letting go
Letting go… it’s not always easy, is it? Anyone who has had to take her child to college or end a relationship knows that saying goodbye is never easy.
It’s also not easy for you as a major gift officer when a donor whom you have been stewarding and cultivating over time no longer meets the criteria to be included in a major gift program. Richard, our team and I see this dynamic quite a bit when we first start working with a new organization.
Many times, we’ll see major gift officers with 200, 300 or even 500 donors as part of their portfolios. When we tell the major gift officers they are going to have to pare that down to 150 donors, they are shocked!
“But these are MY donors,” one will plead. “You can’t take them off of my caseload, they really like me. They won’t give if I’m not their MGO.” But when we dig into the donor’s giving history, we find that they are no longer giving at a level that justifies their being on a caseload.
The MGO has to let them go.
In cases where MGOs have way more than 150 donors in their portfolios, it’s much easier to pare down their lists, versus an MGO who has 150 donors in his portfolio (as he should), but there are donors “waiting in the wings” who actually have more capacity and propensity to give.
This is where we get into some fairly tense discussions about the responsibility of the MGO both to the donors as well as to the organization. In many cases an MGO does not want to “give up” one of his donors for a new donor who has either greater value or much higher potential, because he has spent time nurturing that donor along.
I get that. But usually I find that the MGO doesn’t want to give up a donor because he feels some personal connection, or for some reason he thinks he has failed by not moving that donor up. This is where we have to remind the MGO that these donors are not “his” donors. They belong to the organization. And because of that, the organization has to use its resources in a responsible manner.
As much as we want to believe that all donors in the donor base are equal, the fact is that they are not. Especially in major gifts, some donors are much more valuable to the organization than others.
Yet the cost to cultivate each of those donors is relatively the same. I say relatively, because you do spend more time on some donors than others, but there are some donors on your file today that you simple can’t justify the expense for an MGO to cultivate them. So to keep a low-performing donor on a caseload because you are emotionally tied to that person or you feel bad, that is not being a good steward of your organization’s resources.
Here is some practical advice on the process of letting go of donors in your portfolio:

  1. Quarterly check-in meetings with your manager — In this meeting, go over donors that are either not performing, have told you they will not be giving and/or discuss donors that may be in jeopardy. They will go on your “watch list.” This will help you to spend a little more time on them and help you to decide if they will be staying in your portfolio.
  2. Semi-annual handoffs — Twice a year, Veritus recommends making decisions about taking donors off your caseload and adding new qualified donors that have more capacity and propensity to give. If your organization has a mid-level program, those donors you take off your caseload should move into that program.
  3. Moving a donor to a new MGO — While some donors coming off a caseload will be put back into your regular or mid-level donor program, some donors may move to another MGO. In that case, the best way to handle that situation is to have the former MGO write a cover letter introducing the new MGO and (depending upon the relationship) either participate in a call with the new MGO or have the new MGO follow up on her own to introduce herself.

While it’s difficult sometimes to say goodbye to a donor, it’s part of the work that great MGOs have to do. It’s all about creating the strongest portfolio you can, and using your organization’s resources wisely. Ultimately, it’s in the best interest of your donors. So schedule that quarterly review today, and start examining your portfolio.
Who do you need to say goodbye to?