Fundraising: Lead with Gift Officers in Mind

In higher education fundraising, the people who identify, cultivate, and solicit charitable contributions are critical assets. These gift officers strengthen the bonds between alumni and their alma maters by facilitating the donation of major gifts (Daly, 2013; Drezner, 2011). The chief development officer (CDO) oversees and guides the entirety of the operation, articulating strategy, direction, and priorities; this includes setting performance goals for the gift officers, which delineate expected levels of achievement. Virtually every institution uses metrics that, while they may vary in their specificity, evaluate gift officers on their fundraising performance (Grabau, 2006). Certain gift officers are far more successful than others, however, leading to a vicious cycle of turnover that can harm fundraising outcomes (Iarrobino, 2006; Reeher, 2018; Shaker & Nathan, 2017). Last winter, I conducted a study to explain variations in gift officer performance at American private colleges and universities and serve as a guide to hiring and coaching of gift officers and the CDOs—or academic leaders—to whom they report.

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