cash 2013-Mar04
Several weeks ago I got into a rather heated argument with a finance person in a large non-profit who was taking an aggressive and spirit-robbing position on the value of a Major Gift Officer.
“What good are they doing anyway?”  he said.  “They take credit for money that is already gonna come in!  I don’t see what value they add.”
And then he pulled out a report that showed the caseload performance year-to-date of one of his MGOs.  He pointed out how a certain amount of the caseload dollars was generated by direct mail and another amount was generated by an event and the third amount came in without any “obvious help” from the MGO, etc., etc.
My blood was boiling.
But I managed to keep my mouth shut until I could gather my thoughts and present them in an objective and reasonable fashion.
And that is what I want to share with you over the next few blog posts – how to think about and present the economics of fundraising so that you will have:

  1. a clear understanding of how your caseload should economically work – that is, best practice from professionals just like yourselves from all around the country.
  2. a plausible and truthful presentation and, if necessary, a defense of what should be expected in terms of caseload and MGO performance.
  3. an answer to aggressive and sometimes ignorant management folks who have no understanding of how major gifts works and who, rather than spending the time it takes to understand it, just sit on the sidelines and peck the spirit out of you.

Jeff and I really do think that MGOs and the work they do is often misunderstood.  How can someone spend so much time doing “nothing but relating to people” and actually make that work economically?  They grow impatient with how long it takes, not realizing that any good relationship takes a great deal of time to develop.
Then there is the credit issue.  What should an MGO get credit for?  I have been in countless conversations where either the finance person or even the CEO would rather an MGO spend hours a day proving how he or she “got the gift” vs. actually spending time out in the field with donors.  It is amazing how much energy is spent on this subject.
Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am a firm believer in the principle that MGOs need to be able to show they truly had a hand in what caused a gift from a donor.  In fact, one of the questions Jeff and I regularly ask MGOs is “Can you actually relate to each donor on your caseload?  Can you show that your efforts in some way or another influenced the donor’s decision to give?”
If the MGO has absolutely no way to talk to the donor, either in person, via mail, email or phone, then it is highly unlikely there is a connection between the donor’s gift and the MGO.  But then, that donor should not be on the caseload.
So, my presumption is that all caseload donors are qualified – that the MGO has determined that, in fact, he or she CAN relate to and positively influence them in a way the donor and the MGO have agreed upon.
But back to the subject at hand.
Jeff and I think it is important for MGOs and their managers to clearly understand:

  1. …that just relating to each donor on the caseload stops value attrition by as much as 60%.  This is a ton of money!  And we can show this progress to those outside of the process who need and want to understand it.  This means that if the MGO did nothing but show appreciation to the donor and her giving and show her how her giving is making a difference, the amount of money going away each year would go down to almost nothing.  This is what we call “found money” – it is money we once had, then lost, and then found again.
  2. …that “new money” is both the new gift that came in from a donor as a result of the MGO’s work and also the “found money” that would have attritioned off and gone away had the MGO not been working with the donor.  This is a ticklish subject that is often misunderstood by the doubters outside the process.  You must understand this to appreciate the good you are doing in major gifts.
  3. …that, in addition to the found money in point #2 above, there are very few possibilities for large and unusual gifts in a caseload.  Many onlookers think an MGO should be cranking out scores of very large gifts from his or her caseload.  The truth is that good MGOs will be lucky to secure one or two vs. the dozens many managers and finance people believe they should.

So, there is work to be done to explain these things to yourself and others.  And that is what I intend to do over the next week.  It is one thing to be in the business of fulfilling and servicing the passions and interests of each of your caseload donors.  It is another thing to manage the internal publics.  You could do the donor thing really well and be miserable because you haven’t taken care of the internal “business”.  For the most part, management folks are reasonable and supportive people.  They just need to understand how this major gift thing works.  And I am going to help you make sure they understand.