Good donors are running out the door at an alarming rate. Our team just finished analyzing the active major donor file of a large charity in the Midwest, and I was not surprised to find that situation once again. They are leaving the organization not because something terrible has happened that has forced them out. Nope. They are leaving because of neglect.
This organization, much like many we see every day, woos the donor in (acquisition) with a promise of doing something good, and then it ignores them to the point that they leave. They are ignored when managers don’t develop strategies (or they don’t give their donor management system and staff the resources they need) to let good donors know that they are appreciated and that their giving is making a difference.
The result – donors leave. And they leave at outrageous rates. On average, 4-6 of every 10 donors (40-60%) leave the organization they joined just twelve months earlier. Contrast that to donors that are properly taken care of, leaving at a rate of 1-2 in every 20 donors! A huge difference – and all of this affects the bottom line in a significant economic way.
All of this is why Jeff and I – and our team of associates around the country – are obsessed with figuring out how to manage donors who come in the organization and are moving up in their giving. This is important for two reasons:

  • Donors should be honored, respected and valued.
  • Donors who stay with you are the main fuel of the organization’s economic engine. If you fail at this point, your organization will struggle financially.

In my last post I provided recommendations on What To Do With Donors Who Reach A Giving Threshold. The whole point of that post was to think about and take action on donors who are moving up in their giving. Why? To honor them, value them AND keep them.
If you are following those recommendations in some form or another, then the next step is to develop a system for moving donors from mid-level to major gifts. Here are three points to consider as you design your system:

  1. Not all donors in your mid-level program will move to major gifts, due either to donor interest or capacity. So the objective for those donors is retention, not upgrading. While this point seems obvious, we find that a number of managers do not value retention aside from upgrading. In other words, they think that if a donor is not going to upgrade then they are of lesser value. This is unfortunate thinking. You need to value donors who consistently give the same amount and want to stay there. True, as the years pass, the value of their giving is going down, adjusted for inflation. But these donors are the economic backbone of your organization. And don’t forget that many of them, if treated properly, will likely give you their estates or refer you to others.
  2. When a mid-level donor hits the major gift criteria, qualify them for a MGO assignment. Remember, not all donors who reach the major gift giving level criteria actually want to relate personally with a major gift officer. In fact in our experience, of every 3 or 4 donors who reach the major gift giving level criteria, only one actually wants to relate more personally. So you only want to “pass on” to major gifts those donors who qualify for MGO assignment. Usually, the mid-level staff relating to the donor will know this information, but if they don’t then a MGO will have to qualify them.
  3. Don’t overload MGOs who already have full caseloads. Remember that MGOs have a full caseload of qualified donors with a maximum of 150; they cannot take on the additional responsibility of handling the donors moving over from mid-level or coming in new from other sources. This is a major topic of discussion with many managers and prospect researchers – they haven’t thought about the labor implications of their desire just to move donors onto MGOs for “handling” without regard for the current donors they manage. Do not do this unless the MGO has “room” in her caseload. Instead, if all the MGOs’ caseloads are “full,” hire more MGOs to take on these new donors (yes, you can afford it). Also, consider putting in place a full-time staff member who serves the “holding and transition function” between mid-level (and outside sources) and major gifts. You need to design a system that protects the current MGO while handling the good donors who are coming in.

If you are a manager of mid-level or major gift programs and you have the authority to create these systems, I want to say something about you and your attitude related to all of this. Jeff and I find that many managers find this subject of creating systems to handle more donors moving up in their giving a major hassle or burden. For them, it is “something to be dealt with.”
This is so interesting to me. Here you have more and more donors coming in the door and expressing their desire to increase their support for the organization – and this is a problem?? It seems like an opportunity to me!
I know all of this is not easy, especially if you are a manager who has to deal with a tightwad CFO or CEO who doesn’t value donors. I know. But don’t let those attitudes color yours. Keep your head up and focused on the wonderful thing that is happening here, and do the best you can to create systems to nurture and care for these good donors.
If you would like help building and managing a mid and/or major gift program please contact Jeff at 267-254-2939 or use our online form.