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.

But we need to. Without a fully functional and donor-sensitive back office, all the work on the front end will go to waste. And even worse, you’ll lose hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of dollars. This cause-and-effect relationship is true in the commercial world as well. You’ve 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.

So, ask yourself and your team, what’s 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 seven common, but still significant, problems: 

  1. Receipting and donor care are managed by people who really don’t understand how to care about donors. We’ve 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! Or worse, the money comes in and it takes days or even weeks to process it.

    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’s the precise reason donor value 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 don’t 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 economically 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 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 Think about it: the donors are the fuel that runs the non-profit engine, but many organizations use outdated software systems to track donor behavior or to manage donors.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’s one thing to have a system that keeps track of the dollars; it’s 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’ll fail in your job.

  4. Research is funded for programs, but not for 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 mid-level, major gift, and planned gift fundraising.

  5. Gift officers 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’s 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 there are no donor offers to present to them. That’s why some major gift programs don’t work. It isn’t a bad fundraiser. It isn’t the lack of a willing donor. It’s 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 gift officer cannot really provide proof of performance to the donor. The major reason donors go away is that they don’t know that their giving made a difference.

    This is another area that is so interesting to us. 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. Fundraisers are tasked with other duties that have nothing to do with mid, major, or planned giving, 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 fundraising program is going to work when the fundraiser is tasked with anything other than managing their caseload donors. This one gets me angry, because good donors are languishing and a good fundraiser is caused to fail, just because some authority figure doesn’t understand how to create the right system or is resistant to hiring additional support.

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 fundraisers in mid-level, major gifts, and planned giving aren’t properly supported in all of these areas and the donor is treated shabbily because of poor back office systems, there’s a direct, negative economic effect on net revenue to the organization.

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 causing the loss of net revenue to the organization. “We’ll save money by not providing administrative support!” It’s a foolish idea that is believed too often by non-profit leaders.

So our contribution, over the coming months and in our Veritus Group Academy, will be to provide you with a “case for back office support” so you can get your back office up and running as it should.

In the meantime, here’s what you can do:

  • Start talking about this in your circle of influence, noting the consequences I’ve 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 work 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’s 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. (Tweet it!) 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 and start preserving your relationship with donors and the revenue they give to your good organization.