The last time I wrote to you about four common myths of goal setting.  I told you that this is often where we get a lot of pushback from MGOs in our work with them.
I understand that pushback.  When you haven’t had to set goals for each of your donors and now you’re being asked to be accountable to a number, it can feel quite irritating.  That doesn’t stop me from demanding that you set goals, but I do have empathy for someone who must go through this process for the first time.
Having said that, I know the outcome will be positive, even while the MGO is still doubting it, because I’ve done this so many times and seen the success it creates.
A revenue goal for each donor and the subsequent plan to achieve that goal really is about putting a boundary around yourself.  Richard and I have talked about this before, but boundaries in major gift fundraising are essential to success.  Without solid boundaries you’ll end up in the woods, lost without a compass.
Okay, so have I sufficiently convinced you that goals are paramount to your success as a major gift officer?  Good.  Now, here is the step-by-step guide on how to determine a goal for each of your donors.

  1. Make sure all of your donors are qualified. — Before setting any goals with donors you have to know that the donors you are working with WANT a deeper relationship with you.  If you want to know how to do that, read this blog post.  Now, you should start goal setting as you are qualifying.  You don’t need to wait until all have been qualified.  This can be done simultaneously.
  2. Review previous results. — Obviously, before putting a revenue number to a donor you need to review previous giving behavior.  You are looking at a number of things here: a) total giving in the last four years, b) previous single gift amounts, c) previous pledges that have been made, d) abnormalities, such as giving 10x the amount than the previous year, e) when giving takes place during the course of the year, i.e., the donor usually gives in February and November, and what those amounts are.
  3. Review donor notes. — Take great care in reviewing notes from previous gift officers or even YOUR own notes on a particular donor.  They may explain why someone gave a $50,000 gift when they usually give $10,000.  This will be helpful so you don’t overstate a goal.
  4. Understand potential capacity. — If you have wealth indicator information attached to your donor record, it can serve as a guide.  Remember, wealth indicator information is not 100% fool proof.  It would be better if you thought of it as 50% correct.  Another way to find this out is to talk to people.  Yep, find out who knows these donors and get as much information from them as possible.  If you can’t find anyone who knows the donor, do your own research on the web and find out what they’ve given to other organizations.
  5. Do it. — Okay, you have all this information on each of your donors.  Now it’s time to start putting down goals.  This is what I want you to keep in mind as you are doing this:  what is a reasonable goal, given all this information?   For example, if a donor has been giving $10,000 every year for the last 4 years and no one has ever really talked to that donor, would it be reasonable – with all you are going to do this year to cultivate this relationship – to put down $12,500 or even $15,000?  Yes.  Now, the nuance here is understanding management’s expectations.  What kind of growth are they expecting from your overall caseload?  If it’s 20%, then perhaps $12,500 is good.
    Now, you then need to figure out when this revenue is expected throughout the year.  In other words, you need to cash-flow the goal by month.  Why?  Because this helps everyone – you, your manager and leadership – know when to expect revenue during the year, and how you should be managed.  It holds you accountable.
    This needs to be done for every donor on your caseload.  This process will take you a few days of concentrated effort.
    When you have completed your first draft of goal setting, add up the total of your entire caseload and compare it to their actual revenue from the previous year.  How does it come out?  Does it meet management expectations?  If not, go back and review again to see where you may have been too low, or too high, in some cases.  Then, review it with your manager.  Sit down and go over every donor, one by one, and get agreement between the two of you.  This is important.  Now you both “own” these goals.  This assures that you are not “on your own.”
  6. Stretch Goals. — “Jeff, you’re killing me.”  I get this often when, after asking MGOs to set their goals for management, I ask them to do stretch goals for every donor.  Why do I ask this?  Well, once you have a reasonable goal that meets management’s expectations, you can say to yourself, “I know I can ask for more from this donor.  If I manage this relationship right, they will do more.”  Another reason is that, psychologically, if you raise your expectations, you will achieve those expectations.  Stretch goals are not so outlandish that there is no way you can achieve them.  No, they are reasonable, PLUS a bit of an extra to challenge you.  You don’t reveal stretch goals to management.  Those are for you to challenge yourself with.

Those are the steps to goal setting with your caseload.  If you follow this process, you will have done it in a thoughtful, careful way that your manager will approve of.  Now, here’s something to remember when setting goals and actually working toward those goals throughout the year… communicate!
As you are setting goals, you need to be talking to your manager on the process and getting buyoff along the way.  Know what the expectations are from your manager.  And, during the course of the year, you need to be proactive in relating to management where you are on your goals compared to actual revenue.  If you notice a few of your donors going south and fear they will not make their goal, make sure management knows this as it’s happening.
Key point:  Do not change your goals during the course of the year.  However, you may have to revise expectations with your manager, both lower and higher, depending on how the year is going. 
Do NOT wait until the end of the year and have them ask, “What happened?”  Not good.  Great MGOs are always communicating up to management to let them know how the year is progressing.  Remember, goal setting is a guide to help you. It’s not meant as a way to “punish” you if goals are not met, UNLESS you are actually NOT working your plan to achieve the goal.
Goals are not set to punish or restrict you, but actually to set you free!