“How much are you raising this year, Rachel?” I asked.
“Oh, about a million,” she replied.
“About? What do you mean about?” I asked, trying to get a more precise fix on the number.
“That’s what my boss said. I raised around $900k last year and he said I need to do 10% better this year,” she said, a wrinkle on her forehead telling me she was as perplexed as I was.
Huh? What’s the logic here?
There isn’t any. None. This is the old standard approach of someone outside development saying that expenses are up 10% therefore we need 10% more and therefore “your donors, Rachel, need to deliver it!”
Never mind that some of the donors have moved; others have closed their businesses; some have died, and some just don’t feel like giving anymore. But we’ll squeeze 10% out of that group even if we have to take it at gun point.
It’d be rather humorous if it weren’t so tragic.
The truth is that maybe, just maybe, that group of donors can actually give 25% more than last year and the boss is really short changing the organization by his tiny 10% request. But no one knows. And that is why Rachel doesn’t know where she is going? Nor does her boss.
Here’s a real brain teaser: the sum of the parts equals the whole. 1+1+2 = 4. How do we know what the whole is? By summing the parts. Easy.
So, why don’t we do that in major gifts when we are trying to set goals? I don’t know. But it happens all the time. And it places an enormous burden on major gift managers, major gift officers AND the donors.
Here’s how simple it can be and what we strongly recommend for every major donor program:
- Remove those donors who, because of interest, motivation or permanently changed circumstances, can no longer participate at the level required by your major gift program. Replace them with more qualified donors. All of this may be difficult to do, but remember, your job is to steward high capacity, high inclination donors.
- Set annual goals for each qualified donor on the caseload, taking into account their capacity, inclination and special circumstances. Some donor amounts may go down due to special circumstances.
- Make sure your goals have reasonable stretch to them.
The chart that follows illustrates some of these points.
Several things to note here:
- D. Jackson’s goal goes down because her business is hurting. Not every donor will give more and more each year. In this case, the major gift officer, due to knowledge of special circumstances, is not increasing the expectation for giving this coming year.
- B. Cunnel gave an extra $12,500 last year – it was a special circumstance and should not be counted in evaluating the progression of his giving from year to year. Note how I discount it in the reframed total line.
- Note that if you don’t explain what is going on, the totals show a negative variance of 11% when comparing last year’s performance to this year’s goals. The reframed total shows the real trend line and a healthy increase of 16%.
Setting reasonable annual goals and objectives not only helps the major gift officer know where he or she is going, it helps the manager, the CFO and management in general know where they are going.
One more thing. Having a goal attached to every donor on your caseload helps you frame the right plan for each donor. And if you execute that plan, my experience is that you will achieve the overall goal you set for the caseload, although many of the donors will have exceeded the goal you set and many will not have reached it.
Believe me, this works. Now, I urge you to try it.