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Improve Your Major Donor Program

Aristotle wisely stated that “excellence is not an act, but a habit.” This especially rings true for gift officers. Rather than get bogged down with peripheral tasks, they must habitually focus on building relationships and soliciting major contributions.

Kaizen system: The Virginia Mason Foundation provides an excellent model. They have implemented Toyota’s Kaizen production system to focus gift officers strictly on securing major gifts. Specialized team members handle prospect research, event planning, and other tactical work.

Skilled telemarketers schedule discovery meetings between gift officers and qualified donor candidates with giving capacity. The goal is to qualify prospects for five-figure+ contributions. If a donor candidate has interest and ability, the officer crafts a monthly engagement strategy to steward them toward an ask. The ask amount can then be determined by using the Abacus Major Donor Ask Calculator.

Portfolio size: This effective system allows gift officers to carry a portfolio of 20 active prospects and make around 50 asks annually. The advancement team members continually update their pipeline.

Activities and outcomes are measured to determine when to cease pursuit of a donor candidate.

Key takeaways:

  1. Construct job descriptions emphasizing gift officer responsibilities that directly enable closing major gifts.
  2. Organize teams to support appropriate focus and continually measure activities and outcomes to maintain system effectiveness.
  3. Like skilled anglers, gift officers must focus on “fishing where the fish are” and not be distracted by tangential tasks.