T.R.U.S.T - What Does Collaboration Mean to You? Jessica Boudakian, Associate Director of Prospect Development at CHOP Foundation and Joan Ogwumike, Blogger and Prospect Researcher at the Obama Foundation are delving into the Apra Illinois inbox. They are answering questions and giving advice on relationship building in prospect development between frontline fundraisers and PD professionals, and so much more. If you want to submit a question please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (you can be anonymous as well, we are here to help).
Anonymous Question: Hello, here is my question and dilemma: How do I communicate my prospect research and strategy projects and bandwidth to a fundraiser, when they have differing ideas and needs for the next few weeks? Personally, I don’t feel like the project they have requested is truly necessary at this time. I don’t want to come off disrespectful, difficult or unprofessional, however, this is a random project that just doesn’t seem like the best use of my time right now nor do I see it the best use of their time. I am struggling with how to explain my thought process on the value of projects. How would you handle this situation?
Jessica: What a dilemma! I see two issues to tackle in your question: how to communicate your workload to the team and how to work with gift officers to ensure that you’re really meeting their information needs.
I have a couple basic suggestions for you: set a turnaround time for requests such as 10 business days from request date to deadline. Consider putting together a more detailed document on turnaround times for your most requested projects and/or streamlining which kinds of projects can be requested by prospect stage so that more time intensive requests (manual relationship mapping and full profiles, for example) are reserved for prospects who are farther along in the donor cycle. Next, make the effort to be overly communicative with your partners, and keep them updated on projects as you get closer to the deadline! And, as you’re tackling proactive research that will benefit them, let them know. This will help gift officers understand the type of work you do in addition to having more information on your workload.
The second part of your question is a bit trickier. I recommend doing a basic reference interview for all time intensive or confusing requests that come in. A reference interview is a conversation where you use open-ended and clarifying questions to better understand what information need your gift officer is trying to meet. Colleagues will often ask questions that they believe will get them the results they need, but the language they use or the project they request doesn’t always match their real need. I’m sure many of us have delivered a project that met the request exactly, only to learn that it wasn’t what the gift officer needed. The National Archives has a copy of Guidelines of the Successful Reference Interview from American Library Association that will help you get started. You’ll notice the language is oriented towards librarian work; substitute appropriate language as needed.
I will also say that it’s not disrespectful or unprofessional to push back on projects! You’re a strategic partner, and if you think a requested project isn’t the best use of everyone’s time, there are ways to have that conversation. As an example, I had a conversation with a gift officer who was concerned about the size of their portfolio and wanted more new prospects. I was able to do a quick analysis that showed them that the majority of their portfolio is in Qualification. Clearly adding in new prospects wasn’t the answer here. We decided that they would focus on moving prospects from Qualification to Cultivation, and I would make sure all accounts had good contact information so that they could be contacted. Together we came to a solution that met both of our needs!
Joan: Writer, thank you for trying to tackle this dilemma. That is the first step to the solution. Second step would be to make a side-by-side comparison of needs - list out the projects the fundraiser is requesting and then list out your own projects, and see whether there are correlations or through lines, and differences. For example, a fundraiser may say “I need 5 new prospects rated at $10 million.” But on your list, you already have a prospecting goal to find several highly-rated prospects. These two goals are needs you both share, however, it is being expressed and worded differently therefore, you can communicate, “yes, that is a great goal I already have a plan for that.” This method shows that you both are speaking to each other and thinking as a team, and working towards mutually beneficial results. When it comes to truly differing goals (or as you have stated, “a random project”) I would recommend asking for a deadline and for them to set the prioritization level for the task. Every thing cannot be a priority, therefore, what are they willing to shift around? Another question is, what is the purpose or end goal for this project? Really unpack this project with them so you both understand how they came up with it, and what they plan to do with it. A fundraiser can easily ask for something, and as they talk to you about it, they realize that it should look and feel completely different. There is nothing wrong with questioning what is being asked of you, because in the end, you want to make the best use of your time and talent.
Bandwidth is tricky, and I have to double down on Jessica’s sentiments. It is extremely important to vocalize how long research tasks take. If possible, create turnaround fact sheets and circulate to everyone in your department, for awareness.