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Measuring Major Gift Performance: Think Beyond the Dollar

DSC01313More than any other form of fundraising, major gift fundraising is all about the personal. The communication is personal, the “ask” is personal, and the stewardship is personal.

The goals set in major gift fundraising are personal, too. Whether it’s a development director with a major gift portfolio or a major gift officer, the vast majority of major gift fundraisers are evaluated by the amount of money they raise.

And while this makes sense in terms of the internal needs of the organization to meet budget and operate effectively, if income targets are the only metric used, the incentives can actually stunt overall fundraising growth and build barriers between team members and donors.

Performance metrics are all about incentives. You measure people by what you want them to do. You want major gifts officers to do these things (in additional to raising the most money):

  • Bring in new donors and prospects
  • Increase gifts of existing donors
  • Keep major donors engaged
  • Focus on real potential for engagement
  • Connect with the donor’s philanthropic interests

If your major gifts staff are evaluated solely on the money the bring in, they aren’t necessarily incentivized to do any of the above. In fact, a few of these goals have very little to do with revenue raised.

Bringing in new donors is critical and crucial for a major gifts program to thrive, but it takes valuable time (sometimes years) to build relationships with major gifts prospects. But if these new donors give smaller gifts initially (and many do), where’s the incentive to cultivate them if the income targets are annual?

Likewise, what might be good for the income target of one major gift office may not be good for the overall fundraising strategy, much less the donor. If a major gifts officer has a donor that provides reliable income of $10,000 a year, but never wants to meet and only responds to mail solicitations, shouldn’t that donor be taken out of the major gifts portfolio and cultivated by mail by the direct marketing team?

And what if the donor’s interests are elsewhere? If a major gifts officer has a donor that gives a large gift in their portfolio, but they know the donor could really be turned on by making a truly significant planned gift, what’s the incentive for the major gift staff to give that donor to the planned giving staff if it might mean less annual income for major gifts?

Competition can be good, but not if the focus on gross income stunts the growth of the whole giving pyramid. Major gifts are not an end to themselves. They are just one piece of the organization’s efforts to effectively engage the donor.

With income targets being their only measure of success, major gifts staff focus on keeping donors in their portfolio, not fulfilling their obligations as a member of a fundraising team. I’ve seen many major gift teams stagnate because they weren’t able to work together and I truly believe this metric is the reason.

Most importantly, measuring your major gifts staff by money raised is focused on the staff, not the donor. It doesn’t take into account what might be best for the donor.

So what to do instead?

  • Measure what matters. What are the strategic objectives of the overall fundraising program and how does the major gifts team fit in? Is the objective to bring in new donors? Build an endowment through planned giving? Improve overall donor retention?
  • Use a series of metrics. Rarely is there just one objective for any team. In major gifts, it’s really important that there be other forms of measurement put in place besides total money raised.

Gross income is one metric, but here are some that should rank above it:

  1. How many new (brand new to the organization) prospects have come into the major gifts file?
  2. How many donors have been upgraded to give larger gifts (whether they be planned, multi-year or one-time)?
  3. How many donors have been reassigned to other solicitors and other fundraising programs with positive results?

And the most important of all: does the donor feel they are being best served in their philanthropic interests by the major gifts officer?

That’s a tough one to measure for sure, but it’s what we as a sector should be looking for in the end.


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