grassgreener 2014-Mar17
If I gave you $1,000,000, but told you I needed to control the investment, and then after one full year the investment became $520,000, and by the end of the second year it became $330,000, you would think I was either the worst financial advisor or just plain crazy. But this scenario happens every year in caseload management because of the direction and guidance of either well-meaning managers or “over the fence looking” MGOs.
Let’s say there is a group of qualified donors on a caseload who are giving $1 million, but because the MGO does not steward them, and instead goes off and tries to find “better” ones, the donors in hand simply go away, and the $1 million dollars, over two years, turns into $330,000.
You might be saying that this doesn’t happen in your organization. I hope it doesn’t. But it most likely is happening, and the reason you may not know about it is that the new money from new donors is covering up the loss of old money from those good donors who have now gone away.
And the overall reason this is happening is that there is poor management of current donors. This poor management is often driven by a conflict between caseload management and prospecting.
Jeff and I have seen this happen over and over again. An MGO has a perfectly good caseload of qualified donors – donors who love the organization, have capacity, and have proven their connection to the cause through their current giving. And a perfectly good caseload of donors is tossed aside by an obsession with prospecting for new donors.
It is classic “grass is greener” behavior.
So the question is this: Is prospecting for new donors a legitimate and good activity for an MGO? Yes it is, IF it is limited. And here is where an argument can begin. What does limited mean?
Limited means that the MGO’s primary responsibility – the activity that occupies the most of her time – should be managing the current caseload of donors. Because if she doesn’t, the value attrition over time will be enormous, with losses reaching hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars.
We have seen this happen so many times. A perfectly good caseload of donors, generating $1 million+ a year, is compromised when the grass-is-greener gaze sees a “much better possibility,” and the good donors on the caseload die on the vine.
This movement from the old, familiar, stable, predictable to the “new and possible” usually happens in one of three ways:

  1. A manager gets it into his head that there is this wonderful person he has just met who is very wealthy and who, “with a little cultivation could do great things for us.” So he asks the MGO to chase after the person. Another version of this same thing is a manager who is convinced that a certain group of movers and shakers in the community need to be cultivated and so he directs the MGO to divert his attention from the caseload to working that agenda.
  2. The MGO finds it more stimulating and easy to be looking for new donors rather than managing the current donors. So they go to events, organize activities, attend social clubs, worm their way into celebrity gatherings, etc., only to find that one person who will “do something great for us.” And the caseload of good donors, with proven loyalty and giving, is neglected.
  3. The prospect researcher on staff or hired by the organization or the prospect research function in the organization uncovers a very high capacity donor who they think could “do something great for us.”  So they convince the MGO and the manager to divert resources and attention from the caseload to chase after this person.

It is usually one of these three people or a combination of all three that is the cause of the MGO moving off the caseload on to “bigger and brighter things.” And this is where it all goes wrong – and where prospecting actually hurts caseload management. The result is that good donors go away because the MGO does not have the time or the willingness to service their interests and passions.
“Now wait a minute, Richard,” you might say. “You seem to be saying that ALL prospecting is wrong.”
Nope, not saying that at all. I am saying it needs to be managed and controlled. Obviously, if a new donor who has inclination and capacity surfaces, then we had better figure out how to manage him. We can’t just do nothing. But this is where a specific protocol of prospect management needs to be in place. That protocol might look something like this:

  1. An MGO should have only qualified donors on his caseload. This means the MGO has connected with the donor and determined that the donor wants to have a more personal relationship with him. Now, there may be a situation where the donor is put on the caseload as a way to “mark or tag” the donor as belonging to the MGO while the MGO qualifies him. But the point is that the caseload ultimately needs to have qualified donors.
  2. There should be a prospecting system in place where the organization is constantly looking for high capacity donors who either have current inclination or a high probability to give. This is a critical function that actively supports the major gift program.
  3. The MGO should always have a small pool of donors she is trying to qualify. These would be the donors the prospecting system is handing to the MGO. But it is only a few – maybe 10 prospects. So the MGO’s caseload of qualified donors would be 150 and she would have another 10 prospects she is qualifying to see if they should be added to her caseload, replacing lower performing donors. It’s important because of the MGO’s need to keep the total number of donors on the caseload at about 150.
  4. There is management in place that watches the balance of these two areas – i.e., the function of caseload management and the function of prospecting is to make sure that current donors are being managed properly and that prospecting is done in an intentional way. This also means that new MGOs are added as the number of donors needing to be managed increases.

The net result of this kind of system is that each donor on each MGO’s caseload is carefully stewarded while the organization is making sure that the top donors (current and potential) of the organization are actually being managed by an MGO.
This approach supports the objective of a good major gift program – and that is to connect MGO labor to the most valuable financial asset of the organization in order to cause donor fulfillment and the acquisition of financial resources for program.