By Katie Ingrao, Associate Director of Prospect Management, Rush University Medical Center
I’ve really been struggling with my portfolio review meetings with my gift officers. In particular their tendency to “hoard” prospects in portfolios when there are no planned activities or strategy to move them. My job is to assist them in controlling the number and quality of prospects in their portfolio but the more months and meetings that pass they continue to hesitate when I make suggestions for removal. Is there any way that I can communicate with them better that it’s ok to “let go”?
Prospect Hostage Negotiator
Dear Prospect Hostage Negotiator,
I feel your pain and you’re definitely not alone in this struggle. We as prospect management professionals are placed in a tough position when meeting with our gift officers to help them make educated decisions about prospect movement. We can be both the angel and the devil on their shoulders in these meetings but it’s important that you have established a shared understanding of what a “healthy” portfolio means in your office for effective change to happen. In addition, your organization should have set policies on how to maintain an ideal portfolio to help prospect management execute clear consequences for any portfolio that is not being maintained. If your office has not done this ground work you have nothing to support your cause to reach a common goal of managing optimal portfolios.
Shops that are starting to implement such standards usually start with basic goals of agreeing on an ideal portfolio size, amount of time allowed to attempt to qualify, and reinforcing a capacity rating minimum for portfolio additions. It’s key to include leadership in these discussions. They will most likely be charged with addressing noncompliance of said standards and so their feedback on changes will determine the ultimate success of enforcement. Not all shops will prioritize the standards that I have suggested but with whatever your shop decides, you must also be prepared to track your data. I’m assuming that your frustration is caused by seeing no change over and over in meetings; your shop is already tracking some prospect data that enables you to notice this lack of movement. You’ll need to review these reports and determine if they help illustrate whether or not a portfolio is meeting your current standards and then identify any potential standards you’d like to implement. Ensuring that you are tracking your data and creating meaningful reports will go a long way in identifying areas that portfolios need to improve.
While addressing the way you track your prospect data currently, you should also consider how to put tracking policies into place that will help alleviate some of the anxiety of your gift officers about moving prospects out of their portfolios. The main fear, I believe, of gift officers is that they will be unaware of a future event with the prospect after they are removed from their portfolio i.e. gift, significant contact, or cultivation opportunity. We can’t completely alleviate all their fears but we can take actionable steps to create what I like to call “safety nets”. Examples of these safety nets would be segment coding with your database for stewardship and or annual appeal activity, an ear marking system with your database to track clear chain of command when it comes to communicating with a donor, and a regular review of recent transactions by the research or management teams to identify donors who should be managed in a portfolio. I pitch these safety nets to gift officers as reassurances about systems put into place for their benefit so that they can trust to let prospects go and keep their portfolios uncluttered. Finding the right number and variety of safety nets rests with each office and how they operate but being open and transparent on what happens to prospects once they are removed from a portfolio can build a strong sense of trust with a system for many overloaded gift officers.
So you’re probably thinking, “Yea, self-analysis and overhauling policies are great steps but what should I do if they still just won’t let go?” This is probably where the majority of us live. Going 10 rounds of “Why are you holding on to a low rated prospect when I have much better options?” It’s critical at this point to know if you have the support and buy-in from the gift officer’s manager. If you’re positioned well, you only need to reiterate the shared agreement on what a “healthy” portfolio is and what the consequences are when that isn’t the case. Move forward with said consequences while always being clear that your responsibility is to the efficiency of the portfolio. If you are not in a good position or lack the support of their managers, you will need to reevaluate your office’s policies and goals. It is impossible to reinforce rules that everyone doesn’t follow and seriously jeopardizes your ability to be effective in helping gift officers reach dollar goals. I find that consistent communication of the goals and the steps that need to be taken work well in the fight against prospect hoarding.
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