wallbuilding 2013-July29
We are often asked about the principles that govern the creation and management of a caseload.  In too many situations, Jeff and I find that there are no principles or rules for adding and deleting donors to and from a caseload at all.  In fact, no one has even thought about it, which is pretty scary.
I am going through some documents of a leading national charity right now where caseload sizes range from 86 up to 410!  These are active caseloads!  And, as I dig deeper into the circumstances surrounding the nature of these caseloads, I find that, most often, some authority figure has subjectively set up caseload criteria for the MGO.  I say subjectively because the criteria for who gets added and who gets taken off reflects the personal subjective view of the authority figure, not some strategic approach.
This happens way too often, which is why I am writing about this topic.
First of all, the over-riding principle for caseload management composition is that an MGO should only be relating to qualified donors for the purpose of simultaneously fulfilling individual donor interests and passions and securing revenue for the organization.
This one organizing principle is violated over and over again in way too many situations that Jeff and I encounter.  Things happen such as:

  • The MGO is tasked with handling things other than caseloads – things like events or servicing the promotional needs of some lower level executive of a chapter, division or department.  Or other times MGOs are tasked with an “official rep” position for some of their job which is not revenue producing. You would not believe how often this happens.  And then the same “shirts” who set this system up are the people who are beating up on the MGO for lack of revenue production!  Whew.  Crazy.
  • The MGO is tasked with prospecting.  Jeff and I are working with one situation where the executive firmly believes that his MGOs should be out prospecting for new donors.  He argues his case strongly even when we point out that there are enough high capacity/high inclination donors that are currently giving who the MGO should pursue.  This grass is greener on the other side syndrome is often hard to defeat.  And when it is operating, it is often too late to kill it until the damage has been done – the damage being lost time and lost revenue as the MGO pursues the ghosts he’s been asked to chase.

So, this organizing principle must be in place: a single-minded focus on 150 qualified donors.  And by “qualified” we mean that the donor meets the major gift criteria for the organization AND the donor has agreed to a relationship with the MGO.  Once a caseload with this composition is in place, there are two objectives that need to drive adding and dropping donors from it.

  1. A relational objective – The MGO must do everything he or she can to lift up, promote, fulfill and care for the interests and passions of each donor on the caseload.  We have said this before in all of our writings, and we believe that this is one of the key foundational objectives of caseload management.
  2. An economic objective – Now here is where it gets dicey and many MGOs and their managers lose their way.  It is obvious to all of us that a caseload has a real and needed economic contribution to make to the organization.  If it fails to make that contribution, all is lost and there is no reason to even have an MGO.  I say this in this manner because Jeff and I often run into MGOs who actually believe that in the hierarchy of values, the relational objective is the most important. It’s not.  An MGO can pursue relationship ad infinitum and not have it matter whatsoever.  Why?  Because no economic value was derived from it.  This is not good.  Conversely, an MGO can solely pursue an economic objective devoid of hardly any relational value, get the money, lose the relationship and then lose the future money.  This is not good either.  The point is that the economic objective needs to be pursued within the context of relationship.

The pursuit of these two objectives in caseload management practically means this:

  1. As time progresses some of the current 150 donors will economically drop to the bottom of the caseload pyramid. There will be many reasons for this: lack of interest, change in financial position, upset with the organization, etc., etc.  The fact is that, as time passes and the MGO is managing the entire caseload, the higher value donors will percolate to the top and the lower value donors will migrate to the bottom.
  2. As time passes, new donors of higher value will surface – Due to donor acquisition, referrals, events and other programs, new donors who have higher economic value than the donors at the bottom of the caseload pyramid will surface.
  3. The current lower value donors should be replaced with higher value donors.  While this may be hard to do relationally, it is an important thing that needs to be done.  We suggest you look at replacing low performing donors at least one time a year, maybe two times.  The non-negotiable one time to do this is after the close of each calendar year.  That is when you can actually see how the donors on your caseload performed.  You will then be in a position to match their behavior (their giving) with your knowledge of how things are going.  This is the time you should make some of your major changes, removing up to 20% of your current donors and adding some new ones.  Another time to look at this is mid-calendar year, around June and July, but I would be careful not to make too many changes then.  However, if you know that certain donors you thought were going to give are just not going to, then you need to get on with exchanging them for new donors.

While all of this is going on, remember that every year, at least once a year, you need to identify one or two, maybe three, donors who you believe, if managed in a highly personalized donor driven way, could give a substantial six or seven figure gift to your organization. You should always have 1-3 donors on your caseload who you are managing in this way.
The net of all of this approach, if performed exactly as we are prescribing here, will be a caseload that grows in value over time.  Why?  You are consistently increasing the value of the caseload by retaining donors of high value and replacing donors of low value.
This approach, over time, causes the value of the caseload to increase. There is hardly any caseload in the field of major gifts that just grows in value on its own.  Someone, usually the MGO, is actively managing up the high value donors and managing out the low value donors.  That is how you increase your caseload ROI and how you produce more net revenue for your organization.