Five Things You Must Do At The Beginning of This Calendar Year #3 – Analyze Your Strategies – Did They Work?


I love analyzing cause and effect. In fact, my wife gets a little irritated by my constant WHY questions.  “I wonder why this happened?”, and “What was the cause of that?”, etc.

It is a basic curiosity that drives me to question the causes for the things that are happening around me.  Now, I may take it to the extreme, because this has become almost a hobby of mine.  But when it comes to understanding your donor’s behavior, it is very critical to ask WHY.

Why did this donor give that amount?

Why did that donor not give?

Why did this donor give a different amount than I expected?

After your 2012 books close, a very important analytical task must be done.  You must go through your entire caseload, donor by donor, and ask the WHY question that is appropriate to each donor.  If you do this you will know what is working and what isn’t.

So right now, set aside at least a half a day – 4+ hours – maybe even a whole day – to do this work.  I know that as you read this you may be saying, “I don’t have the time to do this!”,  OR, “I really don’t have the motivation to do this.  It’s boring and tedious.”

If this is what you are saying, then you have to, as an act of will, make yourself do this work.  If you don’t you will not be successful in the coming months.  And, I believe, wanting to achieve your personal success, should be motivating.

Here are several questions to ask yourself as you work through each donor on your caseload:

  1. First of all, ask the WHY question for each donor.  In other words, try to discern what caused the result you received.
  2. Do you know this donor’s interests and passions?  If not, why don’t you?  This is basic stuff.  We have been talking about this over and over again in this blog.  Why is it that getting this very basic, fundamental and critical information is so difficult for you?  You have to ask yourself this question.  For Jeff and me, this is one of the most frustrating topics in our work – that of getting an MGO to take the basic step of securing the passions and interests of each donor on his or her caseload.  You must have this to be successful.
  3. As you look at each donor, ask yourself, “Do I have a plan to move this donor to a greater engagement with me and the organization?” If you do, good for you.  If you don’t, you need to develop one.  Giving the donor a gift or sending a thank you note is nice, but it is not a plan.  Jeff and I find way too many MGOs who think dropping by with a gift is all that needs to happen.  You must have a plan.
  4. Does your plan contain proven strategies that work? This question implies that you know what works in general and you know what works with each donor.  If you don’t, you have not completed step #1 above – asking the WHY question.

While this exercise of asking why and determining what strategies work seems rather basic, believe me, very few MGOs actually do it.  The ones that do are extremely successful professionals. The ones that don’t are usually very frustrated.

As you look forward to this new year, remember that you have in your care some wonderful people who are on your caseload.  They each have hopes and dreams about what their giving will do to better our world.

And they are counting on YOU to help them out.  Be sure you know WHY things are happening between you.


Posted in Development Directors, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Marketing Plans, Non-Profits, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Five Things You Must Do At The Beginning of This Calendar Year #2 – Review The Performance Of Each Donor On Your Caseload


I will never forget the meeting I had with an MGO one day last year in late January. I had asked him to come to our meeting prepared to review how each of his donors had performed in the year that just ended.

Our meeting was a disaster.

To begin with, he waited until the last minute to have the year-end report printed for the meeting, which told me he was lazy and not really interested in understanding his donor’s behavior.

Secondly, he had not reviewed the list to examine what each donor had done in December, nor drawn any conclusions about what the donor’s total year giving meant as relates his or her relationship with the organization.  That was not only lazy and unprofessional, but it also told me that he really wasn’t into the job.

Finally, when we were meeting together, it seemed as though reviewing each donor’s performance was a nuisance to him.  What a bother to spend time looking at each donor and trying to understand the nature of his or her journey with the organization!  What a waste of time! There were so many other important things to do.

I was very frustrated.

So I asked him, “Paul (not his real name) – tell me something.  Do you really care about these donors and their relationship to you and the organization? Just tell me the truth.  I really want to know.”

“Well”, he said, “here’s how it is, Richard.  It doesn’t really make any difference whether I know what each of them did in December or even for the whole year!  It just doesn’t matter. They are going to do what they are going to do and there is nothing I can do about it.  I just have to keep working with them and do the best I can.”

Goodness.  I almost blew a gasket.

We had spent a considerable amount of time with this man going through all the principles of major gift fundraising and making sure he understood that his most important objective with each donor was to match his or her passions and interests to the needs of the organization.

He had said he understood.  He understood all right.  Yep.  But now I knew he didn’t believe it.  And we had a serious problem.  Long story short – we let him go.

Now, here’s the take away point to this story for you in this new year.

This is a good time to come to grips with YOUR beliefs about the job you are in.  What do you believe about this major gift work you have committed yourself to?  Do you really believe:

  1. That donors really do want to give?  Jeff and I know from years of experience, and from the writings and experiences of others, that donors do indeed have a need to give.  We know for a fact that the act of giving brings them joy.  Do you really believe and know this?
  2. That it is possible to uncover a donor’s interest and passion?  Every single donor on your caseload has a specific interest and passion for our hurting world. Every single one.  I am constantly amazed at how many MGOs just do not believe this.  They seem to believe that just because they can’t uncover what it is (that’s a failure on their part) that it proves it doesn’t exist.  This is simply not true.  Every donor – every single one – has a specific interest and passion.  Do you really believe and know this?
  3. That you can help a donor in a significant way by helping him fulfill his interest and passion?  Do you believe that you can bring each donor on your caseload great joy and fulfillment through his giving?  Do you really grasp that you are doing him a favor by asking him to give?  Are you really comfortable with this reality and do you fully understand it?  This is important stuff.  If you can answer yes, then things are fine.  If it’s no, then it’s time to study and reflect on this important fact.
  4. That you have the ability to significantly influence your donor and her giving?  Jeff and I find so many MGOs who do not believe they can have a significant influence on their donor’s giving.  Think about this for a minute.  If an MGO does not she they can really affect her donor’s giving, then why even do the job?  The fact is that every enlightened MGO can, through her words and actions, positively influence her donor to increase his or her involvement with the organization.  Do you believe this?  I hope so.

Now, if you really believe these things, then it logically follows that you will be intensely interested in what each of the donors on your caseload did in 2012.  If you are NOT intensely interested in their performance, then I have to question what you believe.

So, stop and ask yourself, at this important time of year, who you are in relation to these donors and the organization you are both serving.  It might be time to renew your commitment and zeal for the cause and the donors.  OR, it might be time to scoot out the door.

Either way, you will be happier and, truthfully, so will the donors.  Do not stay in the middle.  Remember, measuring the performance of a donor is really not about the money.  It is about how well the relationship is going.


Posted in Development Directors, Impact, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Social Networking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Five Things You Must Do At The Beginning of This Calendar Year #1 – Review Your Caseload And Take Action

Check off

The year has closed.  And now you know several things about your caseload:

  1. You know who didn’t give.
  2. You know who gave more than before.
  3. You know who you expected to give but didn’t and you don’t know why.
  4. You were surprised by what some donors did.

How do you know these things?  Because you have gone to data processing and gotten all the 2012 information, you’ve looked at it in detail and you know all of this stuff.  If you haven’t done this, please get busy – this is important.

Here are the actions Jeff and I suggest you take for each of these four points:

  1. Those who didn’t give.  So, what’s the story here?  Did they give during the year, but not in the last few months?  Or, did they not give at all during the year and does that mean they have decided not to stay engaged?  You need to know.  Why?  Because if this donor has moved away from you, you need to remove him from your caseload.  Now, here’s the thing.  You need to look at this objectively.  Look at the donor history and make a decision as to whether, from what you know, this donor is with you now and is going to be with you in the future.  If your answer is no, you need to move him off your caseload.  Why?  Because you only have room on your caseload for 150 donors, and if one or more of them have moved on, you need to use the labor space they occupied for donors who are interested in partnering with you.
  2. Those who gave more.  You need to fully understand WHY these donors gave more.  What did you do or what happened that resulted in increased giving?  If you don’t know, find a way to talk to the donor and ask her.  This can be a natural part of a conversation you have.
  3. Those you expected to give but didn’t.  Something is wrong.  Or something has changed,  and you need to find out what it is.  It could be that the donor’s financial situation changed. It could be the donor decided to give somewhere else.  Or, it could be the donor just forgot.  Or, you didn’t ask.  What was it?  You need to find out.
  4. Those who surprised you.  This is always a pleasant experience.  A donor just comes out and does something that you did not expect.  This is when you call that donor up and say, “Wow, Ann. I am just so amazed and thankful for your gift.  Could you tell me what prompted you to give in such an unexpected way?”  Something like that.  And the donor will tell you and you will learn something.

It is very important at this time of year to do a caseload review that involves these four steps. You will find out more about your donors.  You will find out more about yourself.  And you will make sure that donors who no longer want to support your organization are no longer on your caseload.

Take steps to do a caseload review as soon as your 2012 books close.


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Five Things You Must Do At The Beginning of This Calendar Year

Don’t let one more minute of this new calendar year go by before you take steps to do the following five things as relates your major gift work:

  1. Review your caseload and make donor additions and deletions.
  2. Look at each donor on your caseload and review how he or she did in 2012.
  3. Analyze how well your donor strategies worked (or didn’t).
  4. Do a critical review of how effective you were in your use of time.
  5. Take a hard look at how well you thanked and reported back to each donor.

I am going to explore each of these areas in the next five posts on this blog.

But first I want to address why January is such a critical month in caseload management.

Many of the non-profits around the world operate on a fiscal year – a twelve month period specifically designed by accountants and managers to make things easier for themselves.

I don’t begrudge the move to manage work at a time that is convenient, but I am concerned that the fiscal year thing gets MGOs and their managers on a different schedule from how their donors think and act.

Here’s what I mean.

Donors think in terms of calendar years.  It could be because of tax benefits or the giving season, especially in North America and Europe.  Or it could be that a year ending and a new year beginning is a good way to do one’s home budget.  Who knows the reason?  But one thing I do know is that donors think in terms of calendar years.

By the time they reach December, what happened those last twelve months is over and now it is time to start a new year.

This is why January is so critical to caseload planning – because there are lessons to be learned from what just happened last year and there are opportunities to be pursued in the new year.

So before we get into the list of five things you must do at the beginning of this calendar year, I would like you to do the following three things:

  1. Get rid of fiscal year thinking.  I don’t mean totally ignore it because there ARE goals to reach, etc.  But what I do mean is get into the donors’ heads and view the relationships you have with them in the light of a calendar year.
  2. Start collecting your 2012 data.  In some organizations, the 2012 books are closed by the second week of January.  In other organizations, it’s as far out as the second week of February! I’ve seen it even later than that, which is alarming.  But here’s the point: right now, before reading another word, put a reminder on your schedule to find out when the books close in your organization and how soon you can get the info you need on how your caseload donors performed in 2012.  This is important.
  3. Set expectations with management.  You will need to spend some time to do 2012 caseload analysis and 2013 caseload planning.  It will take time to do the five “must do’s” I am asking you to do.  Get management on board with this now so you have the quality time to do this important work.

Jeff and I find way too many MGOs and their managers just sailing past January without a care in the world, almost as if the donors had really bought into their fiscal year thing.  It’s interesting to watch.  It is also disturbing because a lot of caseload strategy and use of time re-tooling must happen this month.

So, get ready to roll up your sleeves and take a fresh look at how you are doing things.  It will be good for you, your donors and the organization.


Posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Marketing Plans, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Five New Year’s Resolutions for an Outstanding 2013–#5—Move Forward


New Year’s resolutions can be powerful.  They can either take you to a new place in life or have the power to make you feel like a complete loser.

Over the years I have made dozens of New Year’s resolutions.  Most of them I have failed at.  Why?  Because when I “messed up”, instead of shaking the dust off and trying again, I got frustrated with myself and gave up.

Have you ever done the same?  My guess is you probably have.  Here’s the thing: it’s okay.  There is no reason to dwell on what has happened in the past, unless it’s to learn the lesson that we can always move forward.

Which brings me to my final resolution for 2013…  Move forward.  And quite frankly, this will be the hardest one for me.  Before I started writing this post, I went back and read all the previous four resolutions.  I like them all!  I know if I can really put them into practice, my year will be much more peaceful and purposeful.

But, I need to keep moving forward when I fail, mess up or get lost in the busyness of life.  I have to remember that I can come back to what is really important and move forward.  You can too.

Let’s recap what we are going to do together in 2013.

  1. Take time for reflection—Spend time not thinking.  Start with 5 minutes a day.  Follow your breath, in and out.  Before too long you’ll be at 20-30 minutes every day.  You will feel a change.
  2. Prioritize your life—Write down what is most important in your professional and personal life in 2013.  Then come up with a strategy to make it happen.  This will allow you to focus on the right stuff.  As you know, in major gift work, there are so many things coming at you all at once.  If you know what your priorities are you can filter out a lot of things you don’t need to worry about.
  3. Do less—Our culture (and perhaps our boss) is screaming at us to always do more, more, more.  Make 2013 the year of quality over quantity.  Spend most of your time with your top donors.  Focus on your caseloads.  Don’t get distracted with anything that takes you away from your donors. Do less…get more.
  4. Practice gratitude—When you wake up each morning, say “thank you” for the ability to do what you do.  You get to help change the world.  Everyday look for ways to say “thank you” to others, donors and those close to you.
  5. Move forward—Take these four resolutions and practice them.  If you fall, get up, have some grace for yourself and keep moving ahead.  This is the year you don’t stop in February when it begins to get hard. Tell others about your resolutions and have them hold you accountable.  Know there will be times of frustration, but that’s life.  Deal with it and keep plowing forward.

There is no that doubt major gift fundraising is difficult, and life is never easy.  It will always be this way.  However, you have control over how you deal with it.  You can handle it by being frustrated and grumpy toward others, or you can handle it with grace and understanding.  I choose the latter.  You can too.

These five New Year’s resolutions for 2013 have enormous power for you and me.  This year let’s allow them to change us and take us to new places.


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Five New Year’s Resolutions for an Outstanding 2013–#4—Practice Gratitude


You may be thinking, “Practicing gratitude? How do you practice gratitude? Don’t you just show gratitude?”

Well, yes and no.  Yes, you can show gratitude toward another person, but the kind of gratitude I’m talking about requires discipline.  “Gosh, Jeff, you’re always talking about focus, accountability and discipline.  Can’t I just live my life and do my work?”


As Richard and I have written numerous times, thanking donors and showing gratitude are among the best things you can do as a fundraiser.  Not just because they’re the right thing to do for a donor, but also because they’re the right thing to do for you.  Practicing gratitude (actually being purposeful in showing it and being consciously aware that life is a gift) can have a profound effect on your life.

Recently, I read about a scientific study demonstrating that people were happier and more at peace if they physically wrote down on a piece of paper what they were afraid of or worried about and then threw it away.  In other words, to get rid of something negative in their life, they had to do something physical to influence their thoughts and emotions.

This is fascinating to me. If this is true, then, by actually writing down what we are grateful for each day and putting it into a special bowl or on the fridge, we could start living with more gratitude and it could begin to change us.

This is not something new.

There is the wife of a pig farmer named Ann Voskamp who happens to have a bestselling book, One Thousand Gifts.  Her premise is that if you really want to change your attitude or have a more fulfilled life, you need to practice gratitude…daily.  She asks readers to write down three things everyday that they are grateful for, put them in a special place and, after one year, they will have 1,000 different things.

You may be thinking, “Okay, that’s kind of cool, but so what?”  Well, just like the study I was describing, the act of taking time to think about what you are grateful for and writing it down begins to transform the way you think about your life and work.

In other words, you start to create an “attitude of gratitude.”

I believe that if we are to be successful as major gift fundraisers, and have a fulfilled life, we must show gratitude in all we do.  I’ve said this before, but I believe that something mystical happens between a donor, a fundraiser and the organization when a donor decides to give of his or her resources to fund the mission.   And gratitude is at the center of all of it.

Here are some ways you can practice gratitude for a more fulfilled life as a major gift fundraiser:

  1. When you wake up each morning, think about what an amazing job you are privileged to have, helping people change the world and themselves with their money.
  2. When you get to work, write down the names of three donors who you are so grateful for.  Think about how they have helped your organization and changed lives and situations for the good.  Put those donors in your “gratitude bowl.”
  3. Everyday handwrite a thank you note to two of your donors – not because they gave a gift that day, but for their commitment to the mission of your organization.  In other words, thank them – just because.
  4. At least once per month, write a note or say a kind word to a colleague who helps you become more successful in your work.  Make it meaningful.
  5. During dinner, make it a practice to talk about what you were grateful for each day.  If you are alone, write it down.  If you are with others, get everyone to participate.  Witness what happens.

Here are a few things I’m grateful for:  to get to do amazing work with a great business partner, Richard Perry; to have a loving family who encourages me; to work with wonderful clients who are changing the world; to have such dedicated readers of this blog who really care about their work and others.

Practice gratitude.  It will change your life.


Posted in Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Five New Year’s Resolutions for an Outstanding 2013–#3—Do Less.


You might be reading the title to this blog post and seriously wondering if I’ve gone off the deep end.

Do less?  Yes, that is my third New Year’s resolution for 2013.  Will you join me?  Here’s what I’m getting at.  You and I have been conditioned, I guess you could say, since birth, that more is better.  Doing more is always better.  Doing so many things, even all at once and for a long period of time is really, really better.

That is our culture, our life, and our profession.  One could argue that in the non-profit world this doing more stuff is even more heightened.

But if you really think about your job in major gift fundraising and are honest with yourself, doing more often pays you back with less.  Consider something with me.

Why don’t you have a caseload of 500 donors?  Because you cannot possibly serve them all well. Believe me, I’ve seen MGO’s try it.   Richard and I have never seen anyone succeed at it.  In fact, we get into tremendous arguments with MGO’s who want to keep adding to their caseload because they think it will help them look good on paper and show more revenue.

The bottom line is you actually end up bringing in less revenue because you don’t have the ability to spend quality time with your donors.  So, the whole thing backfires. This is why we limit the number of donors MGO’s can work with.  And, then tier them so you end up spending at least half of your time working with 15-20 donors.

Quality, not quantity is the key to major gift fundraising, and, I would argue, to fundraising in general.  It feels counter-intuitive, I know.  (In fact, so does this blog post, but Richard and I have been doing this a long time.  This is the approach that works.)

I know the pressure is on for you to constantly do more and more.  But in this new year I urge you to resist this pressure, and put your faith in practicing quality relationship building and donor stewardship.  Here are a few practical tips to help you put this into practice:

  1. From your 2013 list of professional priorities, when figuring out your strategies to achieve that list, focus on one or two strategies to make them happen.  You will want to do 8-10.  Resist that urge and focus on one or two.  Then, really work them.
  2. Focus on your “A” level donors.  I know you’re a real people person and you love to meet with many folks, but if you can focus your time and energy on those 15-20 individuals, you will see a huge dividend.
  3. Don’t allow yourself to get involved in “other” activities outside cultivating and stewarding your caseload.  This is one of the biggest problems I see with MGO’s.  There are two things happening here: a) You love being creative and self-expressing so you allow yourself to veer off into something that takes you off track, and/ or, b) You have a manager or executive director who doesn’t understand the concept of major gift fundraising and pressures you to accomplish a variety of other activities.  This is the year you resist this pressure and say, “no.”  You and your manager need to understand that the way to grow your revenue is to focus on your caseload donors.
  4. Of your “A” list of donors, spend 20% of your time on the top 2-3 donors.  Yes, I know that is a tremendous amount of time.  If you want to quantify it, it’s about 400 hours a year.  You would not believe the results we have seen when an MGO spends a tremendous amount of time figuring out what these 2 or 3 donors are passionate about, understands what makes them tick and goes out of his or her way to provide unbelievable service to them.  Keep saying to yourself, “less will be more.”
  5. Go back to your “personal priorities” list.  You know, the one that has 4-5 top priorities.  Now, see if you can cut it in half.  The more “clutter” in your life, the less focused and less open you will be toward others.  The happier and more fulfilled you become in your personal life, the more rewarded you will feel in your professional life.  You cannot separate the two.  Not in this chosen profession.

Well, those are some solid tips for you to do less in 2013.  I’m not going to lie and say this is going to be easy.  But if you hang in there, over time you will understand that, while counter to all you have been conditioned for, doing less will ultimately bring you so much more.

Here’s to doing less in 2013!  Cheers!


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