“Review and clean up my caseload?” the Major Gift Officer asked. “Why do I need to do that?” And I explained, again, why every MGO needs to have a caseload of donors who, a) want to have a relationship with the organization and the MGO and, b) are active in supporting the organization. And by active I mean they have given a gift in 2013 or they gave a gift in 2012 and have a good reason why they did not give in 2013.
This “reviewing and cleaning of the caseload” should happen every January – or at least no later than February. Why? Because this is the time of year when all the calendar year gifts have been processed, the data is in the system and the MGO can look back and make decisions about which donors should continue to reside on the caseload.
Remember, in major gifts, a caseload of donors is where qualified high value donors live. Do you have 150 qualified donors on your caseload?
If your answer is no, then you need to get busy straightening that out. In the last few days I have had a conversation with one full time MGO who has 62 donors on his caseload. This would be OK if the average value of those donors was $25,000, but it isn’t. The average value of those 62 donors is less than $1000! And this is a full time MGO.
There’s another situation where the organization has 5 MGOs and the average caseload size is 411 donors! Huh? How can that possibly work? There is no way those MGOs can properly service 411 donors. When I dug into that situation I discovered that one of the MGOs was “stewarding” 50 donors. Stewarding meant that those donors had signaled they would not be giving anymore, so the MGO was spending a great deal of time maintaining those relationships.
It’s a nice idea on the surface, but an utter waste of time for that MGO. Better to hand those donors off to an administrative person who will provide each donor with the same information and “touches” that the MGO would and thereby release the MGO to manage economically profitable relationships.
I know that as you read this you might twinge a bit when you read the words “economically profitable.” I do myself. But the reason I use these words is because it is important to capture the understanding that MGOs need to have meaningful and mutual relationships that deliver economic value to the organization. If they don’t, then you cannot justify the cost of the MGO. So, here’s the point. Look at your caseload. Are all of those donors qualified and contributing economic value? If not, you need to do something.
Reviewing and cleaning the caseload means six specific actions you need to take right now:
- Did a donor pass away? He or she needs to come off your caseload. As you read this you might be saying, “Come on, Richard. That is so obvious!” Well, believe it or not, Jeff and I see scores of caseloads with dead people on them. I don’t understand it.
- Did the donor give a one-time gift in 2013, and you know for sure she will not give again? Then she needs to come off. I know, I know. You feel obligated to keep her on. But why? Because you want to stay in touch? But why? Because she gave that gift. So are you going to leave her on for the next five years? How many more spaces on your caseload will you occupy with these kinds of donors? You can’t afford to do this. Figure out how to steward these donors outside of you and your caseload. I definitely agree that the donor needs to be stewarded. I am just asking that YOU not be the one to do it.
- Did the donor move to another city, state or country? Often when donors move they switch their loyalty to a more local charity or the local chapter of the same charity. Are you aware of those movements and decisions?
- Did a donor just not give in 2013? If he didn’t, do you know why? If you don’t, there are two problems. First, why don’t you know? I thought you had relationships with all of the donors on your caseload. Secondly, if the donor has not been talking to you, what steps have you taken to get in touch and figure out why? Just last week I heard about a situation where one MGO had not heard from over 45 of her donors, did not have any idea what was going on with them and had made no effort to figure it out! This is unbelievable. How can any self-respecting MGO sit on 45 donors for a full year, not hear from them and not be curious about what is going on? If a donor did not give, the reason could be one of the following: lack of interest, financial hardship, disappointed with the organization, doesn’t like the MGO, doesn’t know that her giving is making a difference (the likely reason) or new priorities. It is important to know why the donor did not give and then either take action to correct the situation or move the donor off the caseload.
- Are there higher value donors on the donor file who are not on a caseload? Sometimes you need to trade out lower value donors for higher value donors. Every time I say this someone will say, “Goodness, that sounds so mercenary. You’re moving donors around like pawns. And your only criterion is delivering economic value?” Yep. That’s right. The operating principle in major gifts is that each MGO on the team manages the highest value donors who want to relate more personally to the organization. That means that as new high-value donors surface, managers have one of two options: replace lower value donors with higher value donors on an MGO’s caseload or add new MGOs. Or both.
- The donor gave but does not want to relate personally. This happens. At first, as part of the qualification process, the MGO determines that the donor does want to relate. That is why he is on the caseload. But as time passes, the MGO discerns that things have changed – the donor is not as responsive or not responsive at all. He keeps giving, but stops interacting. There are two choices here: maybe your contact with the donor needs to move to a high-end direct marketing mode vs. something more personal. By high-end direct marketing I mean personalized direct mail, e-mail, etc., where the donor’s information needs are met in a non-personal contact way. The other choice would be to move him off the caseload.
There may be other actions you should take, but these are the basic ones. And the objective is to have a caseload that is fully functional and filled with energized, qualified donors who want to interact with you and can contribute economic value to the organization.
One last word: If you suggest to your manager that it is time to review and clean the caseload and he or she says that you should wait until the end of the fiscal year to do so, please remind that manager that donors think and give in calendar years, not in the self-made financial periods of organizations. Now is the time to review and clean the caseload – and not any later than this month.