If you’re a major gift officer, brace yourself, because this article might rile you up a bit. We’re going to expose some of the reasons why your job is so frustrating – and none of them have to do with you. If you find yourself dealing with poor caseload list quality, this article will show you how that happens.
How do you know if your list has poor quality?
Well, do you know why new people get added to your caseload? What do you know about those people – anything useful at all? If new people get added with no explanation or insight as to what makes them a good prospect, then your caseload is probably filled with bad prospects.
Do you know anything about the majority of people on your list? Do you know their contact history with your organization? Their current finances? Their opinions and thoughts about your mission and organization? Their goals, values, and priorities in life? Do you know if they know they’re even on your list? Do they want to hear from you?
If all you’ve got is a spreadsheet filled with contact information and wealth screening data, then you don’t have much.
And this is why it’s hard to reach out, hard to work up the nerve to make cold calls, and why you frequently get ignored, hung up on, and perhaps spoken to in unkind ways.
Here is the six-step process that leads to poor list quality for major gift caseloads:
Most organizations have a core group of committed supporters, not all of them donors. They have volunteers, followers on social media, advocates, members, employees, event attendees, and more.
Within these groups, organizations know there are probably some people with wealth. So they try to come up with ways to find them.
The underlying problem with the way most organizations do this is that a potential donor is not a qualified donor. There’s a huge, vast chasm between identifying potential donors and qualifying them. Identification is easy. But that’s not enough to put them on your caseload.
About 70% of the wealth in the US is owned by about 10% of people. That means, among your supporters, you can reasonably presume that 10% of them have sizable wealth.
Knowing this, nonprofit administrators set out to find that 10%. But they aren’t easy to find, so the admins turn to various tools to help, such as wealth screeners and prospect researchers.
Most wealth screening data relies upon past giving and other habits and actions from the past. They also rely only on quantitative data, because it’s much easier to collect and report than qualitative data.
The problem with that is, qualitative data has far more value to a gift officer trying to understand and connect with a prospect as an individual, not as a caseload number. But qualitative data is harder to come by, so administrators opt for the easy route.
“We’ll find the top 10% of wealthy supporters using the screener data,” they declare.
Depending on the size of your database, screening data might identify hundreds or even thousands of major gift prospects. But because these people were all identified using quantitative data, it’s hard to know what to do with them.
You don’t know how much passion or concern they feel for your cause. You don’t know if they might be open to giving assets instead of cash to make a greater impact and achieve a greater personal victory for themselves. You don’t know hardly anything about them. But now you have the names and that’s all that matters.
Even though very little is known about these prospects, their names will be dumped into caseloads and distributed to gift officers. Sometimes, whole swaths of donors will get dumped into an existing list or a new list, such as for a newly hired gift officer brimming with enthusiasm and thrilled to be given such a big new list to work with right out of the gate.
Woohoo! We’re going to raise some money with a list this big! Right?
Ask them two months later how it’s going.
It doesn’t matter that none of these prospects asked or even gave permission to be added to this list. Does it?
Other times, names might be added to existing caseloads a few at a time, to make it more ‘manageable.’ But the problem remains – who are these people and why have they been added to these lists?
The gift officer has no idea. It’s another round of tense cold calling. Be sure and do it on a Friday so you can decompress afterward.
With their new prospect lists in hand, the gift officer receives an enthusiastic pat on the back and all the gushing, positive motivational nonsense their supervisor can muster.
Not that long afterward, they’re being rejected, turned away, yelled at, and hung up on – and that’s just from the donor prospects. Then, they have to endure more of it from their supervisor when they report having failed to raise much money from that incredibly amazing prospect list.
Donors don’t give just because a wealth screener and the organization think they should.
What’s a better approach?
Researcher David Lively from Northwestern University has studied prospect identification.
He found a better way to handle the process of identifying prospects. It’s not metrics. You don’t succeed simply by making more calls, more emails, more asks, and more vanity metrics.
Instead, he found that major gift fundraising is much more about strategy and tactic development – personalized to each donor – than it is conducting activities.
You must stop wasting time on ‘prospects’ who don’t actually want to talk to you, and spend all your time developing individualized strategies for the ones who do. Using this approach, Lively recommends a caseload size of around 20, not the usual much larger ones.
The best way to do this is to let donors self-identify as wanting to hear from you. And the best news for gift officers is that this can be done before the prospect ever gets added to your list!
How can qualified donors be made to self-identify?
That’s what MarketSmart’s software makes possible. We use a long-term engagement process for contacting, engaging, sustaining, and growing the relationship. Ultimately our system qualifies a donor as a real prospect by having them self-identify as such.
With our system, donors will tell you when they want to hear from you. Until that happens, they don’t get added to your caseload. Once they do get added, you can implement Lively’s recommendation and work up a personalized strategy to connect with them and nurture a gift.
Our system works so well that we offer a 10:1 ROI Guarantee. Yes – you will generate more than ten times the revenue you spend on our software. We guarantee it.
Want to see how our software does this?
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