I will never forget the discussion I had when I was managing a sales team for a commercial company. I had been meeting with various salespeople, going over their performance, and now it was time to meet with Brandon (not his real name). Brandon was an energetic, high-achieving salesperson. He had a good heart and meant well, but I soon discovered that Brandon was not in touch with what mattered.
Our company had a variety of product lines, some with good margin, others almost “loss leaders.” If you sold a bunch of the good margin products, the company would make good profits, but if you sold only loss leader type products, the company basically broke even and might even lose money if you counted all the cost. The loss leader products were intended to capture the attention of new customers, and we would then sell additional high margin products to them.
It was a classic sales strategy – and a little more complex than how I am describing it here. But the point is that Brandon had been told, along with all the other salespeople, that his sales goal had a mix of 85% good margin product for current customers, and the other 15% was to be used to secure new customers.
When we met, Brandon was excited. He had already passed his yearly sales goal by 32%. And he expected me to be excited too. Only I wasn’t. Because 92% of everything he had sold was low-margin, loss leader product. I had warned him earlier that he needed to get off the path he was on and service existing customers with high margin product. But he had ignored my advice, and now he was upset that I was not excited about his “remarkable sales achievement.”
He had focused on sales volume rather than profit, the outcome the company needed.
It’s like a discussion I had with a MGO who had just received an unexpected $1 million gift and promptly announced to me that she could take it easy for the rest of the year, now that she had surpassed her goal. I took the million dollars out of the equation and pointed out that she was only at 51% of her goal and seriously at risk of not meeting goals unless she got busy. It was not a pleasant conversation.
She had focused on the gross numbers rather than retaining and upgrading all the caseload donors, the outcome the organization needed.
And then there are the finance people and management leaders who will be all puffed up about the scant 12% or 19% or even 8% they have for organizational overhead cost, while they sit on a nonprofit that is accomplishing very little with the money donors are entrusting to them.
They are focused on the cost of doing business rather than the business itself, which is what the organization is organized to do – the business of service to humankind and the planet.
This always amazes Jeff and me – that intelligent, well educated, experienced men and women who lead these organizations can look at what they are NOT achieving in program, ignore it and then take pride in the fact (which usually isn’t true) that their overhead is “so low.” Amazing.
All of these stories would be like having your bike on blocks and pedaling hard for an hour but going nowhere. You would put out a lot of effort and likely get some satisfaction out of having worked so hard. But you would not move one inch. And if you had intended to move, you (being a self-aware individual) would certainly know that you did NOT move, and that the experience left you unsatisfied.
Which leads me ask you two questions:

  1. Are you actually getting something done? It is important to stop and ask yourself the question at least once a month. I would do it with a copy of your caseload performance in front of you. Here is the central question as it relates to your job performance: are you retaining and upgrading your caseload donors? You will not retain all of them, but you should retain most of them – like 90 to 95%. If you aren’t, something is wrong. And are you retaining value? Are you, at least, keeping the same dollar value that your donor gave last year? If not, there is something wrong. And are you upgrading some of your donors – like 30% of them? Are they giving more? If not, there is something wrong. Are you actually getting something done? Now, to be fair, some donors will move. Some will pass away. Others will decide not to give, etc. I understand that. But do you know what the story is for every one of your donors? If not, there is something wrong.
  2. Does each of your caseload donors know he/she is making a difference through their giving? What if Jeff or I were to call each of your donors on the phone and ask them: “Do you think your giving to X is making a difference in our hurting world?” Would they say that they were satisfied with their relationship with you? Would they say their giving relationship with you was providing satisfaction and fulfillment to them? If not, there is something wrong.

You see, when you boil down your job as a MGO to these two points, you get to what really matters in major gifts. You get a desired organizational outcome (donors retained, upgraded and giving), and you get a donor’s desired outcome (to make a difference).
If you don’t secure these two outcomes, you are up on the blocks, pedaling and going nowhere. And that is not good. So take a look at what you are doing and make sure you are on track. It will make you more successful, you’ll be a happier professional, and your donors will be fulfilled in their giving.