Recently, I’ve been working with a major gift officer, “Janice” in the San Francisco Bay area. We’ve been trying to help her get to know the donors on her caseload.
Previously, this MGO had been so distracted with other things – managing people, running events and tending to administrative work – that there was little time to cultivate the 150 donors she was expected to cultivate on her caseload.
Does this sound familiar to you?
We worked on a process that freed her up from all that other “stuff” by helping senior management understand how much money was being left on the table through donor attrition each year. They agreed to let her start focusing solely on her donors.
There was one donor in particular that Janice was trying to reach. Recently, Janice saw the donor at one of her organization’s events and made a connection with her. The donor had been a long-time patron of this organization (I mean years and years of support), was very wealthy, but had never really given that “big gift” that the donor was capable of. No one previously had spent much time with this donor, nor had anyone challenged the donor to really invest.
Before the encounter at the event, Janice had been trying to reach out to her through e-mails and phone calls, yet the donor never returned her calls. Janice was beginning to get discouraged and was starting to think the donor just wasn’t interested in her organization any longer.
However, seeing the donor at the event ignited a new energy to reach out to her once again.
So Janice writes her an e-mail saying how lovely it was to see her at the event and wondered if she could stop by and talk to her about some new programs she might be interested in. The donor graciously responds that while she loves the organization, as she is getting older she wanted to concentrate her efforts on projects in Oakland, not in San Francisco any longer. She said she will always continue to support the organization but only in a small way, and that her time would be better spent with other donors.
Obviously, Janice is upset and disappointed that she has “lost” a donor… but it doesn’t end there.
Janice calls me up, and we start brainstorming. I ask her one question: “While your organization is all about San Francisco, is there anything that you do which includes Oakland?” Janice is actually not sure. But after we hang up the phone, she starts talking to her program people.
To her surprise, they do have some programs in Oakland that are educational in nature and work with the most vulnerable populations. Janice had no idea. (Listen up: please, please know all the projects and programs of your organization.)
Janice then proceeds to write this beautiful letter to the donor, explaining that she understood that she wanted to concentrate her philanthropy in Oakland, and that there’s a great program that her organization conducts with vulnerable children in inner-city Oakland. Janice asked if the donor would be interested in seeing the program and talking about investing in it.
Well, within an hour Janice hears back from the donor: “Janice, I couldn’t have been happier to have read your e-mail. YES! I would love to see this program. You are so good at cultivating me; this could be what I’ve always been looking to support!”
Imagine getting a note like that back from your donor!
Here is the lesson:

  1. Never give up on a donor until you have exhausted all possibilities; and
  2. Get to know the passion and desires of your donor by taking the time necessary to do it right.

You might have given up at the point where the donor said not to bother with her any longer. But Janice was determined to figure out a way to connect the donor’s passion with her mission. Janice did not give up.
None of this would have happened if Janice had not been able to give up all those other distractions and focus on her caseload. Thankfully, management relented and gave her that ability. Because of it, and Janice’s determination, a nice seven-figure gift is on its way.