reality of the situation. The frequency of touches is really not too much; it just feels like it is.
Look at this from the donor’s point of view. If the donor is receiving information she likes to receive – in other words, the information matches her passions and interests – then frequency is not a big problem. If, on the other hand, the donor is receiving contact from you that she is not interested in, your contact will not be welcome.
The MGO is asking “am I contacting the donor too much?” instead of asking the question “am I sending the right things?” There is a huge difference between these two questions. This is a point that is missed so often in major gift communication. In fact, there are entire seminars, books and consultants out there offering all kinds of advice on how to ask and how to approach the donor. But there is very little help with sending the donor the right information.
Several months ago I was on a call with a MGO who was trying to decide how to communicate with his donor. Notice that the focus of our conversation was on strategy, or how. I asked the MGO: “So, what is the donor interested in?” He replied: “I’m not sure. I think it is X.” I said: “I think you’d better find out more about what your donor is interested in before you create your communication and contact strategy.”
This MGO came back to me later, very excited about how the relationship with this donor had progressed. He said: “Richard, I made contact with the donor, found out what she was interested in and started sending her material (email, news clippings, info on the phone), and she just can’t get enough! Sometimes I can’t get off the phone!!”
That was not surprising to me. You and I both know that if someone is talking to us about our interests, and we perceive that that person is not trying to “do something” to us, we can spend a great deal of time interacting with them. That’s true for me, and I am not naturally inclined to sit around and be chatty.
The reasons Jeff and I spend so much time repeating ourselves on this topic of identifying interests and passions is because (a) it is the key to major gift success, (b) it is the only way to meaningfully engage with each of your caseload donors, and (c) it is, surprisingly, not done very much.
So take some time right now and do the following five things:
- Get out your list of caseload donors.
- Identify the passions and interests of each of your donors. (If you can’t do this for some of your donors, then create a plan to get this information and write down the execution of that plan on your calendar.)
- Once you’ve done these steps, revisit your contact plan for each donor. Do NOT worry about frequency of contact. Just plan what comes naturally.
- Work your new plan.
- Sit back and watch how those conversations and contacts develop into healthy, meaningful and mutually profitable relationships.
Frequency of contact is not the critical point. In fact, it has hardly anything to do with why your donor is pushing you away. The critical point is relevant information. And that is what you need to correct in your management of caseload donors – switching your focus from trying to get the donor’s money to talking to them about what matters to them.