picture of a keyboard key with words admin supportAn article written by Autumn Arnett in Education Dive supports our long-held belief that major gift officers are not getting the administrative and other support they need to be effective. I’m grateful that one of our colleagues passed this on to us.
The article was written in response to results from a recent survey by Ruffalo Noel Levitz who asked major gift officers in universities across the nation about how effective they were in their position.
There are two things that are prohibiting major gift officers from building relationships with donors:

  1. Lack of administrative support, and
  2. Bad tracking data.

Because of this, the survey revealed that major gift officers only get to visit with 52% of their caseload donors. The article goes on to say that MGOs are bogged down in scheduling meetings with donors rather than actually meeting with them, and MGOs are stuck in internal department meetings.
All of this leads to frustration for the MGOs, coupled with more pressure from leadership to bring in larger gifts. The result of these two forces is that university major gift officers are changing jobs every 16 months on average. The direct and indirect cost of replacing an MGO for the institution is $127,650, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Do you see a problem here?
The article tells even worse news. According to the survey, MGOs are being evaluated more and more on activity metrics rather than on success metrics. In other words, they are being rewarded for the volume of calls made, regardless of the actual gifts received as a result of their work. This has resulted in top donors getting less attention, because it’s easier to get meetings with lower-level donors.
Additionally, 85% of MGOs who were surveyed said that the data regarding their donors was insufficient – both the wealth indicator information wasn’t right and the information in the database about the donor was lacking.
Is this crazy or what?
This is not only happening at universities. Richard and I, and our team, are seeing this across the entire non-profit sector.
You see, what is happening is that some non-profits, when they want to cut expenses, look at areas like administrative support as the first thing to cut. Or if a non-profit wants to start a major gift program, they think that by just hiring an MGO they will solve all their problems – without thinking how the MGO needs to be supported in order to be successful.
As the article stresses, there is so much more money out there to support these causes – and if MGOs had the time to develop relationships with donors rather than spend a bunch of time doing admin work and attending meetings, they would be so much more successful at bringing it in.
If you are a leader or manager, we urge you to rethink how you run your major gift program. MGOs need support to do what they do best: form relationships with donors, understand donors’ passions and interests and match it up to all your programs, and develop great offers and inspire the donor to support them.
All the other stuff you are making them do, including all the meetings and events you are making them attend, is taking them away from that. And further, it’s making the MGO run away and leave to find a better work situation. This will cost you a ton of money to replace.
Think about it. One administrative person could cost you around $50-$60K a year all in, but with that outlay you could help 2-3 MGOs bring in significantly more money, have higher job satisfaction and keep them in your organization.
It’s a no-brainer.
If you want a successful major gift program, support your major gift fundraisers and let them do what they are really good at – building relationships with donors.