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The Hot Seat: Ruthie Giles

Fri, April 02, 2021 2:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

Ruthie Giles is a thought leader in the field of prospect management. She is a straightforward, big picture thinker with an analytical mind and a passion for systems, analytics, and strategy. Ruthie is the Associate Director of Advancement Services at Westfield State University. Previously, she worked at Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The Loomis Chaffee School, and The Williston Northampton School. Ruthie has 5 cats and a dog, she is often found powerlifting at the gym, and embraces being a data nerd as if it were the most coveted superpower in the universe.


  1. How can we reimagine portfolio analysis with an eye for collaboration between fundraisers and prospect development professionals?

    Portfolio analysis is the new and improved version of portfolio review. We are no longer reviewing a portfolio and the prospect within it. We are looking at the portfolio as a whole, doing data analysis on it to discover not only what is working well, but what is being overlooked and where to find the “white noise”. Portfolio analysis includes, directing fundraisers towards areas of opportunity and challenges, while making room for new opportunities; helping fundraisers become more efficient and effective in their efforts by offering them multiple strategies for various scenarios in their portfolio; And, transforming the old style of portfolio review meetings and fundraiser team meetings into meetings where we talk collaboratively about strategy. We need these meetings to be the forums in which we share what is working and what is not, and offer insight through various lenses of our work.

    I know of fundraising shops that have seamlessly and brilliantly integrated prospect management and portfolio analysis with their frontline fundraisers. The silos are gone, the egos are set aside, and no longer is the phrase “but we have always done it that way” being muttered. The team looks to data and prospect research to help guide their strategy and help tailor their portfolios. The data and the work of prospect development professionals build the foundation for fundraisers’ success. This is an ideal configuration for any fundraising office; however, it is currently the exception and not the rule. 

    To achieve this level of “fundraising nirvana”, a paradigm shift is necessary in the entire nonprofit sector. Currently, we are in the early stages, and I expect that we will see this change happen one shop at a time until we reach the tipping point where everyone recognizes it as a best practice, and everyone scrambles to institute it. This type of transformation takes time, and it counts on there being buy-in at various levels. It also requires a leap of faith, jumping away from the way things have always been done, toward a new way of approaching our work. But the return on investment for making this leap is worth it, and the shops who have already gone this route can prove it. As Darth Vader once said to a young Luke Skywalker, "Join me and together we can rule the galaxy”.

  2. What is a rule of thumb that motivates you through your everyday tasks?

    Years ago, I heard a story that originated in a conversation by English architect Sir Christopher Wren (1623-1732) during the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. In this story, Sir Wren came upon three men who were working. He asked the first man “What are you doing?” and the man replied “I am laying bricks”. He posed the same question to the second man who replied “I am building a wall” when he asked the same question to the third man he replied “I am building a cathedral.” While the three men performed the exact same task, their responses demonstrated how each saw that task through a different lens.

    On a daily basis, we all do various tasks at work. We look up information, we do data entry, we reply to colleagues, we learn new skills, we write profiles, we create lists, we make recommendations, and we discuss strategies. We all make our own choice as to how we view our efforts. While I often think I am simply “laying bricks” I know that my ultimate goal is to “build a temple”.  

    When I go into the office, turn on my computer and check my email, I am not there to perform a task, pull a list, write a profile, or strategize with colleagues. I am there so a deserving young person has the means to attend the university, has the tools and resources necessary for their courses, and has access to quality professors. My work is important because these young people will go on to become our accountants, police officers, nurses, social workers, bankers, doctors, entrepreneurs, innovators, entertainers, teachers, veterinarians, librarians, mayors, nonprofit professionals, and perhaps even prospect researchers. In order for them to be the very best at their future profession, I need to make sure that I do my job well.  Not to sound overly dramatic, but I get up in the morning and do my job because the future depends on it.  

    I think of it like the hologram message from Princess Leia saying “Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope” – I wake up in the morning and choose to be the Obi Wan to my organization’s Leia …. Every. Single. Day.   Seriously, what better motivation is there than that?

  3. True or False: Prospect Management is difficult, and it takes a long time to get everyone onboard with policy changes and portfolio management. Please explain your reasoning. 

    This is both true and false.  

    There is often one initial early adopter, and they are vital to getting your entire team onboard with a new prospect management system. The initial early adopter is a risk taker and a trailblazer. They are open to fully immersing themselves in this new approach to achieve better outcomes, in spite of the fact that no one has yet proven that the prospect management system works as promised. They would follow the teachings of Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” They are a strong partner with prospect management and an advocate for it. Every shop should be lucky enough to have an initial early adopter on their team.  

    Without this initial early adopter, things are a bit more of a challenge in getting everyone on board.  People do not like change. There have been numbers of studies and papers on the topic of why people resist change. When faced with a team firmly grounded in their resistance to change, it takes a long time to get everyone on board. You will need to go over the new policies and procedures ad nauseam, and do a fair amount of hand holding as each team member tentatively dips their toes into the prospect management pool. All the while, you sit there like Darth Vader thinking “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

    And in either situation - there is always the laggard - that one person who is the last to get on board with the implementation of prospect management in an advancement shop. These are the individuals who have an aversion to change and adhere strongly to their personal mantra of “this is the way we have always done it”. That person may hold out for years on fully embracing the prospect management system, and even then, they may still long for the old ways of doing things. In those cases, you must simply be comfortable with the fact that you cannot get the laggard to be fully on board, and turn your focus to the remainder of the team who have made the adjustment. 

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