You’ve done everything right.
You’ve accepted the major gift principle that not all donors who meet a financial metric will want to relate to you.
You’ve laboriously gone through a larger list of donors who meet your major gift criteria, and you’ve qualified a group of 150 people who have signaled that they want to relate to you more personally.
And now you are into the work of meeting with them and matching their passions and interests to the needs of the good cause you represent. But there’s a problem.
Some of the donors (who originally said they wanted to meet with you) do not return your calls or emails. Some of the donors, when you approached them with a request to upgrade their giving, politely refused to increase their giving. And some of the donors have told you they are just not interested in the organization anymore.
Welcome to the dynamic and ever-changing world of the major gifts caseload. It is not surprising that you are experiencing this. It is the normal and natural cadence of a healthy caseload. In fact, on any caseload you may have, three things will always happen that make you think that you no longer have a qualified donor:
- Some donors (who previously said they love the cause and were interested in engaging with you) have changed their minds about having a closer relationship.
- Some donors will not upgrade their giving. Some will actually downgrade.
- Some donors will tell you they are just not interested in the cause anymore.
Before I get into talking about what to do in each of these situations, I want to remind you about an overarching principle Jeff and I feel very strongly about: success in major gifts increases when the MGO spends his time with qualified donors. If you use your limited time to talk to or relate to unqualified donors or prospects, you will experience less success in major gifts.
This means that how you use your time is very important. Jeff and I have repeatedly talked about not spending too much time in the office or on administrative work. We have cautioned against spending time prospecting and, instead, urged you to focus entirely on your qualified caseload. These other activities pull you away from your qualified donors, which is why you should not spend your time that way. Every minute you spend on non-qualified donors or on activities that are not directly related to building relationships with your qualified donors is a wasted minute. Your labor is a precious commodity.
So assuming you are using your time wisely, here is what you should do in each of the three situations I have outlined above:
Donor is not interested in the cause anymore. This is pretty basic, and the easiest to deal with. Once you learn this fact, there are two things you need to do. First, if you can, find out why the donor is not interested anymore. That would be good information to have. Second, immediately remove the donor from your caseload and replace her with another qualified donor. You cannot afford to leave a non-interested donor on your caseload. It is not a good use of your time.
Donor still loves the cause but has changed her mind on wanting a relationship. If you can find out why she is not interested in a relationship anymore, that would be good to know. It might be that you are using a communication method that she is not comfortable with. She might be an email person, and you keep trying to call her on the phone. Or you might be making her uncomfortable with pushing for a meeting when all she wants to do is talk on the phone. Who knows? But it would be good to find out. It could be that she doesn’t like the frequency of your contact schedule. It could be that your style is off-putting. Or it just could be that she just doesn’t want to relate to anyone.
Take this donor and move them into a high-touch direct marketing program, where either all she receives is direct mail, or where she receives direct mail with some thank you calls (not asking calls). This point, much like #1 above, nets down to the same conclusion. If the reason is not something you can repair, you must move this person off of your caseload and replace her with another qualified donor.
Donor will not upgrade – some are downgrading their giving. This one is a bit more complex. There is merit in retaining a caseload donor who will not upgrade their giving if for no other reason than to retain the donor as good solid donor. Jeff and I see many situations where good donors have gone away because no one paid attention to them. You don’t want that to happen.
Also, no upgrade now could mean several things. It could mean the donor does not have the means to upgrade. It could mean that what you are proposing does not match the donor’s passions and interests. It could mean the donor has other pressing priorities, like his kids’ college bills or the starting of a business, etc. It could mean many things. You need to find out what it means. And if you can’t, then just serve the donor outrageously and time will sort it out.
If the donor is downgrading, it could mean a changing life situation: divorce, death, business downturn or shifting priorities – it could mean any number of things. Try to find out so you can serve this good donor with understanding, compassion and care. Jeff and I and our team routinely counsel our clients to go slow on downgrades, because they are often driven by a life situation. If the downgrade is simply a change in interest, then you have to decide whether to keep the donor on your caseload. And that decision is a return on investment decision – i.e. what is the cost of your time and labor against what the donor is giving to the organization? There is a point where you cannot economically justify being in an active relationship. But take it slow to measure this very carefully.
When you make decisions regarding who stays and who goes on your caseload, the important thing is to be proactively curious about what is happening with each donor and then to respond with care. You need to do this in a timely fashion. If you definitively know the answer to one or more of the situations I have addressed above, do not wait until the prescribed one time or two times a year when you’re scheduled to review your caseload. Do something now. It will be good for the donor, the organization and your use of time.