Evaluate Staff Performance

Non-profits need to evaluate the performance of their development operation, and specifically their major donor fundraising programs, on an ongoing basis. This evaluation is critical to your ability to project revenue and change course effectively when necessary. When doing a development evaluation, you need to consider the key issues that impact performance, income goals, and donor relationships/ satisfaction. Complete the questions below to learn more about the effectiveness of your development program.








Effective fundraising departments work like a practiced orchestra: not only do the individuals have experience, but they have experience working together. Each program depends on the others: direct mail and special events are key feeder systems for major donor programs, and these different units need to create a culture of collaboration, not competition. Developing systems and procedures that support these collaborations will help a team learn to work together more swiftly and sustainably.




Fundraisers have to understand an organization before they can solicit gifts to it. And organizations are complex: it takes time to understand your history, programs, and impact well enough to share compelling stories with donors. It also takes internal relationship-building that can’t be rushed. Your fundraisers need to have trusting relationships with finance, communications, programs, and advocacy staff, all of whom will be important allies in helping a fundraiser succeed. Of course, they also need to build those relationships with donors. You need to give these relationships time to develop, but as they do, revenue goals should increase. A Major Gift Officer in their third year with an organization can be expected to raise significantly more funds than when they began.




If your organization has experienced a revolving door of development leadership, it’s time to take a look at why that is happening, because it will affect your fundraisers’ productivity. Happy and productive fundraisers want to stay and build programs; unhappy or unproductive fundraisers are susceptible to being recruited away.

  • Are expectations reasonable?
  • Is the organization committed to creating an aggressive and vibrant program?
  • Does leadership know how to work with development?
  • Is there some other disconnect within the organization that is causing the turnover?

Of course no one will stay forever, and thus spending time on succession planning within a department is very important to its overall health. No program should be overly reliant on any one person or you put your organization at risk. We suggest hiring junior staff; investing in them and teaching them will strengthen your program and provide a dedicated workforce who will become your succession plan. You want someone who you can grow into being your VP of Development 10 years from today.




The more experience a fundraiser has, the faster they should be able to come up to speed and start raising money. That said, be wary of hiring a fundraiser who has a track record of jumping to a new job every 18 months to 2 years. While they may be technically savvy and speak with all the right buzzwords, jumping around prevents an individual from building true relationship with donors, volunteers, or staff, all of which are critically important to success. Focus on hiring fundraisers with perhaps a little less experience but who have a demonstrated track record of staying and actually accomplishing something.




Fundraisers are orchestra leaders, not ATMs; they can’t spin gold out of straw. You need to understand what your fundraisers have to work with in terms of the capacity of their donors and the organizational assets that are available to help them succeed in cultivating those donors. Only with that understanding can you set realistic goals and evaluate staff against them.

  • Examine the value of the donor base, both through wealth assessments and giving history, and assign portfolios and revenue goals accordingly.
  • Expect that 80% of your revenue will come from 20% of your donors and define potential with that principle in mind.
  • On the organizational side, consider what investments you have made in acquiring new donors. How do new donors come into your institution? Does your organization understand the cost of both acquiring and not acquiring donors?




One of the most important organizational resources is time. A full time major gift officer has 16 to 20 weeks, or 80 to 100 days, to devote to prospect cultivation and engagement. Any activity they are engaged in (or pulled into) that does not directly relate to donor engagement reduces the amount of time they can and should be spending with donors. Management responsibilities, support for leadership, and administrative activities all decrease the amount of time spent with donors.

  • Look realistically at how much of a staff person’s time is spent on non-fundraising activity so you understand how much time they truly have to fundraiser.
  • Find ways to compensate and recognize the most talented fundraisers without automatically promoting them to management. The objective should be to keep talented funders raising money and not managing others. But in order for that to happen, organizations must develop and embrace a compensation system in which increased salary depends not on increased management responsibilities but on increased revenue delivered.




Fundraising is a complex and long-term activity, and measuring performance requires an examination of all of the pieces—not just one figure for dollars raised at the very end. Every fundraiser should have a written performance plan that specifies these pieces and lets you know precisely where and when there is a breakdown, with enough time to make corrections. Components of the plan should include:

  • Total dollars to be raised and quarterly targets
  • Number of face-to-face visits
  • # of quarterly solicitations projected over 24 months
  • # of proposals made
  • Ask amounts – what gift level do you want your fundraiser to solicit?
  • # of gifts closed
  • Size of gifts secured
  • # of new prospects qualified
  • list of specific expected cultivation and stewardship events and activities
  • # of days and weeks the MGO is out of the office working directly and personally with prospects or facilitating contacts by others
  • Non-fundraising responsibilities (for directors) or percentage of time expected to be devoted to fundraising
  • Professional development goals and activities

An individual dashboard should be created to track this information within your database and monthly reports should be submitted for individual and department performance. Your head of Development and Finance and your CEO should review these reports to monitor fundraising performance. Individual dashboards also help keep staff focused on the right things and help them understand clearly whether they are meeting the organization’s expectations. Remember: what is measured is what is done.




In addition to overall performance metrics, you need to analyze effects on the individual donor cycle. This analysis needs to examine the number of prospects in a fundraiser’s portfolio and how long those prospects stay in the followings stages of major gift fundraising:

  • Cultivation
  • Solicitation
  • Stewardship

Particular attention needs to be paid to whether a fundraiser is actually moving donors through the stages or is spending too much time on cultivation before making an ask.




This ratio is known as the Yield Rate, and it sums up a fundraiser’s effectiveness. The higher the yield, the more successful the fundraiser and the more value he or she has uniquely added to your organization.




However effective your fundraisers are, this measure quantifies how much their impact costs you and thus the return on investment you are making in your fundraising program.


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