Wherever Richard and I go out to talk about major gifts, we are always asked what metrics people should use to evaluate major gift officers. Or they will ask, what is the most important metric to use?
Well, I’m not going to hold you in suspense. The two most important metrics in major gift fundraising and to hold your MGO accountable with are meeting revenue goals, and retention rate of your caseload donors.
If those two metrics are met month after month, and year over year, you will not only have a successful major gift program, you will also know you have a great MGO.
Now, you probably know why meeting revenue goals is such an important metric to measure. But many people ask us why we think retention is just as important. Well, there are a couple of reasons:
- Revenue goals for a month or year could technically be met by one or a few donors on a caseload. In fact, I’ve seen cases where a major gift officer “gets lucky” with a donor and gets an unexpected massive gift. That’s great, but then the MGO thinks they can coast the rest of the year because their revenue goals have been exceeded. If you’re only measuring revenue as your indicator of performance, then you leave open the possibility that all the other donors on the caseload really won’t matter to the MGO.
- Tracking retention rates tells you more about how donors are cultivated and stewarded throughout the year. When we audit major gift donor files and we uncover the retention rates of certain classes of donors, we typically find outrageously bad retention rates over a four- to five-year period. Sometimes we see value attrition of donors over that period of time in the 60-85% rate. That tells us that someone is not cultivating those donors correctly – or no one is cultivating them at all. More often than not, that is exactly the case.
Let me turn to measuring revenue goals. Often when I’m sitting down with an MGO to set goals for the year, they get really hesitant and fearful. Why? Usually because they have previously been “punished” in some way if they didn’t make their goals.
We at Veritus do not like to use goals as a preamble to punishment if the MGO doesn’t make them. We use goals as something the MGO can work to attain. It helps focus the planning for that donor. To us, if you don’t have a goal, you will be rudderless – just drifting in the sea without a direction. Goals give you direction: they help you set your feet on the right path.
Our team at Veritus, when helping an MGO set goals for the year, likes to cash-flow those goals. That helps us understand month by month what we think should come in from every donor. It helps the MGO manage the donor relationship.
The key to making those revenue goals and retaining those donors year after year is to “work the plan” you have set to attain the goals. You could argue that “working the plan” is actually more important than attaining the revenue goal or retaining the donor.
Why? Because major gift fundraising is often volatile. Unfortunately one or two of your donors could die or have a major life change, and it could seriously mess up your overall revenue goal for the year.
Does that mean you failed as a major gift officer? Absolutely not. If you have “worked the plan,” that is all you can do. Now, I will say when an MGO has really worked their plan well, 98 out of 100 times they actually make their revenue goals and retention of their caseload is high, in the 80-90% range.
Many managers put a high price on measuring number of visits, calls, touches and personal visits to determine an MGO’s performance. Frankly, that is only important to us at Veritus if the MGO is NOT making their goals each month with every donor on the caseload. If we see that an MGO doesn’t make a monthly goal and they don’t have a solid reason why, then we get serious about what tactics and touches they are doing or not doing with their caseload.
However, if an MGO is making their revenue goals and donors are being retained, Richard and I are not worried about how many visits, touches, etc, the MGO is making. Nor do we care when the MGO is doing it and from where. In other words, a successful MGO who is making their goals may be working from home, working odd hours and not coming in the office. If they are making their goals, do I really care? Not really.
It’s only when an MGO is NOT making goals that I get directive and start clamping down on activity level.
So the two most important metrics in major gift fundraising are meeting revenue goals and retaining donors year over year. This is what is critical for ongoing success. Focus on this and you will be successful.