Giving Goals: Are You Top-Down or Bottom-Up?

By Erik Rogers, Chief Strategist Major Gift Services

For any nonprofit, a healthy major gift program is a crucial ingredient for success in fundraising.

And believe me, running a well-organized department of major gift officers is well worth your time.

In my experience, I’ve witnessed times when a major gift officer felt appreciated at the start of the year and times when they may have felt slighted. 

When it comes to establishing giving goals with your officers, do you tend to take a top-down approach or start from the bottom up?

The top-down approach

Here, the board or director is setting the goals and the primary focus is the budget. They’re going to have a clear picture of the budget for the year and the metrics that need to be met.

Then, they are going to examine the historical performance of every source of revenue that comes into the organization. Maybe they sell books or raise funds through multiple portfolios. Examining historical metrics helps to understand what is and isn’t realistic in order to hit the budget.

Next, it’s important to allocate additional resources and ramp up the efforts to areas in need. Maybe they need to hire another major gift officer or someone to help with data entry or phone calls. Then of course, the expectations are relayed to the major gift officers.

It might sound something like this:

“Hey, last year, you did $1 million, and this year I need you to hit $2 million.”

Now, with a directive from the top down, the staff can feel a bit slighted, not having an opportunity to speak into these expectations. But other times, this approach can solicit a great response to a team who is driven, self-motivated, and always wanting to improve their strategies.

The bottom-up approach

I believe this approach can often be a catalyst for bringing a team together.

And here’s what I mean:

A director might say to the officers, “Take your historical metrics and set your own gift goals for every single donor within your portfolio you’re responsible for.”

This truly gives the officers a chance to know the relationship of that donor to the organization. It allows you to lean on the knowledge that they have built within each one of those relationships and it enables them to set the expectations for that donor.

You then take all those goals, add them up, and now you understand the total expectation not only within one portfolio, but all portfolios across the spectrum. You then compare that to the total budget.

There may be instances where you need to say,

“We’re about $300,000 short of where we need to be… I need somebody to be a hero in this room and find the additional funding we need to hit budget.”

By doing so, you’ll most likely spur on some competitive juices. And – just like that – you’ve found a catalytic event within your staff that will cause them to come together, even in the midst of a little competition, in order to succeed as a team.

Both top-down and bottom-up approaches have their pros and cons. But from personal experience, a bottom-up approach will drive the performance of your program and ultimately, get everyone on board with your annual goals.

If you would like additional help establishing a healthy major gift department, please check out Erik’s Dunham Institute course Major Gift Development: Managing Expectations.


More Insights from Dunham+Company: “What to Carry When You Meet with Major Donors”

Ready to take the next step? 
Dunham+Company is here to help your organization have more impact and establish deeper relationships with your donors and supporters. Contact Bethany Cranfield at 469-454-0100 to get more information.