Guy Hart on Building High-Performing Frontline Fundraising Teams
In his 12 years as president and CEO of Plus Delta Partners, Guy Hart and his team have focused on one thing: helping nonprofit institutions raise more money, faster.
But Guy isn’t one for quick hacks and shortcuts. As pressure mounts on gift officers to “do more with less” in today’s fundraising climate, Plus Delta trains frontline fundraisers on how to build long-term, authentic relationships between donors and institutions to breed sustainable results.
We took some time to chat with Guy about building great frontline teams, equipping gift officers with the right skills, and measuring performance.
What’s your methodology for developing high-performing frontline fundraising teams?
It’s about building core competencies—and there’s three of them. One is the repeatable process that fundraisers use to facilitate the philanthropic conversation. The second competency is the communication skills that they use to manage that process… so, what does it sound like to work with a donor or prospect? The third competency is the notion of facilitation, which is different than trying to make everybody a donor. It has much more to do with facilitating an outcome from the relationship—which could be that they don’t become a donor and are simply a connector to other donors.
What do you see as the biggest challenges faced by development shops today?
There’s a skill gap. Fundraisers are expected to do more, but unfortunately they haven’t been equipped with the skills to do more. They’re very mission oriented, they care about the institution, and they want to do the best they can—but they just haven’t been given the skills. Advancement leadership needs to provide professional development for frontline fundraisers at all levels, in a way that’s actually actionable. So, not just teaching them concepts, but actually building their skills to use those concepts when performing tasks.
Many shops also lack a culture of transparency in which fundraisers are talking about how they do their work and relying on each other to get better. Most shops have their alpha fundraisers that do voodoo and raise a lot of money—but nobody knows how they do it. Those aren’t healthy cultures. The best shops are those that focus collectively on fundraising using repeatable, shared processes, standard methods of communication, and a standard set of behaviors that gift officers demonstrate to donors. The ones that are lagging still keep these things a mystery… and that makes it difficult for fundraisers to be successful.
The best shops are those that focus collectively on fundraising using repeatable, shared processes, standard methods of communication, and a standard set of behaviors that gift officers demonstrate to donors.
What makes for a great major gifts officer?
Intellectual curiosity. They have a deep understanding of the priority for which they’re raising money, and they can explain how a donor or a prospect can have a measurable impact on it. They also have to be curious about the donor or the prospect in order to… make the connection between the resources that are needed and why the donor would want to make that gift.
The next piece is the ability to be fearless about communicating… what we call a ‘forthright diplomat.’ They need to be very transparent and very forward, but still diplomatic.
Why do you think it’s so important for advancement teams to take a performance-based approach—and what are the KPIs you recommend measuring to create better results?
You’ve got to measure what you’re working on or else you have no read on what’s effective. However, if you’re just measuring people and not giving them the tools to be effective against those measurements, it doesn’t work. Measurement without skills is like taking someone to the driving range, giving them a bucket of balls, and saying ‘Hit 20 of these balls 100 yards, hit 20 of these balls 300 yards, and I’ll come back in an hour and see how you did.’ That’s really unfair because you haven’t coached them through the different clubs for each of those ranges, what to do about the wind, and how to hit the ball. Gift officers often feel like the measurements are punitive as opposed to being a guide and a motivator.
There are two key things to measure: activity and productivity. Activity, such as a visit or solicitation, is helpful to measure because you want to know that your fundraisers are busy. But busy is never the only thing you should be looking for. What we advocate for is a mix of activity metrics with productivity metrics. Productivity can be measured in terms of ratios—like number of asks to number of gifts, number of asks to number of ‘no’s’, and dollar amounts asked for to dollar amounts received.
What role do you see technology playing for frontline fundraisers today?
I see technology enabling the right behaviors, and to a degree, helping gift officers be more efficient in their work. Enabling the right behaviors would be things like setting agendas based on a repeatable process. If you’ve got an app like EverTrue that reminds a gift officer that the meeting you’re walking into is a qualifying meeting and helps you remember the questions you need to ask, that’s what I mean by an enabler.
I see technology enabling the right behaviors, and to a degree, helping gift officers be more efficient in their work.
Where do you see the advancement industry heading in the next 10 to 15 years?
There’s this convergence of technology and better skills that is happening. I think that the expectations of gift officers are going to go up, meaning they need to raise more money per officer… because the need for philanthropic dollars is not going to slow down. They’re going to have to do more with less, or do more with the same resources in order to bridge the gap between operating budgets and revenues.