TransitionsHere’s a classic situation we all face in major gifts: how to transition a donor from one strategic function to another and maintain the integrity and personal touch of relationship. This is summed up in a question Jeff and I received several weeks ago:

  • “I struggle with the concept of transitioning donors from one level of giving officer to another, i.e., mid-level to major and then major to principal. It seems to me that relationships are paramount, and donors would prefer to remain with a trusted partner. It also seems to work against the mindset for gift officers that work hard to establish a relationship only to have to pass them along to someone else to manage due to larger capacity. How to do you see this work with the organization you service?”

This person is making two points: the donor’s view, needs and sensitivity; and the gift officer’s view, needs and sensitivity. Let’s start with the gift officer.
The role and responsibility of the gift officer is to manage and steward a caseload of qualified donors within a specific strategic function in the organization, i.e., mid-level, different levels of major and principal giving. Functionally, that’s how it works and that is how it’s understood. Each of the managers of the pipeline is tasked with performing their duty to steward and move the donor through and up the pipeline IF the donor is so inclined.
I want you to see that it isn’t the gift officer’s duty or responsibility to hang on to donors for life. It’s their responsibility to steward, service and pass them on. Since this is true, then the objective of relationship building must be towards the organization and the cause, not the individual gift officer. I know there’s a nuance to that, but I think you know what I mean.
Yes, it’s true that a donor will develop an affinity for an individual gift officer. But managed properly, the gift officer can successfully pass the donor to another person, something I will address in a minute.
This leads to the donor’s needs and wants. Your donor’s greatest need is to make an impact through their giving. When a donor gives your organization any sum of money, they’re trusting you to make a difference with that money. Almost half of all the money donors give in one year is not given the next year, and that’s because the donor didn’t know they made a difference.
So, that’s the core need. Now, it’s true that there are other relationship things going on in a gift-officer-donor relationship. Things like friendship, someone to talk to and relate to, a sense of connection, etc. This is true. And these values are very much a part of what happens between a gift officer and a donor.
But here’s the key point. If your donor is making a difference through her giving and she knows it, and you’ve worked hard to bond the donor to the organization rather than just to yourself, then the other relational values can be transferred to another person in your organization if you:

  1. Allow enough time to do so. Any kind of change requires time. If you make a complete change of donor management from one day to the next, it’s not going to work well for you. Give it time.
  2. Give a reasonable rationale for doing so. The donor needs to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. It may sound like this: “NAME, in the next month or so I’m asking Michelle (new gift officer person) to become involved in your relationship with (name of organization). Michelle works in (describe duties) and she can provide so much more information to you than I can. You’ve been so generous with us over the last year; that’s why we want to get Michelle connected with you to serve you better. I’ll still be involved over the next month or two in case there are any questions (this is the overlap strategy).”
  3. Execute an overlapping transition plan. Be sure both you – the originating gift officer and the new person – are overlapped for a month or two. This could mean co-signing emails or letters, being on phone calls or video calls together, etc. This point may not be applicable from mid-level to major gifts, as the quantities of donors are greater, but think creatively about how you can do these pass-offs carefully. This is more about being sensitive to how you execute a transition than it is about following a strict formula.

The important thing is to be thoughtful and careful on transitioning donors using the three points above as a guide. If managed correctly, this kind of transition can be a good experience for you and the donor. Try it and let us know how it goes.