There’s a raging controversy going on right now over administrative support for frontline fundraisers, and this just doesn’t make any sense to Jeff and me.

The conservative managers and leaders are saying: “A frontline fundraiser does not need admin support to do his or her job!” They are emphatic about it. These are the same folks who are also demanding that frontline fundraisers meet with donors OUT OF THE OFFICE! I capitalized that because that is how STRONGLY they feel about it.

Do you see a conflict here? They want the frontline fundraiser to be out with donors, while still doing all the in-office work necessary to make the mid, major, or planned gift effort successful. It’s crazy.

So, the proponents of the traditional argument believe that a frontline fundraiser does not need administrative support – that solid revenue can be secured, and donors can be properly cared for without this critical support. The managers who are less risk-aversive believe that admin support should be given or at least can be shared with other frontline fundraisers and even with other departments.

All of this brings up the question I would pose to leaders and managers: “Why won’t you hire administrative support for your frontline fundraisers?”

Well, the short answer is that leaders and managers do not want to pay for it. They argue that it’s not necessary. So, they don’t do it, nor do they support it. And here’s the interesting thing. While these same leaders and managers are doing all of that, they are hiring their own admin support so they can take care of their support needs.

I was in the conference room of a large non-profit discussing this very point with the leadership. I said: “You need to hire and assign admin support to your major gift people. Believe me, it will bring in more net revenue than the cost of doing it.”

They protested loudly and strongly, claiming they could not afford it. I replied that by not supporting the MGO this way, they were losing more money than it would cost to provide admin support. I showed them the analysis that proved my point. I could not convince them.

Then the meeting was over, and I walked out of the conference room through the executive suite of offices. Each leader and manager I’d been speaking with had a private office in this area. And outside of each office was an admin person – one for each executive. It was ironic and a bit hypocritical. Here was a situation where the leaders and managers had justified support for themselves, but could not “see” how it would benefit their frontline fundraisers!

Jeff and I have seen this pattern repeatedly where authority figures provide administrative support for themselves and not their employees. And when it comes to the revenue generation piece with frontline fundraisers, this pattern should not be allowed to continue.

Because when it does, the frontline fundraiser spends less time with donors. And the less time a frontline fundraiser spends with a donor, the less opportunity there is to present a need that matches that donor’s passions and interests, the less interaction, then less asks, etc. And all of this means less response and less revenue. I mean, do the math, and think about this logically. Frequency of contact and presentation really does affect the economic result.

And for managers who insist it’s all about the bottom line – then why would you not spend the money to make more money?

Here’s the thing. An admin person does all the back-office work that is not donor-facing. Reports, research, mailings, scheduling, organizing contact with donors, securing info from finance and program so that the frontline fundraiser can produce an ask, or using that same information to tell the donor they made a difference. It’s all the activity the frontline fundraiser does not have to do so that they have more time to be with donors. It’s that simple.

If you have your frontline fundraiser doing work that an admin person could do, it will eat up at least a third, if not half, of their time – this is time they will NOT spend with donors. What this means is a loss of opportunity for contact, engagement, stewardship, and asks. So, do that math. If you have 150 qualified donors but only serve 100 of them properly, what is the value of those 50 that are lost? Believe me, it’s a lot more than the cost of an admin person.

So, let’s say an admin person costs $60-70K a year, all costs in. By “saving” that money, the organization is losing far more from the donors that are not properly reached and stewarded. And that amount could be anywhere from $100k to half a million or more. It doesn’t make sense.

I know, someone reading this blog might be saying: “Hold on, guys. You are making numbers up. Who says that that is the amount that is lost? You just pulled that out of your head.”

Yep, sure did. But it is pure logic. If you distract a staff member from the core revenue-generating activity of donor contact, you most definitely negatively affect the result – less revenue comes in. And, in our experience, that shift can be anywhere from a 20-30% drop, or way more than you will pay for admin support.

So, go through this exercise to audit how much time your frontline fundraiser is spending on work that they could have an admin person do:

  1. Have your frontline fundraiser make a list of ALL the work they do by categories and subcategories. Make sure the list covers everything.
  2. Estimate how many hours the fundraiser works per week.
  3. Work with the fundraiser to estimate how much time each of the categories and subcategories takes every week – put it down in hours and minutes.
  4. Identify those categories and subcategories that an admin person could do. Be careful that you are putting down every activity that is NOT donor-facing. Include some of the meetings you are requiring the fundraiser to attend in the office that they could be excused from OR represented by the admin person.
  5. Add up the hours per week spent on all the admin categories and subcategories.
  6. Take the total in #5 above and calculate how much (percentage) of the total time per week that the fundraiser is spending on admin-type work.

We have calculated that a frontline fundraiser in major gifts can manage a caseload of 150 qualified donors (as long as they are tiered and managed according to value and contribution). Given that basis, multiply the percentage in #6 above times 150 qualified donors. The resulting number could be the number of donors on the frontline fundraiser’s caseload that he or she is not serving fully or properly, resulting in a loss of revenue.

You are welcome to argue this point if you want. But you know as well as I do that less time with a donor means less revenue. And it is our belief and experience that the total revenue lost is greater than the cost of the admin person because the frontline fundraiser has far less time to reach out to donors and create those meaningful connections.

So, operate at your own risk. We highly recommend providing your frontline fundraiser with the administrative support they need. It will mean more net revenue raised.


PS — Here’s a chart that outlines the division of labor for what an admin person does versus the frontline fundraiser. Take a look.