3 Tips for Keeping Gift Officers Motivated

As you work to implement your fundraising vision, its likely gift officers play a vital role. In this dynamic work environment, how are you keeping gift officers motivated and connected to their outcomes?

Keeping officers motivated is tough. It isn’t a one-time fix. And there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It is finding what works for your team, managing change, and maybe even changing the culture. I have worked with a lot of leaders to develop plans for keeping gift officers excited and on track. Here are a few ideas:

1. Reconnect Fundraisers to the Mission

As fundraisers, we spend so much time trying to connect prospective donors to the mission of our organizations, but we don’t always remind our teams how their own work is vital to the mission. In fact, even our titles as “fundraisers” highlight the transactional element of our work instead of the impact of our work. Why are we called “fundraisers” or “gift officers” or “directors of development?” I think our titles should be “Director of Impacting Mission” or “Impact Officer.” We need to anchor our work in the outcome and end result—connecting to the mission as motivation of why we do what we do.

Since many of us aren’t in a position to change our titles overnight, there are other ways you can keep fundraisers connected to the impact of their work. Gift officer managers can:

2. Define Metrics for Success

In the spring of 2020 when the pandemic changed the world, we all moved into a time of unknowns.  We didn’t know how long we would be working from home.  Priorities shifted to emergency funds and wellness contacts.

While much in the world remains uncertain, it is important to provide clear metrics for gift officer success. As Brene Brown says about communication, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

To motivate fundraisers, it is important for them to understand the definition of success. A manager needs to clearly define metrics. How many contact reports per week/month are expected?  How many dollars raised within a quarter/year meet or exceed expectations? It is good to establish goals that are basic expectations and stretch goals.

Managers should also make sure officers know how the manager is willing to support the officers on the way to their goal. Is the manager teeing the officer up for success with a portfolio of prospective donors that align with that officer’s goals?  Is the manager advocating internally to ensure the processes are favorable to officers?

Finally, it is important for officers to know if there are consequences for not achieving the basic goals.

3. Understand that Everyone is Navigating New Waters.

As we transition into a new phase of life with some offices requiring employees back in the office, others still working from home and some fundraisers traveling again, we are readjusting the lines of personal/professional and work/life balance.

Managers likely appreciate, more than ever, the variables in each of the lives of their team members as we see the work/life balance in front of our eyes. Children and pets are coming in and out of view. Packages are being delivered. Managers are seeing it all.

With this new understanding, it is important for managers to continue to push for accountability, but with empathy. Successful work and outcomes might not look exactly like they did in the past.  Some working parents need to respond to emails at 10 p.m. at night because they were offline for an hour midafternoon.

If the work is still getting done, managers who find ways to flex creatively with staff will be able to retain their top officers. Managers who do not recognize these new waters will lose talent at an even faster rate, making it very difficult to achieve a fundraising vision.

In conclusion, I’ve spent the past 20 years working with fundraiser leaders. Some things have changed on the edges but the core skills are the same. Gift officer managers (and really all leaders) need to have:

  • A clear and articulated vision of success that aligns with the mission
  • An ability to communicate that vision—with clear metrics—to the team that will execute
  • Enough empathy to support those that will execute the vision (without getting too distracted)