You cannot imagine the times Jeff and I have found, at organizations large and small, that there is just one person who handles planned giving AND major gifts for the organization. This happens a lot in smaller organizations where the labor economics are driving the decision, and I can see the logic to that.
But as the organization gets bigger, a hybrid position that combines these roles will always hurt either planned giving, or major gifts, or both – it’s the old “no person can serve two masters” thing in play.
Which is why our philosophy and strategic advice is always to keep the two functions separate so they can both flourish.
While it’s true that planned giving and major gifts are siblings in the fundraising function, in that both are highly personal, high-touch strategies – the fact is that one is focused on a future gift, and the other is focused on current giving. This affects which donor offers will be most relevant to each situation, with very few exceptions.
The other dynamic at play here is the personal preference of the person you have hired. We have seen so many situations where a planned giving person, who genuinely loves planned giving, is “forced” to work in major gifts and does not succeed. Perhaps they’re not comfortable with the asking process, or the crediting policy, or they don’t see how the relationship dynamic is different for each of these areas.
It often just boils down to personal preference – “I just love working in planned gifts” or “I just love working in major gifts.”
Jeff and I know that the while the skill set, motivations, and drivers are different for each job, there are enough aspects in common so that the manager or decision maker may falsely assume the two can be effectively combined. And so, they do just that – they combine them – and the result is two revenue sources that underperform. We see this all the time.
So, a hybrid version of these roles may be your current function, or where you believe you should start in your organization, but our advice is to plan for separate roles as soon as you can, so you can focus each area as follows:
- Major Gifts – Qualifying a caseload of 150 donors for each FTE; uncovering interests, passions, and communication preferences; tiering the donors; setting goals; creating individualized plans; executing the created plan and modifying it as the MGO goes through the year, with a commitment to refreshing the caseload twice a year.
- Planned Gifts – Targeting the right donors, not just everyone; creating a lead generation strategy and system; establishing a lead conversion strategy that includes identification of passions, interests, and communication preferences; presenting other planned giving offers as appropriate; checking to see if there are current giving opportunities and, if so, presenting them; and, lastly, stewarding any donor who becomes a planned giving donor.
Here is a very important point to consider in all of this. Every donor file we have analyzed, and I mean every one of them, and we have analyzed thousands over the years – every one of those donor files has active donors in them that justify adding MGOs and PGOs to manage donors. And in every situation where this data and these facts are presented, the decision maker decides not to invest in hiring people for both roles because “we can’t afford to do it.”
And the result is thousands and thousands of dollars lost, as the donors are not stewarded properly. This is true for major gifts as well as planned gifts.
We really don’t want your organization to miss the mark on this. Think clearly here. It’s critical that you hire the labor you need to effectively manage the donors you have. Do not settle for a hybrid situation because you think you cannot afford two roles. If we looked at your data, I am sure we could make a case that you are losing more money from good donors than it would cost you to hire a dedicated MGO or PGO.
Be confident and take a bold step here. It will be good for your donors, your team, and the organization.
In the -4 years I worked at Vanderbilt an Attorney seeped in Gift planning/ estate planning helmed Planned gifts. We traveled together a lot and were very successful in writing gift agreements that resulted in 6 & 7 figure gifts!
14 years at Vanderbilt
I continue to have the same questions regarding how the MGO and PGO are to relate to the donor once the donor has committed to a planned gift.
Here is a common scenario… MGO Mike has stewarded a relationship with Donor Dave for ten years and Dave has made several major gifts during that time.
The organization identifies Dave as a planned giving prospect and assigns PGO Pete to his account.
Question 1… Does Mike still solicit major gifts from Dave while Pete is working with Dave on a planned gift?
Question 2… Does Mike bow out and turn Dave over to Pete entirely?
Question 3… If Pete gets Dave to make a planned giving commitment, does Pete keep Dave in his portfolio or turn him back over to Mike?
Question 4… What are Mike and Pete’s roles going forward after a planned giving commitment is made?
Hi James, Thanks for this question! This is one that comes up often. As a rule, the person who has the best relationship with the donor should maintain that relationship. The best practice is for the planned giving officer to work with a major gift officer and develop a joint plan on how they will implement a strategy to get a planned gift from this prospect. There may be cases when the major gifts officer wants to have the donor worked exclusively by the planned giving officer.
After the planned gift has been made, there are a number of different ways this could go. If the person continues to be a major gift prospect, the major gift officer should continue the relationship. If the person intends to only make a planned gift, this person should be stewarded now as part of a stewardship plan for planned giving donors.
Regarding major gift asks while the planned giving officer is working with the donor, this really depends on the donor and relationship the fundraiser has with the donor. We’re proponents of continuing to ask the donor for additional gifts even while the planned giving process is proceeding, since it is really important for the donor to understand what’s important for the charity and what’s going on there.