Numbers Don’t Lie: Good Onboarding Just Works

If you haven’t heard the stats, let us break ‘em down for you. Although, if you’ve got a weak stomach, you may want to avert your eyes.

The median tenure of a gift officer is two years. The average gift officer salary is $85,000. The cost to replace a gift officer is 20% of that salary (at minimum). Plus, a lot of institutional knowledge and all those relationships walk out the door with them.

Now, we don’t want to be all doom and gloom. It’s not really our style. In fact, it brings us down and ruins our day. And we’re not into that at all. Which is why we’re here in the first place.

Because we have a solution. And that’s what we want to talk about. 

Good, thoughtful onboarding can drastically improve all those frightening numbers we just laid out. Good onboarding means employees are 60% more likely to stay with your organization for three or more years. That’d make it all worth it in and of itself, but it doesn’t end there. Good onboarding also increases productivity up to 25%, by getting new employees up and running earlier and more effectively.

All this leads to an obvious question: How do you create a good onboarding experience? 

We recently had Anthony Barbuto, Associate Vice President of Leadership Gifts at Boston University, and Justin Smith, Senior Director of Development at the Oklahoma State University Foundation, on a webinar to talk about just that. If you missed it or you can’t carve out time to watch the whole thing, here are the biggest takeaways.


Oh and we also put together a step-by-step checklist for onboarding a gift officer and setting goals for their first 100 days.

Hire Well

Yeah, we know… it’s not part of onboarding, but it’s so critical to hire well. (So important, in fact, we’re thinking about doing a webinar devoted solely to that, so stay tuned).

So before you even get to onboarding, make sure to hire the right person by looking for:

  • Alignment with mission: Your new hire needs to be passionate about the mission of your organization and excited to talk about what happens there on a daily basis.
  • Roots close by: It’s a plus if you know they’re committed to the area they’re working in.
  • Inquisitive: Gift officers need to ask good questions. You should find out how they listen and how they ask questions during the interview process.
  • Storytellers: Can they convey the impact stories that you need to tell to secure gifts?

Assess Skill Gaps

No one comes into a job as a finished product. 

Perhaps this is their first frontline fundraising job. They may have a background in sales or in annual giving, which gives them a solid foundation, but they’ll need to develop their prospecting skills and the ability to move gifts to a close.

Even if they have a lot of prior experience as a development officer, they still need to learn how your organization works, the tools they’ll use on a daily basis and to refine their elevator pitch.

“As managers, our primary charge is to make sure that our gift officers have the tools they need to do what they need to do,” said Anthony.

Before a new hire begins, sketch out what you think the gaps might be. Then figure out how you’ll put them into the right trainings, meetings and conversations to help fill those gaps. 

Don’t be afraid to have open conversations with your new colleague, either. Ask them what they need to be successful and work together map out a plan from Day 1 to fully ramped up.

Ramping Up

At both BU and OSU, the teams try to have new gift officers travel with other DOs or their managers. This helps the new hires get a sense of how other fundraisers handle meetings, elevator pitches and guide proposal conversations. It also can help new hires get some reps without being fully out there on their own. 

Once they start to get some of those reps, this is when a plan becomes critical for success. Because most new gift officers are starting from a baseline of zero, it can feel like their whole world is a blank canvas. And there’s often nothing more intimidating than a blank canvas.

Sit down with them and develop a plan for trips, donors and dollars in the door. Have them take a pass at it on their own at first, then sit down with them and allow the gift officer to talk through their reasons behind their thinking. Then, as a manager, use your experience and expertise to tweak as necessary. At the end of the entire process, you’ll have an actionable plan and given them a great learning experience. 

Use this customizable development officer onboarding checklist to help set a new major gift officer up for success.

Ramping Up (with EverTrue)

Onboarding is important. We wouldn’t have had a whole webinar about it if we didn’t believe that. But we’re also not blind to some simple truths. Like the fact that it can also be time consuming. Which means your gift officers are learning the ropes instead of making progress on closing gifts.

If you’ve got access to EverTrue, it can be a great way to speed up some of those onboarding tasks. The University of Virginia has used EverTrue to cut their training time by 70%. That means gift officers are on the phone and on the road a lot faster than they were before. 

Here are a few ways to take advantage:

  • Review Portfolio and Prospect Management: It’s a lot easier to do this when everything is all in one place, and with EverTrue, that’s exactly where they are. Streamline the review process to make things easier to understand and circle back to.
  • Co-Plan Trips: When a new gift officer is figuring out how things work, it can help to collaborate on something as important as a prospect trip. Simply add managers or colleagues to a trip in EverTrue then work on it together, no matter where everyone is physically located.
  • Share Itineraries and Update Calendars: Once a trip is planned, sync it quickly to anyone’s calendar so the rest of the team knows exactly where someone is and what they’re up to. You can also shoot off the full itinerary to managers so they’ve got the full report on how the final trip shaped up.
  • Stay Connected on the Road: With mobile access, a new gift officer won’t feel like they’re disconnected once they hit the road for their first trip. With that lifeline accessible at anytime, their confidence will stay high for the whole journey.


A big part of the onboarding process is setting goals for new employees. But a brand new gift officer is going to have different measures of success that someone who has been around for a few years. 

When someone is first getting the hang of things, they need to, well, get the hang of things. That’s why both Oklahoma State and Boston University focus more on activity the first year (or even two) of a gift officer’s tenure. Getting out there, making phone calls, having visits and qualifying prospects to build pipeline are the name of the game. 

It’s less about dollars closed for someone who is brand new. But, as Justin noted, the fundraising industry can sometimes lean on metrics that don’t reward the effort being put in. For a new gift officer, effort is the name of the game, so set goals that they can reach even if they’re not bringing in a ton of donations right off the bat. 

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