Lately, I’ve been working with major gift officers either in creating new goals for the next fiscal year or strategizing to help them achieve their goals as they come toward the end of the current fiscal year.
It’s been challenging. Not because it’s hard for them to set a goal or even to make their goals.  No, it’s been challenging because the major gift officers have been so stressed out about the goal itself that some of them can’t move forward.
Let me explain.
I’m helping an MGO who is currently trying to set goals for the next fiscal year and it’s been really difficult for him.  After the first draft of setting goals for his caseload, there were a number of donors with much lower revenue goals than last year’s total revenue, and about 25 of this year’s donors who had absolutely no goal.
So I said to George (not his real name), “Why are your goals so low and what is going on with these 25 donors?”  After a lot of hemming and hawing he finally answered, “Well, I’m worried that if my goals are too high I’ll get fired when I don’t reach them and I really need this job.”
I’ll get back to George in a minute.  I’m also working with another MGO, Frank, (not his real name) who has another couple of months left in the fiscal year and he’s projecting that he will fall short of his goal by $200,000.
He’s frantic.  So I sat him down and we started talking.  I asked, “Frank, why do you think you’re not making your revenue goals this year?”  He said, “Well, when I made my original goals last year, I projected that I would get a $350K gift.  It actually came right at the end of the last fiscal year instead, but I never adjusted my goal for this fiscal year.”
I said, “Look Frank, if you take that gift out of your overall goal for this year you’re actually going to be OVER your goal.  Why are you so stressed out about this?”  Frank replied, “Well, I’m worried that all senior leadership will do is look at my caseload report and say that I’ve failed.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking as you read this.  “What are these MGO’s so afraid of?”  This is exactly it.  Richard and I have written about this over and over.  Fear is rampant in the major gift profession.  And even though it doesn’t make sense for George to sandbag his goals or even go so far as to not create goals for many of his donors, he’s so fearful that it actually caused him to look ridiculous when he was asked to set his goals.
In Frank’s case, he was so stressed out and worried about making a goal that in reality he’s already met, he basically shut down and couldn’t do anything with his caseload.
So there are some lessons here for all  MGO’s and those who manage them in regards to how we should view goals:

  1. Goals are meant to challenge and inspire you.  A goal should not be set as a potential punishment.  Who wants to dig his own grave?  Not me.  So for you managers out there, I really want you to understand this.  You will kill the spirit of an MGO if you use goals as punishment.  Don’t do it.
  2. Setting goals helps you create a solid strategy to achieve them.  As Richard and Ihave pointed out many times, each donor needs a goal and a strategy.  Without a solid roadmap you’ll get lost.  Goal setting helps you set a course for action.
  3. Goal setting helps management create reasonable budgets.  Another important purpose of setting goals is that management needs to have a pretty solid idea as to what kind of revenue to expect in the next fiscal year.  I often hear a lot of complaining from MGO’s about this, but the fact is your organization needs your goals to do their job properly.
  4. It’s actually NOT about the goal.  No, I have not lost my mind.  Here’s what I mean.  As someone who manages many MGO’s, I always ask them to name all the steps they took to achieve their goals.  If I’m satisfied that the MGO’s have worked their plan, I’m happy.  In major gift fundraising, all it takes is one or two caseload donors to go south for reasons beyond your control and your “goal” is shattered.  Does that mean you didn’t do your job?  Of course not.
  5. Communication is the key!  I have found that the more you communicate what is happening with your caseload to upper management, the better.  In Frank’s case, if he’d been communicating right from the beginning that before the fiscal year started his goals had changed dramatically, he would not be stressing out right now.  If you’re an MGO, I’m begging you to “manage expectations” with senior leadership.  If you are afraid to be proactive in your communication with senior leadership, that’s a management problem.

So, you may be asking yourself, “Is there ever a time I should be stressing out if I don’t make my goal?”  The answer is, YES!
You should be stressing out if you haven’t worked your individual donor strategy properly.  Again, as someone who manages the work of many MGO’s, I know when MGO’s have done everything they can to work their plan.  I also know when they have not.
Their monthly reports look sparse with activity.  They haven’t been meeting with donors face-to-face and instead, relying on the phone too much.  They are in the office at their desk a majority of the time. When I ask them questions about knowing their donors, their answers are hollow.  When this happens I know for sure their goals won’t be met.
Don’t let this be you.
If you want to be a great MGO, then you will embrace goals as a way to motivate and inspire you to achieve them.  So cast out that fear, work your plan, communicate and, no matter what, you will be able lift your head high at the end of the year.