Many years ago a movie was released starring Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro, called “The Mission.” There is a scene in that movie that was so powerful it has stayed with me all these years.

Jeremy Irons plays a priest in the 18th Century who is a missionary in the jungles of Argentina. Before he goes into the jungle, he takes mercy on Robert De Niro’s character, a murderer and slave trader, and tells him to come with him into the jungle and help him befriend and evangelize the native peoples.

The scene is this. As they start out into the jungle, Robert De Niro, feeling such shame and remorse for the sins he’s committed, ties these massive weights to his body as “penance,” making it harder for him to walk with the rest of the priest’s party.

Eventually, they come to a massive waterfall that they have to climb in order to get to where they need to go. There is no other way than to climb up this mountain with the waterfall.

It’s arduous, and it’s painful to witness Robert De Niro climb this mountain. It’s hard enough to make it up with no baggage, but with these massive weights attached to him it almost seems impossible. The ropes he has tied around him dig into his skin, and the anguish on his face is almost too much to watch.

As they get close to the top, one of the weights tied to De Niro gets caught, and he can’t move forward any longer. He’s pulling at the weight, trying to loosen it, but nothing works. Finally, the priest (Jeremy Irons) gives a nod to one of his men to help. The man takes out a giant machete and cuts the rope, sending all the weights crashing to the bottom of the waterfall.

As he cuts the rope, De Niro lets out a massive yell; and as you watch his face, you can feel the burden of the weights being cut off his back.

Whenever I have re-watched that scene, I’ve always felt my own sense of relief.

Now there are many analogies you can make from this scene, but as it relates to your work as a major gift officer, the one I go to is all the “dead weight” you are carrying around on your portfolio that is preventing you from moving forward and being a truly effective MGO.

Recently, I’ve been analyzing data from a number of major gift programs. In that data I’ve found scores of major gift officers carrying portfolios with 250-565 donors on them. It’s too much to bear.

When I talk to the major gift officers about how they are doing with that many donors on their portfolios, they let out a sigh and tell me how hard it is. It’s frustrating because they can’t get meetings or get donors to take their calls. They feel they don’t spend quality time with their best donors because they are trying to reach out to everyone.

Some of the major gift officers I talked to are about ready to quit. Who would blame them? Carrying any more than 150 donors in your portfolio is like having giant weights strapped to your back and trying to climb a mountain. It’s unnecessary, and you will get hung up and lose hope.

Instead, cut that weighted rope. Qualify these donors. Only work with donors that want to relate to you in a personal way, who want a deeper relationship. It’s the only way you will be effective.

If you are a manager, do NOT allow your major gift officer to carry that heavy burden of over 150 donors. Be the person with the machete, and cut the weight off.

I can tell you the amazing difference we see when we cut the rope and help the MGO only work with 150 qualified donors. Now you have the time to work more with your A-level donors. Now you can start forming relationships and bring in much more revenue from 150 than you ever did with 250 or 565 donors. Way more.

Being a major gift officer is hard, hard work. Some days it feels like climbing a mountain; don’t make it harder on yourself by taking on the extra weight. You don’t need to “do penance.” You’re making a difference in the world. Do it a little lighter.

Jeff

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