Major Gift Management and Metrics in the COVID Era

  • Published April 24, 2020
  • / By Frank Interlichia

Major gift operations in organizations of all sizes in all sectors have adapted rapidly to working remotely, dealing with shifting philanthropic priorities, and with prospects preoccupied by health concerns and economic uncertainty.

But how do managers keep major gift officers (MGOs) motivated and working strategically and productively in this shifting environment?  How do they fairly evaluate performance? How do they set appropriate individual goals for next year?

Never before has more judgment, creativity and empathy been needed from these managers.  While remaining empathetic and flexible, managers must be clear that the primary role of MGOs hasn’t changed: to move relationships forward and, ultimately, to close gifts.  Setting appropriate individual and team targets—an anchor of “normal” fundraising activity—will help focus your MGOs and your teams on the fundamentals.  Some suggestions:

  • Meaningful Contact. Face-to-face visits remain the gold standard of donor contact; they will return eventually.  For now, however, expand the definition of “meaningful contact” with an emphasis on video and phone calls.  Have a clear definition of “meaningful contact,” such as two-way communication that moves the relationship/gift discussion forward. Other types of contact can and should count as well.  A single e-mail will usually not count; an e-mail exchange that leads a donor closer to a giving decision or plan would.  Stewardship calls, which are so valuable at this juncture, would count.  A number of institutions have made this a stand-alone metric.
  • Leadership Annual Fund/Special Effort Solicitations. If not already part of their duties, MGOs need to call beyond their own portfolios and contact/solicit leadership Annual Fund donors.  In this “all hands on deck” moment, MGOs have the skills and the time to help bolster special Emergency/Support funds or the Annual Fund itself. The number of solicitations, gifts closed and dollars raised are excellent metrics to add or enhance during this period.
  • Review Major Gift Solicitations. While some organizations have suspended or decreased targets for number of solicitations, consider your organization’s specific situation, mission and culture before doing so.  Don’t assume that people are unable or unwilling to give before talking with them.  Review solicitations in the pipeline currently and for the next 3-6 months for each MGO.  Adjust (downward or upward), delay solicitations depending on feedback you are hearing from the donors themselves.  Consequently, you will need to revisit Number of Gifts Closed and Dollars Raised.  Some organizations are lowering totals, others have seen significant challenge gifts for COVID-related emergency funds by board members and key donors, others are actually ramping up solicitation activity.
  • Discovery Calls/New Qualified Prospects. Yes, you can qualify prospects from a distance!  This is definitely a time to contact people who may have been too busy to respond before social distancing.  Use this time to expand your pool of prospects.
  • Portfolio Clean-Up Goals. This is the ideal time to do the “housekeeping” that always slips to the bottom of the pile.  Cull (or grow) your portfolio to a target size.  Review your pipeline and update all ratings and stages (cultivation, solicitation, stewardship); have written 30-60-90 day plans and longer terms strategies for each of your prospects.
  • Consider a Total Contact Metric. Is there any reason that MGOs can’t call everyone in their portfolio (or a high percentage of them) during this period?

A mantra of metrics is: don’t count things that don’t matter!  Decide what matters most for your organization at this juncture and encourage MGOs to accomplish more by measuring it.