Seven Ways To Do What’s Expected in Major Gifts–#2–Do You Know What You Are Doing?

“Let me introduce you to our major gift person, Richard,” he said.  “She has a lot of experience in the major gift field and we’re lucky to have her!”

And then the development director went on to tell me how Janet (not her real name) was handling a very large caseload of major donors, in charge of events for the organization and heading up the volunteer program as well.


Later, we got into a discussion on how things were going.  Revenue was down.  He was concerned about some “very good donors we haven’t heard from”.  And there were some other nasty little creatures lurking in the conversation.

You see it, don’t you?  The lack of job definition; the lack of job focus, and, the wondering about revenue.  Pretty obvious what’s going on, isn’t it?  Janet doesn’t know what she is doing.  Oh, she knows.  She’s a smart lady.  But there is a gap between what is expected and what is actually happening.  And she is stuck in that gap.

How about this…

John (another changed name) is assigned a caseload of 150 donors.  It’s clear.  “These are your donors, John.”  He understands.  But John hasn’t qualified the donors.  By qualified we mean actually asked them if they want to relate in a personal way.  So, even though they meet the criteria of a major donor for the organization, more than half of the donors really do not want to connect or meet with John.  He keeps banging his head against silent “no’s” and often loud rejection.

It’s discouraging.

So, John is finding joy in helping with the social media program of the organization he works for.  He is really good at it.  In fact, he just got an assignment to develop a new section of the web-site.  Exciting stuff.  Very exciting!

Well, you know the answer to this one.  It will cost the organization $100,000+, including salary and benefits, to keep John employed.  And the return on that money will be dismal resulting in failure for John and his manager.


Because the job is defined but not managed, donors are not qualified and an employee is wandering.  John doesn’t know what he is doing. He’d like to find a way out, but doesn’t know what to do.  And he’s scared to talk about it.  He knows things are not right, but….

Are you a manager with an employee in this situation?  Are you an employee who is stuck like this?  There is a way out.  Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Get clear on what the job is.  To us, this is pretty basic:  manage and cultivate 150 qualified donors.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.
  2. Uncover and negotiate variances.  If you are the manager and there is a variance between what the employee is doing vs. what you expect, you need to talk about it.  Don’t leave it.  If you are the employee where there is a variance on what you are supposed to do and what you are being asked to do, you need to talk about it.  Don’t leave it.
  3. Remember that the passing of time and fun new things erode focus and effectiveness away from caring for your good donors.

We have seen so many situations where donors are not properly cared for because the people tasked with caring for them are either distracted by the demands of unfocused authority figures or enticed to other places by their own desires.

Knowing what you are doing in major gifts is about maintaining a very sharp focus on a group of qualified donors, caring for them, respecting them, honoring them and serving them.  It’s the very best place you and your employee can be.  It will bring you tremendous joy and fulfillment plus the revenue your organization needs.


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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5 Responses to Seven Ways To Do What’s Expected in Major Gifts–#2–Do You Know What You Are Doing?

  1. Well written and thought out. However, the trouble begins with the want-ad. Your message is meant for the elite charity — so few of them. 90+% of the charities (<$5 million) have directors of dev with little or no staff and are expected to do everything. I have worked for both and specialize now in the small charity. Just picked this job description by random from a Linkedin want ad today for a $3 million social service agency. What charity does not have the same impossible expectation for their stand-alone dev dir?

    •Raise at least $3 Million in 2011-2012 and create/implement a strategy to increase fundraising steadily in following years
    •Cultivate and maintain relationships with high-net worth individuals
    •Plan, execute and evaluate fundraising events throughout the year, including an annual event which is expected to raise at least $500,000
    •Build new, and strengthen current, relationships with corporate partners and foundations
    •Support the Executive Director and key senior leadership members in their efforts to build relationships with major donors and other key constituents
    •Actively pursue 6-7 figure, multi-year gifts from individuals and foundations
    •Work with the Board of Directors to maximize their fundraising efforts
    •Oversee (name of charity) marketing, communication, and PR efforts
    •Manage a Development Associate, responsible for grant writing, marketing/communications, and general development support
    •Continue to innovate and find new/better ways to engage current donors, identify new donors, and build (name of charity) profile within the community

    • Good reflection – but let me re-frame that job description for what, in my opinion, it is really saying and then put it all into the context of my post on the subject. The job description, essentially, requires the following:

      •Raise at least $3 Million in 2011-2012 thru cultivation of high-net worth individuals, corporate partners, foundations and the board and makes sure you get some 6-7 figure gifts in the process. (read this as managing a caseload)
      •Do events.
      •Do marketing, communication, and PR.
      •Find new ways to raise money and increase visibility of the charity in the community.

      It adds that this person will have a development assistant to do this work.

      While I don’t agree this is a good job description, I do think it is a doable job for a two person fundraising unit. If I were counsel to this development director and I could not influence towards a different job description I would put together my caseload of individuals, corporations and business, foundations and the board; set goals and make plans for each one of them; organize and execute an event, and; over time, get my executive director to think differently about how fundraising should be be done and supported.

      It is possible, in this situation, to know where you are going and be successful at it, focusing on the high payoff activities.

      Richard Perry

  2. Kerry says:

    Richard- so true!!! I would even take this concept a step further & say that we need to redefine the standard job description of Development Director – when the job is to manage staff AND major gift fundraise, that’s two full-time jobs in one, setting up a situation of ineffective performance. The skill set to manage staff & to manage a portfolio are quite different. For me personally, I have no interest in managing staff, but I’m very happy to get out & cultivate, solicit & steward individuals. What’s your take on this?

    • I totally agree with you. Managing and doing the technical work of major gift fundraising are two different skill sets. It is very difficult to find the same talent in one person, although, as Jeff said in an earlier post, we have some very competent clients that successfully do it.

      But….it is NOT the norm.

      And, therefore, management must take this into account when staffing for the major gift program of the organization.

      It is very sad for me to see a talented person like yourself punished for not having management skills or motivations. But it happens all the time.

      What we try to do in our client situations is lift up and honor both the major gift officer – the person who loves to be with the donor – AND the manager. Both play a very important role in making the whole thing happen.

      Richard Perry

  3. jamesmschaffer says:

    Just now circling back and seeing the replies. Been at this for 25+ years and find your posts and comments to be the best I’ve seen. Thanks for taking the time to publish your new blog. I am your student and appreciate your good advice and encouragement.

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