By Cara Quackenbush, Vice President of Research
Managers play a vital role at colleges and universities, bridging the gap between high-level strategy and day-to-day work. At most colleges, management roles serve as a path for career growth or as a staff retention strategy. Once a talented individual contributor is promoted to manager, they are often asked to continue performing the valuable duties previously expected of them in addition to management duties to which they may (or may not) be well suited. As colleges have become more data driven, it is increasingly apparent that this is a problematic approach.
A common example of this practice is in development offices. In our recent study on fundraising managers, which drew on data from more than 50 college development offices across the country, we confirmed that this practice is alive and well. Unfortunately, the all too common practice of promoting talented fundraisers to fundraising managers while also requiring them to continue bringing in the big bucks in their own right leaves money on the table.
Consider the difference in results between high-performing teams and average performing teams (Figure 1). High performing teams raised an average of $600,000 more per gift officer than average performing teams. This translates to $3.2 million for a team of seven gift officers (the average in our sample)—an amount that, in many cases, is more than a major gift officer would be expected to bring in annually.
The data also showed that one of the key differences between the managers of high-performing teams and those of average performing teams is how they allocate their time. Managers who spend at least two hours a week per gift officer (equivalent to two full days for a team of seven) on activities including mapping out prospect strategies, monitoring activity metrics, and mentoring tended to have higher performing teams. Those who spend less time on management duties tended to have lower performing teams. Many managers in our study spent as little as 30 minutes per week on average (or less than one full day) on management duties. .
Not surprisingly, managers who carry smaller prospect portfolios also had higher performing teams. In our study, we found that small portfolios (about 50 prospects or less) not only meant that managers allocated more of their time to management activities, but also that qualified prospects who would otherwise be locked up in a busy manager’s portfolio had a much higher chance of being cultivated by a gift officers who wasn’t being pulled in so many directions.
Finding Your Way Out of the Manager’s Dilemma
While these findings are specific to the fundraising space, many of the lessons here are universal and can provide guidance for designing management roles across campus. Here are a couple of recommendations to get you started:
- Prioritize management duties. As any time management book will tell you, finding the right balance is all about setting priorities. When managers carry significant responsibilities for personally meeting bottom-line goals—and particularly if it is something they excel at—it’s easy to prioritize that activity above management duties. However, in our study, we found that managers who prioritized creating a high performing team were actually able to more dramatically impact the bottom line by helping everyone on their team perform at a high level.
- Create a culture that values individual contributors. All too often, becoming a manager is seen as a way of rewarding top performers or as the only way for employees to grow. This creates a culture that values managers rather than strong individual contributors, and over time, creates more management positions with smaller teams. Since budgets generally do not allow for multiple managers, those managers must maintain their previous workload in addition to taking on management responsibilities. In the end, neither the manager nor the team is set up for success.
We work with clients on a regular basis to ensure that their gift officers are enabled and incentivized to spend their time on the activities that make the greatest impact on the bottom line. However, we are rarely asked to assess the effectiveness of managers overseeing leadership gift operations. Since managers have a much more powerful influence on the success of development offices (or the mission of any campus unit), it’s time to include them in the conversation.
Additional findings and recommendations from this study are available in two of our recent reports, Improving Gift Officer Productivity and The Manager’s Dilemma: Prioritizing Activities to Create a High-Performing Fundraising Team. Please contact Cara Quackenbush for more information.