Measuring a Major Gift Officer’s Effectiveness

Accountability. That is the name of the game these days in the world of fundraising.

The stakes are simply too high with an uncertain economy, possible shifts in tax laws pertaining to deductions for gifts to charity, growing competition for the philanthropic dollar and rising costs associated with hiring seasoned professionals with proper skills. It is increasingly important that institutions develop specific expectations for their major gift officers and, more importantly, track and document performance towards those goals with reports to senior administrators.

The Importance of Major Gift Counsel and Officers

First things first. Organizations must establish baseline requirements for major gift officers. This is not done by simply understanding what the norm is in your nonprofit sector. While peer benchmarks are useful tools, an organization’s culture dictates what size portfolio a MGO can manage – and how many visits they can handle in a month. What is more important is understanding the most effective prospect mix within a portfolio and fairly distributing prospects among your team. It is difficult to compare performance between major gift officers if one MGO is top-heavy with discovery prospects and another has most of their prospects in stewardship mode.

Forgetting actual numbers of prospects, best practices suggest the following distribution for the best results:

  • 15-20% in each of the Top, Emerging and Stewardship categories
  • Balance (roughly 50%) in Discovery

To clarify:

  • Top – Prospect will receive a major gift solicitation within 12-18 months
  • Emerging – Prospect will be moved into the Top category in 12-18 months
  • Discovery – Prospect to be qualified as a major gift prospect by virtue of a substantive move within 6 months of assignment
  • Stewardship – A proposal has been funded; prospect to be returned to the emerging category – timing to be determined during prospect strategy meetings

Major gift officers should maintain a number of prospects in perpetual stewardship – they have done all they plan on doing for the organization, but still want to hear from you once in a while.

Top Strategies for Major Gift Fundraising

Critical to effective performance measure requires consistent application of “terms of engagement”. Seeing a prospect at a cocktail party is not the same as an intentional visit. The above mentioned “move” must be defined and understood by manager and administration officials. Generally, this is done as an actual substantive face-to-face visit.

Performance measurement includes specific requirements for reporting/tracking prospect engagement. Each MGO must:

  • Record plans to extend an ask,
  • When an ask has been scheduled,
  • When an ask has been made,
  • Each negotiation pertaining to that ask,
  • Whether or not the final ask was approved or declined, and
  • If approved, the details of the anticipated gift.

These contact reports document the success (or failure) of prospect negotiation. The reports can identify areas of improvement for specific MGOs and track trends over time.

The last piece of major gift counsel accountability is reporting results.

All of the documentation and care in prospect assignment is of little value without a public way of showing MGO performance. Regular reports showing the MGO performance both by major fundraising office, as well as by individual are needed. Both sets of reports should be distributed to senior management in the advancement office. In the case of the unit report, details based on the stages of prospect development should reflect the goals for each unit, current tally, and percent of goal achieved.

The report reflecting individual activity is much more detailed. It should include the monthly goals for face-to-face visits and actual performance to goal and accounting for activity in each of the prospect categories, broken down by letters written, phone calls made and actual visits.

On the surface it might feel like the reports are serving to air someone’s – or some unit’s – dirty laundry. And in a way, they do.

However, they serve a greater purpose for the organization. If you do an effective job of establishing expectations for the MGO and they are part of the establishment of their personal goals in consultation with their superiors, then none of these reports should be a surprise.

By identifying those units and individuals who are outperforming others, you can collectively learn by their examples and all become better fundraisers!