The catastrophic, revenue-killing mistake that you might be thinking about making right now

I know you would never make this horrendously expensive mistake.

But a lot of organizations do. It costs nonprofits collectively billions of dollars in lost revenue every year. (Yes, “billions” with a B. Maybe even “zillions” with a Z!)

Here’s the mistake: Remove a bunch of high-performing donors from your direct mail file and assign them to major gift officers.

It’s understandable: The personal touch of a MGO can coax a lot more money from a donor. In the right situation.

But more often than not, it doesn’t work. The MGO thing doesn’t do the trick like you thought it would. And, not getting any direct mail — the donors just stop giving! Your near-best donors vanish into thin air.

The Hilborn blog describes their very error at How to raise less money than you did last year. Here’s what happened when the general donors were moved from the direct mailings:

… counts fell short for every mailing. Not only did this make for a much higher cost per piece based on the reduced quantities, but the revenue was drastically impacted.

More importantly, the relationship managers only managed to connect with a few of the donors that had been removed.

Don’t let it happen to you.

If a donor is performing well with direct mail as the main point of contact — don’t suddenly change the rules of the game. Take it easy. Find out (by talking to them) if a personal relationship is likely to be motivating. (And be aware: the MGO treatment had better work a lot better than the direct mail treatment — because it costs a lot more.

Not every donor wants a personal relationship.

And sometimes, the MGO treatment could be great — but the gift amounts are too small. Not every donor has the capacity to rise to the monetary level that justifies MGO treatment.

It’s great to move people up the pyramid. But wishful thinking doesn’t do it. Nor does overburdening your MGOs with more donors than they can cultivate effectively.

(This post first appeared on September 30, 2015.)


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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