Donor Relations, Major & Principal Giving, Talent & Training

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the work environment for virtually every company, college, university, hospital, and other organization, perhaps permanently, but certainly in the short-to-intermediate term. Given the current, remote-only work environment for non-profits, the focus on continuing meaningful work without the benefit of face-to-face engagement has become more important than ever. Of course, a key component of this work includes meaningful metrics that drive gift officers toward achieving goals.

Few need to be reminded about how tight the talent market has become recently for major gift officers, directors of development, lead gift annual fund officers, and others. In recent years, there has been much more demand than supply. Most organizations have done some hiring recently and have new folks on the team. These are team members who are working hard to integrate themselves into your organization by meeting new prospects, learning a new organizational culture, and meeting other team members. Now, we are all faced with the realities of the COVID-19 remote work conditions and an uncertain timeframe.  It is not too hard to imagine how this might be bringing some additional stress to these new hires. In fact, many of your more seasoned staff are likely also experiencing some of the same stress.

When your new team members went through the onboarding process, they were assigned a portfolio, given some technology tools and resources, and also reviewed a set of new metrics that would define their future success (or lack of it). Effective metrics can be a powerful management tool, but they are conditional and you must be careful what is measured. Metrics are likely situational with assumptions of travel, visits, lunches and many other things. But now, here we all sit. No travel, no lunches, fewer tools and a whole new working environment. Recent events have changed the horizon of what is possible, and metrics must be re-evaluated.

The potential reality is that your organization will experience budget stress and will react to that stress by trimming the sails.If gift officer metrics include the number of personal visits, the number of solicitations, total dollars raised, etc., it’s likely that they are thinking: “This has just become impossible; I’m doomed to fail.” Additionally, their access to the team support system has also changed and your organization may have trouble coming over the talent management horizon.

Now is the time to step in and temporarily realign the metrics to the new work environment they’ve entered. The work has changed very significantly, and you have to redefine how to measure that work. Applying a straight ruler to measure a curved line is difficult.

Suggestions include:

  1. Communications: The first thing to think about is communications. Reach out to your new team members and talk about this topic. What are they thinking about, and do they realize that their supervisors are alert to the current tensions and stressors? Do they realize that you’re thinking about them?
  2. Leadership: You should make a special point to assure them the organization they are working with and its leaders realize that the development office is more dedicated to managing a revenue budget than to minimizing an expense budget. Therefore, jobs in the fundraising unit are “safer” in the sense that they will be one of the primary levels of recovery.
  3. Modulation: You should explicitly recognize that, though there is a system of metrics in place that measure the effectiveness of our work and our success, you also realize that these metrics play a second, less visible, but more important role. Namely, the metrics act as a lens that enable us to better “see and understand” the work from an engineering standpoint. Certain things are measured because they are essential vectors in the successful application of effort.
  4. Focus: Assure your team that you realize that this work has now changed—it has gone virtual and the “solicitation” side of it has become more complicated. This reassures them that the straight line you were measuring with the straight metric ruler is now a curved line… and you’re going to devise a curved ruler.

For remote work, BWF views the “virtual visit” as the top engagement priority. Using video conferencing tools such as Zoom or FaceTime, virtual visits can take place between a gift officer and a donor, a gift officer and a group of donors, or—as some innovative leaders in this space have discovered—between a volunteer, a donor, and the gift officer.

While the virtual visit is a key activity, there is far more to remote, digital donor engagement than the virtual visit. Also, there are more activities that can be tracked and added to profiles in your donor database or CRM.

Beyond the virtual visit, remote gift officer work can be consolidated around virtual communities. Other BWF Groundwork client partners are enjoying success using Facebook pages or groups as an effective means to bring donors and prospects together around fundraising priorities and areas of passion. Within these online communities are a number of daily metrics to ensure a consistent presence in keeping our mission before donors and prospects. Examples of trackable metrics include:

  • Gift officer content posting activity. For example:
    • News and online posts relevant to the donors or prospects within that online community.
    • Photos captured by the gift officer that are relevant to the community.
    • Videos and photos from relevant events.
  • A donor/prospect joins the online community (likes a Facebook page, joins a Facebook group, signs up for a white labeled online community)

Donor/prospect behavior within these communities is an example of modern metrics that should be tracked within the CRM or donor database. Knowing who, for example, is frequently active on Facebook can help your team pull lists for building digital advertising campaigns to increase event registrations, launch fundraising campaigns, communicate priorities, and/or provide campaign updates. Additionally, knowing which major donors are frequently active online can open up a new dimension in peer-to-peer fundraising at a large-gift level.

Other contact metrics to consider include:

  • Social media engagement.
  • Full video viewership by donors/prospects. (Remember, according to Google, 57 percent of everyone who watches a nonprofit’s online video will go on to give to that nonprofit.)
  • Content produced by the gift officers for individuals or segments of donors.

Tracking digital, remote metrics is critically at the moment, because we are limited to remote engagement. But leading nonprofit fundraisers have been successfully raising money using these digital tactics before the pandemic, and many will continue doing so after the crisis has passed. Let’s use this difficult situation as an opportunity to rethink tracking gift officer donor engagement.

The following table summarizes some common existing metrics, and suggestions for some new, perhaps temporary metrics to consider for major gift officers.

Common Existing Metrics for Major Gift Officers Explanation
“Significant” or “Quality” Contacts Any interaction can be significant, which usually is indicated by any contact that moves a donor along the traditional moves management cycle. These interactions should still be tracked, usually with a notation to the contact that indicates it was significant. The definition of the type of visit that can be significant may need to be expanded to include virtual interactions.
Face-to-Face Visits Face-to-face is a common indication in institutions to measure “significant” contacts under the assumption that only in-person interactions can move a donor towards a donation. This will not be true for the immediate future, and organizations will have to be flexible and devise other methods of notating “significant” contacts.
Attempted Contacts Many institutions already track contact attempts. This metric will be key during this period to ensuring fundraisers are continuing to engage donors and attempted donors, regardless of their ability to respond.
Dollars Raised to Goal Reporting dollars raised by individuals will remain important, as completely suspending dollar goals may disincentivize some fundraisers. Revising statements of need will be critical for ongoing donor discussions. For revised goals, consider more heavily weighting attempted solicitations during this review period rather than collected dollars, as more donors may have extenuating financial circumstances.
Proposals Opened/Closed Maintaining a realistic view of open/closed proposals is critical to the institution’s financial pipeline. It is important to keep this data realistic and updated. Fundraisers should not be incentivized or penalized for opening or closing proposals in order to keep this information accurate, although it may provide insight into the effectiveness of a fundraiser.
Individual Proposal Yield Rate as Compared to the Institutional Yield Many institutions have a standard yield rate on proposals that indicates the average acceptance/denial of solicited proposals. During uncertain economic times, it can be accepted that the acceptance yield will lower.
New Metrics to Consider for Major Gift Officers Explanation
Virtual visits While in-person meetings will continue to be the gold standard for many donors and prospects, that is not the preferred or most feasible method of engagement for all donors and prospects. Well before the pandemic, “digital development officers” have been securing major gifts through entirely remote relationships, often from donors who geographical constraints made in-person impossible. Now and after the pandemic, “virtual visits” should be considered one of the higher quality engagements to be tracked.
Team Video/Email Message Constituents who may not respond to one-to-one messaging at this time may respond to institutional messaging. A message from an institutional leader, or a departmental group message can be an effective outreach tool. A goal of 1 per week during social distancing is recommended.
Stewardship Touches We know that institutions who emerge from economic downturns strongest are those that remain engaged with their donors. Major gift officers low on solicitations can be redirected to stewardship outreach and can be expected to perform 8-10 outreaches per day.
Social Media Posts Social media can be an important engagement tool for reaching donors both on the one-to-one level through direct messaging and through one-to-many outreach via posts on newsfeeds. During the current periods of social distancing, increased social presence is appropriate. Consider setting a goal of 1-2 posts per day on 1-2 different social platforms.
Content Creation During this time, gift officers may work collaboratively with staff to develop content for donors or segments of donors. Gift officers might also consider professional development and seek training to produce, on their own mobile devices, “authentic” video for one-to-one donor engagement. These efforts are appropriate to credit as a type of cultivation and/or stewardship.

Part of the goal here is to support staff success and foster staff retention. Yes, there is budget stress and you have to keep those things in mind—after all, these are part of YOUR metrics. But long-term success and the ability to pivot back to business-as-usual will depend upon keeping your staff with you.

We know that metrics have an evaluative power to inject energy and urgency into the process. The second is the interpretive power of metrics which serve as a lens through which staff can “see” and understand the hydraulics of the work process and get better and more structured about execution.

This period in time in which we might revise—even if temporarily—is an opportunity to lift up that second, less visible, aspect and help staff see that metrics are not merely a stick, but that they can also be a benefit.

At BWF, we are ready to serve as thought partners to advance the mission of your organization in periods of sustained growth or economic uncertainty. Thoughtful decisions, especially in these challenging times, are essential to meeting key organizational objectives and philanthropic goals. To learn more about the BWF approach, please email