The Thin Green Line: Managing Major Gifts Officers, Planned Gifts Officers
Very early in my career, I was given the assignment of being a planned gifts officer with no experience on the resume. In fact, I was given this assignment while I was directing the annual fund for a university. I also did not have any experience as a major gifts officer. I was green as green could be, but I was ready to learn the hard way, which was on-the-job training. I quickly realized there were similarities and differences between annual gifts, major gifts and planned gifts. I also learned that you cannot work with donors in a silo as multiple development functions exist and must work in harmony. Over time, one learns that there is a thin green line between the functions and processes of major gift officers and planned gift officers.
The article by the Shephard Group titled “Major Gifts, Planned Gifts—What is the Difference?” focuses on communications between fund raising colleagues. The colleagues talked about donors with respect of planned gifts, as they believed their donor’s focus of a $500,000 charitable remainder trust was a planned gift. The donor saw that same gift as a major gift. It is all a matter of perspective. While internally the organization may see this gift as a planned gift, the donor sees it differently. The article encourages major gift fundraisers to be better major gift fundraisers by understanding an array of gift planning techniques and strategies—both outright and deferred.
In the article, “The Role of Planned Giving in Major Gifts,” it is noted that planned giving is the process by which the donor, the donor’s financial advisors and the nonprofit’s development officers work together to determine the most effective method for making a gift to a nonprofit organization. In today’s complex world the most effective gift is one that meets the donor’s current income needs or creates a program for charity today.
Gift planning allows the parties to work through all issues to achieve the most satisfactory result. This can only be achieved in a collaborative atmosphere involving all parties. Annual giving, major giving and planned giving have traditionally been approached as separate fundraising exercises. The stronger approach today is to introduce planned giving as an integral part of the development program of the nonprofit.
The article, “Job Fusion or Confusion: Marrying Major and Planned Gifts,” notes that the idea of merging major and planned gifts has become a frequent topic of discussion at many nonprofit organizations. I also dealt with this issue several times in my career. There has been a gradual shift in some organizations from highly technical deferred gift specialists and gift planning departments to philanthropic officers. Whatever the model, it is critical to break down the silos between major gift programs and planned gift programs and promote teamwork to avoid leaving money on the table.
According to the article, when the entire team needs to look at the totality of how a donor makes a gift, some of these silos should weaken and eventually dissolve. Donors are not major or planned gift prospects. They are prospects, period. Steps to success in combining major and planned gift efforts begin by building a team, maintain a strong planned giving program, collaborate, know how to use blended gifts, share recognition of closing gifts and reward interaction between the silos. Have major and planned gift officers go on joint calls. Perfect the triple asks which includes annual fund, major gift and planned gifts. If your system allows major gift and planned gift officers, create a system that requires teamwork and collaboration.
If you have major gift officers, but no planned gift officers that need planned gift training, follow the advice in the article, “Marching Orders: Training Major Gift Officers into a Planned Gift Army.” The top five tools you can deploy to help your major gift team close more planned gifts include:
Tool No. 1: The confidence helmet. Define for your development officers what they need to know (and what they don’t). Show them that they can confidently talk the planned gifts talk without being an expert.
Tool No. 2: Maps with coordinates. Provide your team with clear metrics to reward, not discourage, future gifts.
Tool No. 3: Build a better boot camp. Train major gift officers about planned gifts through case studies, recent stories, role play, joint visits and one-on-one strategy sessions.
Tool No. 4: ID the friendlies. Create an easy to follow prospect list and design simple strategies for several prospects, but not too many, at a time.
Tool No. 5: Define home base. Begin stewarding planned gift donors and create an annual stewardship plan for your largest or more important secured planned gifts.
In the Veritus Group article, “Integrating Planned Giving with Major Gifts,” a main reason for non- coordination between planned giving and major gifts is a lack of understanding on how to get along between major gift officers and planned gift officers.
The Veritus Group believes these functions can work together by doing the following:
- Give both parties a great deal of training.
- Meet frequently.
- Plan together routinely.
- Get the credit thing solved and under control.
In summary, there must be a healthy, mutual respect society between major gift officers and planned gift officers for a team approach to work. You need to have solid metrics that balance individual performance, while rewarding team goals. To manage these groups effectively you must hire well, orient effectively, handle problems immediately and understand the needs and wants of your team.
Because of the competitive nature of major gift officers and planned gift officers, there is a thin green line between institutional success and failure. It is not about the officers. It is about the donors we identify, cultivate, solicit and steward. Understand your organizational model and maximize resources. Whenever you can, seek annual gifts, major gifts and planned gifts from the same donor. If you have a strong relationship with that donor, that accomplishment will not be hard to do.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, educator and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 10 years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 26 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.