This post originally appears on the Passionate Giving Blog on October 20, 2014. 

I have to admit that I’m pretty worked up. Recently, I’ve been hearing about good major gift officers (MGOs) who are being sucked into a vacuum of despair.

What’s causing this? The lack of administrative help. That’s right, even with all the pressure on MGOs to raise funds for programs (and more importantly to form meaningful relationship with donors by learning the donor’s passions and interests), many MGOs, like you, are stuck dealing with data entry, mailing correspondence, making travel arrangements, making airport runs, and setting up multiple meetings.

Richard and I think this is a waste of valuable time. In fact, Richard has written about this a few times himself, and he gets just as worked up as I am at this moment.

We believe major gift officers need to be spending the majority of their time out of their offices, across a lunch table or at the homes of their donors – not at their desks filling out expense reports.

Good administrative help can free up major gift officers to do what they are paid to do; form deep and meaningful relationships with donors who will be inspired to give to your organization.

Instead, major gift officers are locked to their desks performing tasks that someone else could do – someone who would have a better ROI for the organization and is actually much more skilled than the major gift officer at those things.

Yet non-profit organizations continue to be short-sighted, penny-wise and a thousand pounds foolish about investing in administrative help. Why? There are several reasons:
  1. To save money. The problem with this is that the non-profit is actually losing money when they don’t invest in good administrative help. Yes, having a good administrative assistant actually helps to create a positive return on investment. Think about it: Say you pay a good assistant between $35-$45,000 a year. This frees up the major gift officer 15 hours a week. That 15 hours a week is easily 4-5 MORE face to face meetings with donors per week. The potential revenue impact is huge.

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review. Melba Duncan writes:

In their zeal to cut administrative expenses, many companies have gone too far, leaving countless highly paid middle and upper managers to arrange their own travel, file expense reports, and schedule meetings. Some companies may be drawn to the notion of egalitarianism they believe this assistant-less structure represents — when workers see the boss loading paper into the copy machine, the theory goes, a “we’re all in this together” spirit is created. But as a management practice, the structure rarely makes economic sense. Generally speaking, work should be delegated to the lowest-cost employee who can do it well. Although companies have embraced this logic by outsourcing work to vendors or to operations abroad, back at headquarters they ignore it, forcing top talent to misuse their time.

  1. To become more efficient. This makes no sense to me. Technology can only help you so much. It still takes a bunch of time to make travel arrangements. One MGO we heard from spent 10 hours preparing all the flights, hotels and car rental arrangements for a week-long donor trip. Is that an efficient way to use an MGO’s time? No way.
  2. It shows that “we’re all in this together,” or as the above quoted article states, makes us more “egalitarian.” The fact of the matter is that you are paying a highly-skilled major gift officer a lot of money to raise much more money. This work takes specific skills. Why would you not have someone with other specific skills (and who can perform them much better at a lower cost) do that work?
  3. “If I can’t have one, neither can they” Non-profit managers and leaders spend the vast majority of their time in the office and don’t understand the value of having administrative support. So, the MGO who is directly generating revenue is spending a ton of her time at her desk too. Ridiculous.

The majority of the complaints I hear from MGOs have nothing to do with what they’re really skilled at. It’s mostly about how much time they are spending doing administrative work.

As a manager or leader at a non-profit, you can’t be short-sighted or spend-thrift. You are actually hurting the revenue of your organization by not hiring good administrative help to support the folks who are directly bringing in hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars to your organization.

Do your MGOs and your organization a favor: hire good administrative help, and see your organization grow!