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Expand Your Program - Evaluation and Improvement

One of the challenges facing station management new to major giving is the performance evaluation. How does management measure performance to recognize and reward a successful major giving officer or address problems promptly when an officer is having difficulties? This page helps answer that question and provides helpful tools. You'll also find ways to determine when to expand your major giving program.

Topics of Interest
Topics of Interest

Evaluation and Improvement

The task of performance evaluation in major gift fundraising is made difficult by the fact that donor cultivation takes time. A gift of significance does not come after one meeting, and for donors with significant potential, the courtship can be a long one. Don Gray of the University of Wisconsin (Madison) Foundation spoke of relationship-building at his institution that spans years. So beginning this activity takes a certain amount of patience.

However, our research also encountered several examples of stations whose major gift officers were excellent at cultivation, but could not bring themselves or their volunteers to ask for a gift. As cultivation continued and donor relationships seemed to deepen, station management felt increasingly invested in the officer's success. It was only with great reluctance that they accepted the need for a change.

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Measures of Success

How does management know when a major giving program is working? James M. Greenfield (see Major Giving Bibliography, PDF, 28KB) says, "Success should be measured by the overall rate of growth in giving." He offers six evaluation measures:

  • Increase in number and percentage of donors renewed for each of the past two years.
  • Number of solicitations to prior donors and acquisition efforts to prospects in the past twelve months.
  • Increase in total donors and value of their gifts.
  • Number of volunteers recruited and trained and their results compared to the prior year.
  • Identified ideas from volunteers on how to increase their support.
  • Number of volunteers and donors recognized as leadership prospects.

The common element in any performance evaluation system is that goals be clear and progress be quantified. Richard K. Dupree, Executive Director of Development at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, describes a comprehensive evaluation process in the Major Giving Officer Performance Evaluation Toolkit (PDF, 107KB) prepared specifically for the Major Giving Initiative.

In addition, the spreadsheets in the Donor Cultivation System (PDF, 79KB) introduced earlier represents the station's major giving strategic plan. Adherence to that plan can help management assess performance of a new major giving program during the period before the program begins to provide revenue.

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When to Expand the Program

ROI is one indication of when to expand the program. (See Determining ROI on the Budget and Systems page in the Design Your Program section.)

Another is the number of prospects under management. Some university development departments believe that a major gift officer can effectively manage 200 prospects at any one time. Richard Dupree suggests a range of 100-225. G.T. "Buck" Smith, one of the founders of Moves Management™, found it difficult to simultaneously manage more than 100 prospects. None of these answers is incorrect, but which answer is "right" for your station depends on several factors:

  • Are you engaged in true relationship fundraising, or is yours still a mass market program? True relationship fundraising, which is the goal of the Major Giving Initiative, takes more time.
  • What size gifts are you seeking? Securing thoughtful gifts, which is the goal of the Major Giving Initiative, takes more time than securing impulsive gifts which characterize even many $1,000 contributions now being received in gift clubs.
  • What other duties does the major giving staff have — including clerical duties associated with the major giving club, pledge duties, etc.? If the major giving officer is actually devoting part-time to true major gift solicitation, only that portion of time can be considered toward the goal.

We recommend that stations consider the following formula as a starting point to assess their staffing needs:

(# in major giving club/450) + (# of relational prospects/150) = Major Giving FTEs

This assumes that one full time individual with clerical support should be able to manage a 450 member major giving club or 150 relational donor prospects or some combination of the two. If the major giving officer is also handling clerical duties, manages the development department, handles planned gift marketing, or has other duties, this time cannot be considered as part of the Major Giving FTE.

This formula is merely a starting point. Some public broadcasting major giving officers handle more. The formula assumes availability of a large prospect pool. In smaller stations, you may use the formula as a way to determine how much of an individual's time should be devoted to major giving. Further, if a smaller station has 50 legitimate major gift prospects, the long-range potential may fully justify a full-time person.

However you adjust the formula to meet your needs, when donors or prospects exceed these limits, you should consider expanding the program. Your demand is exceeding your capacity, and you have unmet potential in your program.

There are several different ways to do this:

  • Where there is no major giving officer, hire one.
  • Add clerical support where little or none exists, to increase the major giving FTE.
  • Add part-time support to help manage the major giving club.
  • Add an additional major giving officer, either to manage the major giving club as a primary line activity or to manage an expanding pool of relational prospects. Whenever the major giving program is expanded, it is vital to avoid conflict over prospect management, perhaps by having the new position report to the existing one.

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Repositioning an Annual Program

Often, an existing annual major gifts program suffers from an entry level that is too low or may have difficulty in upgrading donors beyond the entry level. In such cases, it may be necessary to reexamine the entire structure, including giving levels and benefits.

That's what Idaho Public Television did in creating a new class of "Leadership Donors" within their Cornerstone Society. For several years, membership in the society has begun at $500 and the network wished to move to $1,000. After considering the potential downside in alienating their many mid-level givers, they created a "Leadership Circle" within the Society with levels beginning at $1,000, with levels of $2,500 and $5,000. Idaho PTV has succeeded in upgrading members into all three of these levels and has doubled major gift revenue over a two-year period.

As it began to recover from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' WYES recognized that the devastating floods that washed over that city changed everything. They moved the entry level from $1,000 to $1,200, restructured benefits, and expanded the mission of their Producer's Circle from its traditional focus on local cultural programming to aiding the station in its recovery efforts. Early indications are that the strategy is working.

Oregon Public Broadcasting took a different approach. With 90% of its Cornerstone Society members contributing at its entry $1,000-$2,500 category, OPB wanted to create a new annual giving level, The President's Council, to recognize annual giving donors $10,000 and above. It also wished to challenge other donors to upgrade to its $2,500 and $5,000 levels. This was part of the impetus for creating a signature series of 8 small group events keyed to content from OPB's core programming and mission. Staged in each of OPB's top 3 markets, the OPB Salon Series (PDF, 171KB) doesn't just encourage increased giving, but is designed to deepen relationships with all high-level annual donors, empower volunteer leaders to actively engage in donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, enhance OPB's philanthropic profile, and create opportunities for donors to connect with each other, with OPB, and with its new President/CEO, Steve Bass. The Salon Series was developed with the active involvement of leadership donors, who have successfully used it as a cultivation device for their prospects.

Such strategies help to identify those who can be cultivated for major, restricted gifts. And they help these stations ensure that their annual major gift programs contribute to a journey, rather establishing destinations.

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MGI Self Assessment

It is good practice to periodically perform a self assessment of your major giving program. The MGI Self Assessment (MS Word file, 41KB) was designed specifically for stations participating in MGI. It has been designed to bring light to issues that may be preventing progress and well as probe for solutions that individual team members can act on to ensure a successful program.

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Donor Cultivation System (PDF, 79KB)
MGI Self Assessment (MS Word file, 41KB)