The Major Gift Officer (MGO) has qualified the donors and the caseload is set. Goals have been agreed on for each donor. The MGO has identified the passions, interests, and communication preferences of each qualified donor, and things are going well.

Then the monthly reports come out and the numbers look bad. Something is wrong. What do you do?

First, gather the facts:

  1. Examine the nature of the MGO’s work. Is the MGO spending most of their time talking to caseload donors, or are they doing other work – like admin work, support work for other development functions, work for other areas, prospecting for other donors or simply not putting in the time? You need to objectively understand what the MGO is doing, with a focus on determining if most of their time is with their caseload donors.

  2. Identify problem areas by talking to the MGO. You could do this before #1 or simultaneously but, either way, your MGO needs to tell you their view of the underperformance. Are the goals wrong? Is the timing wrong? Have donors changed their minds about their relationship with the MGO? Are internal folks blocking progress?

    We frequently see situations where the MGO cannot get program information to pass on to donors, and this is a major block to the MGO’s work. Or an authority figure is directing the MGO to duties and work that are not caseload-related. You need to know what’s going on and who is causing the MGO to not do their job.

    Sometimes, the MGO will create reasons that deflect that lack of performance away from themselves. For instance, “the donors in my area are different, so what you’re suggesting doesn’t work” or “they really don’t want to talk to me” when, in fact, the MGO has not really tried to contact their donors.

  3. Take another look at the caseload. Donors do change their minds. During the qualification phase a donor may say they want to connect with the MGO – but then when the MGO is trying to connect, they don’t want to. In this case, you’ll need to replace the donor with someone from the caseload pool that has been qualified or from your mid-level program. You’ll need to review every donor on the MGO’s caseload to assure that the caseload is still viable.

  4. The problem may be a lack of donor offers. One of the key reasons a MGO doesn’t perform is a lack of donor offers – programs and projects to present to donors. Think about this. A donor is really interested in X but the MGO cannot, no matter how hard she tries, get the information from program on what the societal need is and how the organization will address it. Or, finance cannot or will not give the MGO the financial information he needs.

    When you have nothing to “sell” you cannot expect a “sale” to occur. But many non-profit leaders and managers have that expectation. “Just go out there and tell them what we do and they’ll give,” they tell their MGOs. And that doesn’t work. Providing effective and compelling donor offers is central to the success of MGOs. (Tweet it!)

  5. Lack of training. Maybe the MGO needs more training on how to ask or how to deal with objections, etc. This is an important detail to uncover. Often the organization has a great program, the donors are willing and able to give, but the MGO just needs a little more help with putting it all together.

  6. Does the MGO match the requirements of the job? Sounds harsh and impulsive, doesn’t it? But we’ve experienced this many times. When you’ve changed the major gift operating environment to a highly accountable one, like we suggest when implementing The Veritus Way, it surfaces the fact that some of the staff you expected to do well just can’t. And in these cases, it’s important not to act in a punitive way with your MGO but instead, find out (through safe discussion and interaction with the MGO) where they do Once you have done that then you can provide for a gentle transition to another job.

    In cases of lack of performance, it’s not unusual to discover that the problem isn’t the caseload or the donor strategies or the level of internal support for major gifts. It’s simply a poor fit of the MGO to the major gift work.

Here’s the thing that Jeff and I and our team have discovered over the years as it relates to reaching major gift goals. The reason for a lack of performance can be many things. Sometimes it’s MGO-related. Often it’s simply organization-related. Find out what it is, and take steps to repair it soon – because the passing of time means unfulfilled donors and missing net revenue.