Your back office
One of our blog readers recently commented that many speakers, consultants and category experts write and speak a great deal about the “donor-facing” side of major gifts, but hardly anyone talks about the back end.
Good point. Without a fully functional and donor-sensitive back office, all the work on the front end will go to waste. This cause and effect relationship is true in the commercial world as well. You have experienced it – you buy a product or use a service and the experience is wonderful, only to be ruined by shabby treatment when you need further help or encounter a problem.
What is your back office like? If it’s like many non-profits we see around the country and in Europe, the back office operation is fraught with 7 major problems:

  1. Receipting and donor care are managed by people who really don’t care about donors. We have seen this so many times. The gift comes in, the money is banked in a nanosecond, and the receipting and thank you process doesn’t happen for weeks! This is exactly why donors get the idea that you don’t care about them, and that all you really care about is getting their money – and it is the precise reason donor attrition is in the 30-60% range in so many organizations. Hundreds of thousands (in some cases millions) of dollars go right out the door of a good non-profit because donors are treated shabbily. We can analyze your data and prove that this is true.
  2. Managers do not provide proper administrative support to MGOs. Please go to my post on this subject from a few years back for precise information on what is lost because of this poor choice.
  3. Data processing is run by accountants and finance people where the primary purpose of data management is to keep track of the budget, not the donor. This one is just unbelievable to Jeff and me. Think about it: the donors are the fuel that runs the non-profit engine, but many organizations use outdated software systems to track donor behavior or to manage donors. It is one thing to have a system that keeps track of the dollars; it is another to have one that keeps track of the donors. Both are needed. And there are some pretty good donor management systems out there. When you don’t keep track of why a donor gave or what a donor prefers or what the last move or interaction was with a donor, you cannot possibly satisfy your caseload donor’s interests and passions. And if you fail at that, you will fail in your job.
  4. Research is funded for programs, but not for the acquisition and cultivation of donors. The more progressive non-profits we work with, large and small, have some donor research function to support their MGOs. For smaller shops it can be a data- and information-savvy volunteer that simply “looks things up.” For many it’s hiring a donor research specialist who can tell you vital information on capacity, inclination and interests. All types of research are necessary in major gift fundraising.
  5. MGOs are left to fend for themselves when creating donor offers and proposals. Jeff and I have always taken the position that a non-profit must have someone supporting the major gift function, if not the entire fundraising function, who takes the entire budget of the organization and reframes it into donor offers and proposals that cover each category of programs in the organization and have a wide range of price points, from thousands of dollars to multiple millions. This is no small task, and it is rarely done. I don’t understand why. In most situations, we see that there are plenty of donors who will give six- and seven-figure gifts, but no donor offers to present to them. And that is why some major gift programs don’t work. It isn’t a bad MGO. It isn’t the lack of a willing donor. It is the lack of a good offer to present to that donor.
  6. No one is tasked to measure the impact of the organization’s programs, so the MGO cannot really provide proof of performance to the donor. The major reason donors go away is that they do not know that their giving actually made a difference. This is another area that is so interesting to me. We work very hard to persuade the donor to give, and she does. And then we don’t tell her how her gift made a difference!! It’s no wonder she wanders off to find someplace else to give. I would too. You must have a robust, almost machine-like system in place to PROVE impact. And then that information must be shared with your caseload donors.
  7. MGOs are tasked with other duties that have nothing to do with major gifts, and they’re told those duties “must” get done – because “who else is going to do them?” I was recently in an organization evaluating their major gift program. It wasn’t working, and I was asked why it wasn’t. It didn’t take me long to figure out why. The MGO was gifted. She had good donors. But more than half of her time was required to perform tasks not related to the management of her caseload. One day it was sourcing food and drinks for an event. The other day it was organizing a venue for the advisory board. Then there was the need for someone to go to the office supply store to pick up some urgently needed supplies for an executive meeting. And then it was a run to the airport to pick up a visitor because no one else was available. This is nonsense!! I just cannot imagine how any manager or leader can believe a major gift program is going to work when the MGO is tasked with anything other than managing their caseload donors. This one gets me angry, because good donors are languishing and a good MGO is caused to fail, just because some authority figure is either too dumb to see the folly of the system he has created (including doing work that is not necessary) or too cheap to hire somebody to cover the work.

So what can be done about this?
One thing Jeff and I intend to do is to write about each of these areas so that we can prove, to leaders and managers, that not having a fully functional back office has negative economic impact on fundraising. In other words, if MGOs are not properly supported in all of these areas and the donor is treated shabbily because of poor back office systems, there is a direct negative economic effect on net revenue to the organization.
Take a look at our work in this area of administrative support. In this blog we clearly show that trying to save money by not providing admin support to a MGO is actually causing the loss of net revenue to the organization. “We’ll save money by not providing administrative support!” What a dumb idea.
So our contribution, over the coming months and in our Major Gift Academy, will be to provide you a “case for back office support” so you can get your back office up and running as it should.
In the meantime, here is what you can do:

  • Start talking about this in your circle of influence, noting the consequences I have listed in the seven points above. Just acquainting your authority figure with the cause and effect of not providing a proper back office will give the topic more visibility.
  • Collect ideas and stories that show the problem and bring them to light in your environment, PLUS send them to us. That will help us write the case.
  • Collect examples of things that are working and share them in your circle of influence. Your good people that are doing great back office things could use your support. Send those examples to us as well! Good news and great ideas need to be shared.
  • Find examples of great customer service in the commercial world, and apply them to your situation. For instance, when you have a problem with a product and the company responds immediately to make it right it makes you feel good and your loyalty increases. That situation is exactly what happens when your organization responds quickly to a donor, either when they give or when there is a question or problem.
  • Find ways to give your back office folks some public praise and kudos. They deserve it. Without them you would surely fail.

The back office is just as important as any donor-facing activity. We simply need to get that fact into our heads and into our practice as fundraisers. Be part of bringing awareness and solutions to this very important organizational function.
Richard