A question that Richard and I often get from development directors and MGOs is whether or not caseload donors should get regular direct-response appeals (mail and email) just like the rest of the donor file.
Our answer is always: Absolutely.
Okay, so I heard a lot of gasps out there. But let me ask a question. Where do you think most donors who are on major gift caseloads come from? Most major gift donors come from those first $25 checks that are sent in from either a direct mail or e-appeal campaign.
So, even though they are now giving at much higher levels, why would you want to remove them from receiving those appeals once they are in a major gift caseload?
You wouldn’t. Or, at least you shouldn’t. Richard and I have seen some disastrous results where organizations have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because they decided for some reason that it was a good idea to stop mailing and e-mailing their major donors.
There are only two reasons why you would take them out.
- The donor asked you to stop mailing or e-mailing appeals.
- Your relationship with the major donor has developed to a place where you have a substitute communication and ask strategy to replace the direct response communication.
This is how Richard and I view the whole issue of using direct response with your personal major gift caseload.
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, if we are just going to continue mailing these major donors, why do we even need major gift officers?”
I get this question all the time from managers or executive directors who are always questioning whether their MGOs are actually doing anything.
Our answer to this is very simple. The combination of direct-response and MGO cultivation lifts all caseload revenue. When you take either out of the equation, you see a drop in revenue. Over time, because the MGO is continuing to build relationships with his or her donors, the communication strategy starts to skew more toward personal solicitation vs. mail or email.
This is an important point so I am going to repeat it. Over time, as the relationship builds, the communication strategy migrates or skews toward personal solicitation vs. mail or email.
This sometimes takes years. It’s really up to the donor. We cannot assume that donors do not want to receive your appeals and e-mails until they tell you they don’t. This is what it means to be donor-centered, NOT fundraising program centered.
It’s amazing how managers and executive directors have a hard time grasping this concept… until they see the data.
Now, there is another side to this topic as well. And that is at times what we’ve seen when MGOs rely TOO much on the mail. It can be used as a crutch to NOT get to know donors as they should and therefore neglect to personally solicit donors, relying rather on direct-response income to make their revenue goals.
You can understand the manager’s point of view, if he or she perceives that the MGO is not meeting with donors and seems to be sitting in the office most of the day. This would tend to create an uneasy feeling about the MGO’s effectiveness, even though the caseload revenue seems fine.
See the tension here?
Great MGOs don’t worry about the mail or email unless a donor on their caseload specifically tells them they don’t wish to receive it. This is where the MGO needs to step in immediately on behalf of a donor and help fix the situation. It’s really up to the MGO to know the donor’s communication preferences and make sure they are honored.
If the major donor team and the direct-response teams are doing their work, there is harmony and consistency between both. They don’t worry about who gets credit for how the revenue comes in because each department knows they need each other and it’s the organization AND the donor that is important.
There you go. Direct-response and major gifts working in harmony. Is this happening in your non-profit?
Great comment on a critical issue. I agree with the fundamental principle you set out, but am still left with the following key questions:
1) Even if direct mail to major gift donors continues, does it change? We send a high number of appeals. Should appeals, for example, be cut in half?
2) Do we give MGOs the authority to cut off direct mail for a certain period, say 60 days, before asks?
3) What about a donor that is a direct referral from a Board Member or gift officer – someone who comes in and hasn’t gotten direct mail before. This is the reverse scenario of someone who comes up through the direct mail pool. Should these people be added into direct mail or rather left alone in pure MGO solicitation because they are high-value prospects who may be turned off by direct mail?
Good questions, Paul. Let me try to answer:
1. It might. If your program has a “mid-level” communication strategy that is different than the general file, I would use that one. I would NOT start cutting appeals right away. Over time, once you are confident that your personal strategy is working, you might want to replace some appeals and leave in newsletters, updates and annual reports.
2. No, this is something that the Major Gift manager, DM manager the MGO discuss together. As a team this should be decided.
3. If they come on board with an initial gift, I would only send them newsletters and perhaps a year-end, mid-level appeal. If you just have their name but no gift, I would give them either limited appeals or send them the mid-level communication strategy…making sure you are still sending newsletters and non-ask communication pieces.
Thanks for writing, Paul.
As always, I appreciate the helpful comments. Thanks for taking the time to respond.