Doing it the wrong way.We have been saying it all along, and now others are saying it: things are not right in the development function of many non-profits. In a recent article in Education Dive, Autumn Arnett writes:
“…a recent survey of university gift officers, conducted by Ruffalo Noel Levitz found a majority of gift officers feel they are not efficiently using their time to get the maximum impact and more dollars to campus. According to the survey, administrative tasks and bad tracking data are prohibiting officers from spending time meeting with prospective donors to close deals — respondents said they only get to visit 52% of their donor pool each year, leaving money on the table every cycle.”
Then she gives two reasons for lack of success:

  1. Poorly managing gift officers’ time. Many gift officers say they are spending too much time scheduling meetings and not enough time actually meeting. Simply having a scheduler or assistant to handle such administrative tasks would make a huge difference, they say. Additionally, internal issues and meetings and distractions take away from valuable face time with donors — 55% said they aren’t spending enough time on solicitation, and nearly 44% said they don’t spend enough time managing the donor relationships.
  2. Focusing on the wrong things. A focus on activity metrics rather than on success metrics will also hurt the bottom line. In many cases, respondents of the RNL survey said their performance was evaluated on volume, meaning that officers were rewarded for scheduling more meetings, regardless of closure rates. Because of this need to pad their activity logs, only half of their top donors are getting visits each year.

Not only that, but wealth ratings, which 86% of gift officers are using, are not necessarily good indicators of a person’s likelihood to give, respondents say. Only 68% use propensity ratings, which are supposed to be more predictive, meaning, as one respondent put it, “We spend too much time chasing rabbits that may not result in much.”
Remember, more of your success in major gifts depends on what YOU do and less on what the donor does.
The donors are in your donor file; they’ve already given to you before. And many of them have the inclination and ability to give again – but many don’t. So how you use your time to find, nurture and cultivate them is a crucial element to your success.
Here’s the key.
“What we forget is that relationship-building is a science,” said Brian Gawor, RNL’s Vice President of Research. “There’s hoards of data available, but it can’t be a model where you apply the same model to everyone.” Instead, he said that success is better achieved by finding ways to engage individually via a connection to personal stories, experiences and interests — determining where people want to give and why.
It comes back to passions and interests. I know that Jeff and I are constantly talking about this. Sorry. But we have to do it, because it is not sinking in.
You must figure out what your donors’ interests and passions are. And then you must serve those interests and passions outrageously.
You may have voices around you telling you to focus on wealth ratings and asset information. Note the statement above – “wealth ratings, which 86% of gift officers are using, are not necessarily good indicators of a person’s likelihood to give; and 68% use propensity ratings, which are supposed to be more predictive – there is too much time chasing rabbits that may not result in much.”
Wealth ratings are not always accurate, and they certainly do not tell you if a donor will give. We have one situation right now where a manager of major gifts is insisting that his MGO go visit a high net worth person who has never given, instead of talking to the current donors on file who can give substantially. I don’t understand this.
Amid all of this noise, let’s keep this simple.
A donor has a passion to do something good. She gives. You uncover the fact that she has given a current cumulative gift higher than the average donor on your file. Stop here. Pay attention to these two data points: current gift, and cumulatively higher than your average donor.
These are critical indicators of donor inclination. Pay attention to that.
Now, move to information on capacity, and place your donors in a hierarchy of inclination (and history of giving – which is past inclination) and capacity, in that order.
Then start uncovering passions and interests, and serve the donors on your caseload, paying close attention to who is engaging with you at a greater level. Do NOT get sidetracked by capacity at this point. Someone might say: “Hey, look at those high-capacity people on your caseload. Go after them! They will give more.” Not necessarily true. The high-inclination donors, where you have a perfect match of your ask to their interests and passions, will give the most. Some of them will be high-capacity.
Stay focused on the right things. A leader, manager or another MGO may assert that the degree of the donor’s wealth is the key metric to drive whether you pay attention to them. Ignore that.
Instead, pay attention to inclination (past and present), and then pay attention to connectivity. Will the donor actually connect with you when you present her with an unmet need that matches her passions and interests? Mix capacity into your decision. Yes, you have to always be looking at capacity, but don’t let it become the shiny object that distracts you.
These are the three indicators you need to watch: inclination and connectivity tell you the state of the donor’s mind and heart, and capacity tells you the state of the donor’s ability.
PS — Read more about selecting donors to spend more time on, in our free white paper, “How to Tier Your Major Donors.”