Goal Setting and Evaluation of a Major Gift Officer – Part 1

The question … “Should a major gift officer be evaluated on “New gifts” or should that include “Total giving from work load?”

The answer … yes!

There is a strain of comment from some in nonprofit administration that the only thing a major gift officer should be credited with is “new money.” Typically this means a focus on quantity over quality … only “new money,” gifts over and above a donors’ typical giving history, or “new donors.” And, while that is part of the measure of success, there are many areas in which to set goals and evaluate the success of a major gift officer. Quantity is a natural outcome of quality, but quality is not necessarily an outcome of quantity.

Statistics suggest that an organization loses nearly 1/3 of its donor file every year. Some of those are major gift donors and/or prospects. This can happen because of a donor’s interest being distracted to either a different charity doing similar work or a different interest.

An effective stewardship element can stem that loss. It can also cause continued and increased giving and participation in several areas [quality over quantity]:

  • Annual campaigns
  • Special events support/sponsorship
  • Volunteer leadership
  • Capital campaigns
  • Planned giving

A sample major gift crediting report might look like:

Attributed in other disciplines


Major gifts

Total credited to the major gifts officer

Annual/direct mail



Special events


Capital campaigns


Planned giving







… because, in all probability, the work of the major gifts officer was at least partially responsible for all of the giving.

Thus, it has long been my contention that every gift a donor [that is on a major gift officers’ list] makes should be credited to their effort. Let me relate a story from my time as National Director of Major Gifts and Planned giving at Boys Town.

We had a record that Ms. Hyacinth [made up name] had left Boys Town in her will. I scheduled a visit to acknowledge that gift intention. I also wanted to determine if any part of it could be brought forward to a current gift.

The visit went well. She was a charming retired teacher that had been single all of her life. She had no living relatives. She particularly liked the difference Boys Town made in the lives of the boys and girls it served and their families. She had minimal current income, a substantial part coming from some of the assets that were our part of the will. As this was a first visit I proposed to meet again when I could relate to her how a deferred gift could increase both her current income and structure her assets to accomplish even more of her desires to make a difference.

Two to three months after that visit I received communication from her attorney stating two things:

  • Hyacinth had been killed in an auto accident
  • He would be processing her estate with the majority going to Boys Town

During a follow up conversation with the attorney, he related that my visit with her had coincided with one she had scheduled with him but that she postponed. The purpose of that visit, he stated, was to change the designation of the recipients of her estate … essentially to eliminate Boys Town. She never rescheduled it.   Apparently, my visit had helped cement her original conviction that Boys Town had her trust and met her goals to make a difference in people’s lives.

Thus the question … should I have been credited with this estate intention when it came in, or not? It did not meet the prevailing wisdom of “new gifts” only. But it did meet the critically important criteria of continuing donor relationships and thus their giving.

As the Territorial Director of Fund-development [Major Gifts] for The Salvation Army, USA Western Territory, I had many conversations with quality, high producing major gift officers who related similar stories.   Many contained examples of donors that continued giving in the areas listed above where there had been thought of changing allegiances.

In part 2 we will explore the specifics of rational goal setting and evaluation.

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