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Digital gift officers are just the beginning

November 12, 2020

Digital gift officer positions have been on the rise for years as more and more advancement leaders begin to recognize the position’s high ROI. Low travel budgets and portfolios of 1,000+ donors make it easy to advocate for adding a digital gift officer as a pipeline development catalyst. During the pandemic, these positions have become even more popular as advancement leaders try to fill their pipelines using digital engagement for 2021 and 2022.

But these positions only work if there is a clear next step for those pipeline donors. Without clear next steps, leaders risk having pipeline bottlenecks–areas where donors seem to hit a giving ceiling. Pipeline bottlenecks often occur for two reasons

  1. Gift officers hoard good major gift prospects to hit personal goals
  2. Donors aren’t compelled to invest more in the university

To accelerate donors up the pipeline, advancement leaders need to encourage handoffs from digital gift officers to major gifts and invest in stewardship that demonstrates impact.

Encouraging donor handoffs


Digital gift officers are required to elevate  50 of their prospects to the major gift qualification team at Kansas State
Digital gift officers are required to elevate 50 of their prospects to the major gift qualification team at Kansas State

Kansas State University tackles the challenge of donor hoarding by measuring hand-offs from digital gift officers to major gifts. At Kansas State, digital gift officers each engage 1,000 future major gift prospects through personalized digital relationships. Every year, digital gift officers are required to elevate 50 of their prospects to the major gift qualification team. If the qualification goes successfully, donors are passed onto a major gift officer, but if not, they go back into the digital gift officer’s pool for a seamless donor experience.

Each year, around 10% of the individuals that digital gift officers elevate to the qualification team make a major gift donation to Kansas State. These handoffs from digital gift officers give MGOs at Kansas State a constant flow of warm major gift prospects.

Stewarding donors at all levels

Institutions must ensure donors are compelled to make a major gift donation when a handoff to an MGO occurs. With 70% of donors today using test gifts to learn more about a charity, institutions have an opportunity to show donors the impact their dollars can have through stewardship. Without stewarding donors, institutions risk losing undecided donors from their future major gift pipeline.


of donors today use test gifts to learn more about a charity
of donors today use test gifts to learn more about a charity

Miami University in Ohio is using a dedicated stewardship team to inspire donors at all levels into investing more in the university. After a mid-level donor makes a gift, they are transferred from the gift officer to a centralized stewardship team. The dedicated stewardship team is comprised of subject matter experts, such as a facilities expert or a scholarship expert.

The stewardship team stewards donors based on their specific donation, not just on dollar amount.  Being stewarded has translated to 90% of donors feeling well informed on the impact of their gift. After donors are stewarded and fulfill their pledge, donors are handed off to a gift officer to start the next solicitation cycle.

Digital gift officers can develop a robust pipeline of major gift donors, but if their efforts aren’t connected to other advancement functions, their work will go to waste.  To have successful major gift conversations with pipeline donors, handoffs to MGOs must occur regularly, and mid-level donations need to be stewarded appropriately.  

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