business person walking through exit doors major gift officer leavesRecently, one of our Veritus client managers told me a story about one of our clients she is working with. Here is her story:

I was on a plane flying to a client meeting, and that gave me some time to review in-depth the donor caseloads of each of the MGOs I’m managing for our client. While going over each of their donors, I noticed a number of other donors, not on anyone’s caseload, that had been part of a former MGO’s caseload. This MGO (no longer with the organization) left about three months before we started working with this organization.

What struck me was that these donors had given significant gifts: Like $100,000 for one donor and in the $10k-$25k range for some other donors. Yet they were never reassigned to another MGO.

When I landed, I immediately called the Executive Director and asked if she was aware of this, and did she know who these donors were. Nope! She had no clue. So here were good donors who were on a former MGO’s caseload and no one had done anything with them for months. I had a knot in my stomach. The Executive Director was elated I found these donors, and we quickly reassigned them and put together a plan to reengage them.

When I heard this story, I was NOT shocked. Richard and I hear this kind of stuff all the time. This happens with major donors because many non-profits clearly have no structure in place for their major gift program.
In this case, this non-profit obviously had no protocol for what to do when a major gift officer leaves the organization. Now, if the organization had been donor-centered and had understood donor service, they would have taken great care of these donors.
Fortunately, we’re working with them now, and this won’t happen ever again. But how does your organization handle anyone that has a portfolio of donors they are cultivating, and then they leave? Do you have a protocol in place?
If not, here is one we suggest:

  1. If the MGO that is leaving gives you plenty of notice and is leaving on good terms and you have a replacement, a letter from that MGO should be sent to her donors, introducing the new MGO.
  2. For some of the “A” level donors in her portfolio, if there is time, a meeting could be set up for the outgoing MGO to introduce the new MGO to the donor. Obviously, this is the best-case scenario.
  3. The new MGO should follow that letter with a phone call within one week, reaching out to all donors in the portfolio to personally introduce himself.
  4. If the MGO abruptly leaves or is asked to leave, you must quickly review the entire portfolio and assign those donors to other MGOs or staff who can “cover” the caseload until you can find a replacement.
  5. A letter should go out immediately from the CEO or ED, explaining the situation to the donors in an appropriate way. (Of course, you don’t go into detail on why the former MGO has left.)
  6. For all “A” level and perhaps some “B” level donors, the CEO or ED should personally call those donors, in addition to the letter, to let them know of the situation and that they are being cared for.
  7. As soon as you have hired a replacement (or you have determined a new in-house solution), you should communicate with your donors. The new person who is now caring for that donor should reach out as soon as possible.

This protocol ensures that all donors will be cared for, that donors are communicated with, and that you are proactive in that communication. While some may be disappointed, most donors understand that this stuff happens with non-profits.
The mistake many non-profits make is that they sit on this information and make the situation worse by not being proactive, because they fear the donor will think badly of the organization. In the story above, because there was no protocol in place, donors were simply “forgotten” by the organization – and that is the last thing you would ever want to happen.
Remember, being donor-centered means having systems in place to make sure every donor is cared for under any situation. Do you have all your systems in place?