How to Organize and Measure Major Gift Performance

Major gift officers are handed prospect leads by managers – some warm, some cold, and some who have no indicator whatsoever. The goal is to raise as much as possible from as many people as possible.

Or is it?

Yes, dollars raised is the highest weighted indicator of fundraising success; however, there is other data that the gift officers and management should not overlook. Before you begin to measure data, you must analyze and organize your donor portfolios. Here are some things to consider:

  • Who are the best prospects in terms of liquidity and inclination?
  • Who are those that will require more work, but have a high value if the work goes well?
  • Where do fundraisers spend their time for the best results?

The ideal portfolio size is 150 prospects. This number is based on Dunbar’s Number, which is defined as “the cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.”

How to Organize

Have your gift officers organize their 150 prospects into four tiers.

  • Tier One: High Capacity and High Inclination
  • Tier Two: Next Level Capacity/High Inclination; (VIPs such as key volunteers and long-loyal donors)
  • Tier Three: High Capacity/Low Inclination
  • Tier Four: Low Capacity/Low Inclination

Tier 1 & Tier 2: Develop written strategies, including timelines and specific moves, for each of the prospects. You can update and adapt these as needed.

Tier 3: Keep on the radar and target these prospects for qualification visits and engagement intended to improve inclination.

Tier 4: These are the long-shots and gift officers should watch these prospects for indications of capacity and inclination. Gift officers can also contact these prospects as filler visits when needed.

Once your gift officers organize their prospects, they can measure them more effectively.

How to Measure

  • What are the key performance indicators for major gift officers? Institutions typically measure their gift officers by the simple metrics of the number of visits, dollars raised, and the qualification of a certain number of prospects each year. In more sophisticated shops, metrics can include donor retention, asks, proposals submitted, and the percent of proposals closed. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are unique to your shop and should be tied to desired outcomes. A good example comes from baseball – while a high batting average indicates a team is hitting well, it does not necessarily indicate winning.
  • Begin with the end in mind and study the process. The management team should decide what outcomes are most important (e.g. dollars raised, number of prospects developed, donor retention). Next, based on the desired outcomes, study the fundraisers who are most successful at achieving those outcomes. Catalog their behaviors, actions, and activities, noting anything that your team can quantify. You may be surprised and even let go of conventional wisdom. Use those measures to hire, develop, evaluate and promote major gift officers.
  • What successful major gift officers do better than others. A very good major gift officer moves prospects through the major gift cycle with intent. When a gift officer creates a portfolio, take a snapshot and then measure changes periodically. At the outset, there may be many more prospects in the beginning stages of identification, qualification, and cultivation and, as you move to the end of the campaign, there should be more people in the final stages of solicitation and stewardship or even disqualification.
  • Breadth and depth. Quantify the fundraising potential of each portfolio in detail. Based on prior giving, calculated liquidity and inclination factors, what is a reasonable outcome in terms of dollars and donors? Measure the penetration into the portfolio and set expectations for some level of prospect contact. What percentage of your portfolio is active, has made a gift, is engaged through events or volunteering? Is the fundraiser focusing on the same prospects year after year while making no significant progress? If those same prospects are yielding more money each year, then that may be deemed successful. Is the gift officer identifying, qualifying and cultivating new prospects? Are major donors being retained through cultivation, stewardship and re-solicitation?
  • Credit. How is credit assigned to gift officers? If an outcome you seek is collaborative fundraising, then encourage and measure collaboration. To do this, you need to work out how to distribute credit for gifts and create reports that reflect shared credit.
  • KPIs and Dashboards. While deciding what factors to include in your key performance indicators may be complex, the dashboards need not be. While there may be several factors that are calculated to arrive at your KPIs, your dashboards are related to business outcomes. What are the top three to five outcomes you seek? What are the top three to five behaviors that lead to those outcomes? Those are your dashboards track.
  • Analyzing successful donors. While studying your fundraisers and quantifying their success is one dimension of your analysis, you should be doing the same with your best donors.
    • What is the liquidity (different than traditional wealth capacity) and inclination of each donor?
    • Which behavioral patterns do your donors display?

Compare those behavioral patterns to your prospective donors and facilitate behavior that will lead to giving. You can develop KPIs and dashboards that measure donor success and learn to focus on donors and donor segments that yield best results.

Organizations who use data to analyze process and behavior, turn insights into strategy and action, and focus resources will have more successful outcomes. 

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