goals.If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a bit, you know that we’re constantly telling you – as part of The Veritus Way of major gifts – that you need to set individual revenue goals for every one of the donors in your portfolio.
We don’t set goals because we want to create a punishment system for the major gift officer. We do it to help focus the major gift officer, help her stay accountable, and have something to attain.
And it helps management create realistic revenue goals in the budgeting and planning process because the goals are based on real people, not made-up percentages of wishful growth.
You know what? We’ve found over the years that when a major gift officer creates a revenue goal for a donor, more than 90% of the time they meet or exceed it. Why? Because every revenue goal has a plan attached to that goal. If the MGO is working the plan, they make the goal. It’s really that simple.
I’ll be honest: when we start working with an MGO and tell them they need to do this goal-setting thing, we get a bunch of pushback. We hear anything from, “Is it ethical to attach a revenue goal to a donor?” to, “That’s way too much work. I don’t have time to create a goal for every donor.” Or, “If I create a goal and I don’t make it, I’ll get fired!”
Look, we’ve heard all the complaints and excuses not to create a goal. But I’m telling you that in working with well over a thousand major gift officers, we’ve found that creating goals is not only doable… it works! And all those good folks who were complaining in the beginning, they eagerly do it the next year. Because they see how well it does work.
So the question is, how do you actually create a goal for every donor in your portfolio? Here’s a step-by-step process for you:

  1. Review all previous giving. For each donor, you should go back at least 4 years of data, if you have it, to look at your donor’s trends in giving. Of course, the most recent is the most relevant, but you’re looking for patterns. For example, say you have a donor that in 2016 gave $2,500, in 2017, $10,000, in 2018, $5,000 and in 2019, $7,500. Without knowing any other circumstances, you might conclude the 2020 goals should be somewhere between $10,000-$12,500. Why? Because the donor has been consistent. They’ve shown they can give at least $10,000 and in 2019 their giving increased from the previous year. So my question would be to the major gift officer, “If you spent more time with this donor and figured out their passions and interests, could you move this donor’s giving higher and get them back into the $10–12.5K range?”
  2. What do you know about the donor’s story? You may have all the donor’s data on their giving behavior. But what do you know about the donor and their life’s circumstances that may lead you to believe they would be likely to give more or less in the following year? For example, perhaps the donor has been consistently giving $20K per year. But you found out that they’re having a major health issue that’s taken them away from their work and they’ve been focused on it (and rightly so). In your planning, you may consider greatly reducing the goal down or perhaps consider that you might not receive a gift this year from that donor.
  3. Review research analysis. If you have wealth indicator analysis along with any other research you’ve done on the capacity of your donor, this will help you create your goal. So for example, let’s say you have a donor who’s fairly new to your portfolio and they gave $5,000 to your organization last year. But then from your research, you find they have an extremely high wealth rating and that they have a home value of $2,500,000. If I were you, I’d consider a goal around $20,000 in the next year because they have the capacity and they’ve already shown propensity. Now if you were able to get to know this donor, understand their passions and interests, and how it matched up to your programs, you could really move this donor up in their giving.

Okay that’s how you come up with goals. Here are the other steps as it relates to goal-setting:

  1. Cash-flow these goals. Make an educated guess, based on previous giving behavior, in what month the revenue will come in. For example, perhaps your donor’s goal is $20,000; $10,000 will come in March and the other $10,000 will come in November. Do this for every donor, and you’ll have your revenue goal by month. This keeps you focused and helps your manager manage you.
  2. Create a visionary goal for every donor. So the first goal is the one you submit to management. That’s what they’re evaluating you on. The vision goal is to help you set the bar a little higher. The question we ask an MGO is this: If you could spend more time with this donor and figure out something they would love to invest in, how much more could their goal be? It’s amazing how often the MGO succeeds at making the visionary goal.
  3. Make sure your goals align with management expectations. The process of goal-setting should work something like this: 1. You create a first pass at the goal… let it sit for a day or so. 2. Go back and make sure you think they’re right and adjust as necessary. 3. Submit your goals to management. 4. Management will come back to you with questions about either individual donors or just your overall goal. 5. You review your goals again to see how aligned they are with management expectations. 6. Set up a meeting with management to talk through goals and why you’ve set them the way you have. Be open to some changes and to be challenged with some of your goals.
  4. Monthly goal check-in meetings. It’s important that you’re always checking in with management regarding individual donors and your monthly goals. You want to be proactive if you know that a donor who you projected to give in March is not going to give until May. If you don’t talk about that before the end of March, leadership will have a different expectation than you will about your monthly goal. You don’t want that to happen. Major gifts can be volatile, because if one donor doesn’t give as expected, for some reason beyond your control, your revenue goal will not be met that month. But if you’re working your plan… that’s all you can do. And because you’ve proactively told management the story and why you’re not making that goal, they can trust you’ve done all you could with that donor.

Goal-setting is essential for your success as a major gift officer. You don’t have to fear goals. Goals are there to help you focus and to keep you accountable. (Tweet it!) You’ll end up loving this process, after you realize you’ve made or are exceeding those goals at the end of the year.
Happy goal-setting!
Jeff