10 Reasons Why Major Gift Officers Quit to Look for New Jobs

Why do gift officers quit their jobs so frequently? Gift officer turnover is holding so many nonprofit organizations back. And not just in terms of the higher revenue they could be bringing in. It’s also holding them back in their internal culture. Gift officers are feeling burned out, ignored, pressured, and that their time is being wasted.

Some experienced major gift officers have seen the same donor prospects interact with up to 15 different MGOs over the course of their years of involvement with the organization. This is not the way to develop or sustain mutually healthy, productive, and beneficial relationships.

What about you?

If you’re a gift officer, are you feeling frustrated with your organization? If you’re in leadership at a nonprofit, how do you think your gift officers are feeling about their jobs?

In either case, take a look at this list of ten reasons why major gift officers quit their jobs to look for work at other organizations, or leave the profession altogether.

1. Losing Time Repairing Avoidable Problems

Gift officers have a mission they want to devote most of their time to. And then they have other missions imposed upon them. Many of those distractions should be avoidable, but when they happen, they can be so destructive that something has to be done. Sometimes, the gift officer ends up having to do it.

For example, when donors express a clear intent for how they want their gift to be used, and then later find out the organization disregarded their wishes – even if stated in the gift agreement – that’s a deal breaker and a trust annihilator. The gift officer must then rush to repair the relationship and explain to the donor what went wrong.

Other times, organizations fail to provide reports on how the gift is being used even though, once again, it’s spelled out in the gift agreement that the donor wants to receive these reports. Then, the gift officer is forced to chase down the information, which can often feel like a wild goose chase as they run through chaotic databases searching for wherever what they need might be stored.

2. Pressured to Increase Visits Even if Non-Qualified

Wealth screeners simply don’t provide enough information to know if a donor prospect is ready for a meeting. But when pressured by administrators and board members to “get their metrics up” and schedule more meetings, gift officers feel compelled to press for meetings from people they know aren’t ready for them, or who they don’t know well enough to take that step.

This leads to making cold calls that get ignored and wasting time they don’t have on prospects who were never interested in giving.

Relationships then get damaged when they could have developed into something wonderful if more time were allowed. And would-be donors leave with a sour taste.

3. Sidetracked by Non-Gift Officer Tasks

Major gift officers quit because they get asked to do things that aren’t the job of a gift officer.

Like helping arrange fundraising events. Or writing or revising mass appeal letters. Or helping plan email campaigns, or design brochures, or attend strategy meetings that don’t relate to their work.

This isn’t their job. It isn’t their expertise. It isn’t why they took this job or what they love doing. And it costs the organization money, because when a major gifts program is working well, it brings in the lion’s share of revenue – by far. Organizations pay gift officers to bring in big gifts. Wasting their time on other tasks is also a waste of money.

4. Conflicts Over ‘Credit’

Suppose a board member refers a prospect to an administrator. The admin has a couple conversations and then sends them to the gift officer. The gift officer works with them and eventually secures a major gift.

Great news, right?

It can be quite distressing to then find yourself in a battle for who deserves credit for the gift. Jockeying for position and trying to claim credit for the revenue to justify a promotion or some other career advancement only leaves the rest of the people feeling abused and unappreciated.

This is a team effort. If the gift officer secures a gift, they deserve credit for it. Why? Because this is their job. Their job isn’t to get leads. It doesn’t matter where the leads come from. Others can take credit for finding leads. But the gift officer is the one who closes the gift.

5. Too Many Bosses

Office Space remains one of the most true-to-life workplace movies ever made. In one scene, the main character Peter laments to a consultant that he has eight different bosses breathing down his neck, who he has to answer to every time he makes a mistake.

How many supervisors and administrators are clamoring for time and results and assistance from your gift officers? If it’s more than one or two, consider taking a serious look at your organizational structure. Let the gift officers focus on their primary tasks, and your whole organization will be better for it.

6. Bloated Caseloads

So many gift officer caseloads are way overcrowded with dead leads and what researcher David Lively calls “portfolio slack.”

There are many reasons this happens, which we are detailing in an upcoming eBook. But the short explanation is, organizations rely too much on wealth screeners, AI, RFM, and other methods of identifying prospects, and they put those people into gift officer caseloads before they have been effectively qualified.

You need to know a lot more about a prospect than their supposed net worth before handing them over to a gift officer. Otherwise, you just waste everyone’s time and frustrate the gift officer with terrible leads who don’t want to hear from them, or who lack the wealth capacity they were reported to have.

This is what MarketSmart’s software was designed to address.

Our system pre-qualifies and cultivates donor prospects using emails, surveys, and other digital tools. The goal is to monitor their ‘digital body language’ to gauge when they are ready to move up to the next level in your process.

At some point, they will self-identify as being ready to hear from someone. And once you know certain information about them, you can then hand over a much more qualified prospect to your gift officers. This maximizes everyone’s time and results in happier donors and gift officers who love their jobs again.

See how our system works

7. Constant Internal Upheaval


This one is terrible.

When everything keeps changing, it’s very difficult to remain enthusiastic about your work. Constant internal change is a momentum-killer. This isn’t just about gift officers. It’s about your entire staff, as well as donors, volunteers, and corporate partners.

Gift officer turnover is one thing, but leadership turnover can be just as destructive. Some organizations seem to get a new CEO every year. Other leaders keep changing the plan just when the previous plan was finally starting to gain some traction. And when those leaders don’t allow input into these changes from the people who will be affected by them, this also sows distrust and burnout.

Gift officers can also get frustrated by being asked to help recruit new board members or manage existing ones. Combine this with yet another org structure rolling out, yet another new CRM getting adopted, or the vision for the coming year changing completely from the still unfulfilled one from last year.

This kind of chaos breeds resentment and makes everyone feel out of the loop, untrusted, devalued, and unimportant. It’s a common reason why gift officers quit their jobs or leave the profession entirely.

8. Disrespect Toward Philanthropic Income

Just about any nonprofit that receives a grant will meticulously adhere to the requirements of the grant. Likewise, gifts from corporate partners receive red carpet treatment and all the attention to detail asked for by the business.

And this is all as it should be.

But many gift officers find that when it comes to philanthropic gifts, the same adherence to agreements and preferences seems to be minimized and discounted. Wealthy donors are written off as being just sources of money, and treated as if their desires don’t matter. But why is this person any different from the grant-giver or the corporation?

For the gift officers, treating their donors with this sort of disrespect feels like a slap in the face, and they have a hard time defending the organization’s actions and words to the donor. When it happens too often, the gift officer gets fed up and starts to look for work elsewhere.

9. Inflated Pledges and Fake Money

Some gift officers take jobs only to discover that previous gift officers or others involved in the fundraising process booked all kinds of pledges only to inflate their own numbers.

It doesn’t take long to discover that much of this money will never come in, because the person who took these pledges failed to do any follow-up or stewardship. They just wanted the pledges, and used it to advance their own careers.

When those pledges start evaporating, the gift officer left picking up the pieces has to watch as their own numbers head south, because all that pretend money starts to fall off the ledger.

Trying to perform at the level of a previous employee who was inflating their numbers on paper is emotionally draining and makes you feel like you’ll never make anyone happy. So, it’s easier to quit the job and find a new position elsewhere.

10. Lack of Tools and Training

Lastly, many gift officers feel unequipped and poorly trained for tasks they are asked to do.

As mentioned earlier, they shouldn’t even be asked to do some of these tasks. But some tasks that are part of their job, like writing emails, making calls, setting up meetings, and conducting meetings with donors and prospects, all require a set of skills that no one is born with.

There are training programs, courses, eBooks, and conferences to help elevate the skills in nearly all these areas.

For example, if a gift officer wants to write some emails to send out content a prospect might be interested in or has requested, what kind of subject line works best? Should they include a giving request, or not? If so, how should they ask? If not, what should they ask the donor to do so they can measure a response?

These aren’t difficult questions to answer – if you have a little training and experience. But that’s just one set of skills among dozens that a gift officer must employ. No one comes in adept at everything. Everyone can improve. Organizations that provide no training make it harder for gift officers to feel valued and supported in their work.

As for emails, the great news is that much of the communication between your organization and donors can be automated. Here’s a whitepaper we produced about Fundraising Automation – how to optimize your fundraising operations using technology.

That’s a great training opportunity your gift officers (and others in your org) can go through now, and it’s free!

As for conducting meetings and closing gifts, MarketSmart now offers what is coming to be known as THE defining online course for major gifts fundraisers on how to interact with donors to secure the most gifts, and the biggest gifts.

It’s called Donor Story: Epic Fundraising, and it’s based on the lifetime of research from Dr. Russell James, a renowned charitable giving and legacy giving researcher. This course can be taken by one person, or as many as your organization wants to take it so everyone is on the same page.


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