Reason #5–10 Reasons Why Most Major Gift Programs Suck!

Reason #5—Lack of Management and Accountability 

Oh boy!  This is a big one and a favorite of mine to talk about.  In fact, I make most of my living helping non-profits manage their major gift officers, (among other things.)

Do you remember Reason #1?  Well, to remind you, it’s all about evaluating your major gift program by looking at the right data…namely donor and value attrition rates.  In most of the major donor files I have reviewed over the years, attrition rates of caseload donors are pathetic!

And, in my experience, the #1 reason they are pathetic is that there is poor management of, and lack of accountability for, major gift officers (MGO’s).

Too often I meet with stressed out Development Directors who have so much on their plates they don’t have the time, energy and, in many cases, expertise to manage a major gift program.

I understand.  It’s a tough job.  It’s demanding and if revenue seems to be okay, well, then everything must be fine, right?  Wrong.

Without strong management, accountability and focus, major gift officers usually fail.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not down on MGO’s.  Really, they are some of my favorite people.  Usually they are the life of the party and are great when it comes to inspiring people to give.

But…if left on their own, they tend to lose focus, chase new relationships that don’t pan out, go after the BIG gift that bales them out year after year and have trouble concentrating on deepening relationships with their entire casefile.

The best MGO’s are those who find it easy to work within a solid STRUCTURE.  In all my years in working with MGO’s this is the KEY to success.

Now, they are NOT going to like it at first.  Whenever I help Development Directors put together a solid plan and reporting structure for MGO’s we get a lot of whining and unhappy people. We’re not trying to squash their creativity, take away their mojo or change their personality.  No, we’re just trying to provide an environment for them to win!

But, hang in there and stick with it!

The whining and complaining will only last a couple of months until they start seeing that YOU are actually working for them and the results start pouring in.  In almost every case I can think of, those who are successful thrive under solid management and structure.

And, for those who can’t work within the structure…they have other problems and are showing you first hand that this is NOT the job for them.

A solid STRUCTURE should include the following elements:

  1. Goals for every donor that is cash-flowed by month.  This means the MGO has an overall monthly revenue goal.
  2. A strategic plan for every donor that outlines in detail personal visits, phone calls made and personal touches.  This wraps into a monthly moves management report.
  3. Weekly meeting with supervisor.
  4. Monthly results reporting with supervisor
  5. Monthly revenue report that details actual results compared to revenue goals by donor.
  6. Quarterly meetings with major gift team to report on donor strategy, moves, success, failure and next steps.

I would love to know if YOU have any more to add to this list.  But, these are the basic essentials.

Finally, if you have a donor database, you must demand that all MGO’s use it to report on moves and revenue.  I’ve seen some MGO’s actually write this out in a paper notebook!  Yikes!  If they get hit by a bus, how is the organization going to know what is going on?  Please make sure these good folks are entering up-to-date information.  It’s critical.

Okay, I think you get my point.  Solid structure, management, accountability and focus will lead to happy managers, MGO’s and donors!

And, more importantly, more money for your important programs!  That’s what it’s all about.


About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
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3 Responses to Reason #5–10 Reasons Why Most Major Gift Programs Suck!

  1. Scott Forbes says:

    I was alerted to this series by one of your followers, Laurel Hardgrove, in a tweat she recently sent out. These are very succinct and accurate summations.
    Question: I am a major gifts person and have a budget to do some training. Any recommendations? I have been to Jerry Panas’ program twice.

  2. You mention that they (MGOs) are usually the life of the party and that they have trouble deepening relationships. It’s because they are usually the life of the party! Sanguine personality types, who are usually the life of the party and make great sales people, are also usually very shallow people when it comes to relationships, hence the dilemma you speak of!

    • Phil, that’s a massive overgeneralization and assumption, and in my opinion just wrong. Just because you are the life of the party doesn’t mean you are a shallow person. There are many reasons why MGO’s struggle to deepen relationships with donors, being shallow because they are the life of the party is not one of them.

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