“I have 150 donors on my caseload, Richard,” said the frustrated and impatient MGO.   “Do you really expect me to go through every single one and find a match of their interest and our program?”
Yep.  That’s right.  Every single one.
“But they really don’t have a single interest!  They’ve just told me to use their gift where most needed,” he stated defensively.
And I thought… ‘the truth is that YOU don’t know the interest.  It’s not that they don’t have it.”
And that, in a few phrases, is one of the greatest problems in major gift fundraising – the MGO does not know the interests and passions of the donors on their caseload.
There are three reasons for this:

  1. The MGO has been unable to connect with the donor.  Well, that means that there is a donor on a caseload that is NOT qualified, i.e. they have not told the MGO they actually want to relate in a more personal way. So, why are they on the caseload?  Because they gave a sum of money equal to or greater than the criteria?  Not a good reason. You must have qualified donors on your caseload.  If a donor will not talk to you, in any form, what is the point of maintaining them on the caseload?  Think about this.  It goes contrary to every bit of logic in the purpose of the MGO job, i.e. “to manage and cultivate a group of assigned donors”.  Now, there is another reason for a lack of connection.  It just hasn’t happened yet.  OK, so you need to keep trying.
  2. The MGO has not asked the donor for their interest and passion.  There are several reasons for this.  They haven’t gotten around to it.  They don’t know how to do it.  They are uncomfortable asking for this information. They don’t believe it’s important. Or they believe the donor really doesn’t have any specific interest.  Whatever the reason, the fact remains that a donor DOES have an interest and it is the job of the MGO to uncover it.  I find that if the MGO is being too specific in the questioning process, that it is much harder for the donor to answer.  For instance, if you ask:  “which of these five things we do interest you” you may not get an answer that works. If, instead, you ask:  “when you look at all of your giving, Ann – all of it – the giving of your time and your money – what is it that captures your heart and your attention?”  If you do it this way you will likely get an answer – a clue that you can then follow into your organization.  The point is that we all have preferences for how we use our time and money.  Your job is to, over time, figure that out with your donors.
  3. The donor is not comfortable sharing this information.  The truth is that they aren’t comfortable yet.  The relationship between you and them needs to season and age a bit.  They need to learn that you can be trusted with their thoughts and feelings.  So, give it time but keep this line of questions on your list of to-do’s.

As I said several posts ago, on the Know Your Donor post, this topic of donor interests is a critical first to the donor’s good experience with you and second to your success as a MGO.  Keep learning in this area.  And keep trying.
But, you now know what the donor is interested in.  You must now match that interest to a program in your organization.  I have several suggestions in this area:

  1. During the matching process keep your eye on the need for the organization to have un-designated funds.  This sounds counter-intuitive, I know.  And it feels like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth.  I’m not.  If a donor is interested in helping younger children, there’s a big difference between asking the donor to help with your multi-faceted program to help younger children and asking to help the 15 younger kids, in the literacy program on Thursdays in the Westside section of Detroit during the January to March sessions.  Obviously you want to talk about all that detail, not only of that program but all the programs.  But your ask, while still staying in the interest section, should be as general as possible.  I always suggest being open with the donor about the need for the organization to have flexibility in their program spending.  They always understand.  They just want to know that their gift will help those younger kids.
  2. Look for gender and age matches.  Start with a gender match then an age match or a combination of those two.  WHO does the donor want to help in terms of gender and age?  Get to that first.  Is it older people?  If so, older men or women?  Is there a preference?  If younger, what age?  What gender?  Is there a preference?  For me, I always bias in my “helping preferences” towards women and children.  I don’t really know why. It’s just who I feel like helping.  Will I help men, young men and boys?  Yes.  But my preference is women and children.  By the way, if the donor is interested in causes that are not related to people directly, like the environment, then move down to the next point.  But if it is people, start here.  Then….
  3. Look for sector matches.  By sector I mean the type of program.  Is it education, shelter, work development, counseling, protecting the environment, etc.  This is the WHAT part of the matching.  What does the donor want to do?  What is the technical thing that is of interest?  For instance, after providing emergency help in crisis situations, I want to help a person create independence – so, training, finding work, getting counseling, etc. are all good for me.  What is it for your donor?
  4. Try to determine the desired outcome of the match.  After you have “done a match” for an individual donor, try to visualize if the match is satisfying to the donor.  In this step I suggest spending a thoughtful moment thinking about how the donor will react to your suggested match.  Visualize sitting with the donor and proposing what you have come up with as a place he/she or they can help.  Does it work?  Is it satisfying?  Does it bring fulfillment and joy?  Can you feel it?  If not, start over.

I know this is hard work.  And it takes time.  But isn’t your donor worth it?  I think so.  They are investing a good sum of money.  And that transaction is a very sacred and special thing.  So, treat it with great care, as you would do with something you value very much.