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This is the first in a five-part series called How a Caseload Grows Over Time. There are two reasons it is very important for major gift officers to understand how this works:

  1. It’s a rational and objective explanation for the doubters and critics around you as to A) Why it takes so long to develop a qualified caseload and  B) How you will, over time, develop significant net revenue from your caseload, the very thing everyone wants. Believe me, there is a great deal of ignorance about how a major gift caseload works. And that ignorance, whether malicious or not, causes a lack of support for you as a MGO. That is why it is so critical for you to be able understand this yourself and explain it to others around you – so that their resistance can be turned into enthusiastic support.
  2. It gives you a strategic road map for managing your caseload. As you know, we have spent a great deal of time in this blog and in our Major Gift Academy explaining how things work in major gifts. But this series looks at all of those strategies, tactics and processes at a high level so you can see where you are going – so that you know what lies ahead.

In this series, I am going to cover these five points:

  1. The need for you to view your core caseload as an incubator for transformational giving. I will start with that today after I get done with this list.
  2. The reality that there are two major segments in your caseload, the core and the mega donors, and how you should think about and act on this reality.
  3. The donors in your core caseload will display attrition far less than in any other fundraising strategy in your organization and, if managed properly, they will give more year after year. One of your critical tasks is to address donor attrition by freshening your caseload one or two times a year.
  4. There are fundamental metrics and key indicators in a well-managed caseload that you can depend on to guide you as you manage your caseload. These metrics and indicators make up the economics of a caseload.
  5. It is natural for the core caseload to economically ebb and flow while, over time, the total value of the caseload edges up. This economic ebbing and flowing is nothing to be alarmed about – it is the natural way a caseload grows.

Please remember that this information, while sometimes technical, will address the key question you face as a MGO: “Are you doing any good? Is this major gift thing really going to work?” And the answer will be “YES.” So hang in there with me as we process these points.

#1 – Your Core Caseload: an incubator for transformational giving.

If you have been following what Jeff and I have written over the years, you know that one of the first things you need to do as a MGO is to build a caseload of qualified donors.
With very few exceptions, every active donor file we analyze has donor value attrition of between 40-60%, sometimes higher. This means that the same group of donors giving in one year will give 40-60% LESS in the next year! The only way to stop this value attrition is to put those donors, those who want to connect more personally with you, on a caseload that you will manage. This is what qualifying donors means: a process of finding those donors who want to connect and then working with them over time.
So you need to take your highest current givers, those with the highest capacity, through a process of qualification. This is how you build a core caseload. And here is how the donors on the caseload behave in the first few years IF you manage them properly:

  • Value attrition starts to drop from 40-60% to 15-25% the very first year, and then it continues to drop to less than 15%, and then eventually it turns positive. This means that before you started relating to them, a group of donors who gave $100,000 in one year dropped their giving to between $40-$60,000 in the second year. But now those donors are giving between $75-$85,000, an immediate increase in revenue! And it gets better from there.
  • Donor attrition (where the donor actually goes away rather than giving less) starts to drop dramatically – from 30-40% to anywhere between 2-11%! You can see why – you are actually relating to them, and that makes a huge difference in their retention.

The bottom line of all of this good news is that you are, over time, creating a very healthy and robust group of donors who are staying with you and giving more. And you are developing a group of donors from which you will find and cultivate those select few who will want to give transformational gifts, a topic I will address later.
So this is how you need to think about your caseload – a group of donors who perform counter to the organizational downward trend – a pool of donors who contribute current revenue to the organization at a ratio of expense to income better than other fundraising strategies – a pool of donors from which a select few will emerge who will give transformational gifts.
This is why Jeff and I call the well-managed caseload an incubator for transformational giving. It’s an incubator because as you are carefully cultivating each donor through well-applied donor management strategies and tactics, you are finding those donors who can and will give a transformational gift.
All of those strategies and tactics have one objective: to build relationship with the donor and to fulfill his or her interests and passions through your organization’s mission and programs.
Stay tuned as I develop these ideas in the blogs to come.