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: How can prospect development professionals gently encourage major gift officers to be better about qualifying the prospects we bring to them? There’s a constant refrain of needing new prospects, and yet, little work done when we provide the prospects. Since we’re obviously not their managers, what kind of “enforcement” can we do?
Jessica: My suggestion is to do a mix of leaning on the data you have and meeting the gift officers where they are, when possible.
First, go back to the basics and make sure that every record has contact information. Additional data could be as simple as having a list of their prospects in qualification along with a data point of when their last outreach occurred. I also like to see how many times each constituent in their portfolio has been contacted. Monthly action reports can also be helpful for gift officers so they can see their work outside of their portfolio. These data points combined will give you a more complete picture of their work, and the gift officers will be able to see if they are contacting the “right” prospects. Are they maximizing their time by doing outreach to these prospective donors, and what will have the highest return? Are they spending too much time with the prospects they know will return their calls, and not enough time qualifying new prospects?
Other ways to look at data includes doing a Gap Analysis to show the gift officers whether their current portfolio can meet their fundraising goal, and what solicitations are needed for the fiscal year. With this number on hand, you can then backfill the number of prospects they need to have in their portfolio. I’ve commonly heard that it takes four prospects to result in one successful solicitation, but on review of your data, you may find that your organization has a higher or lower success rate.
A different approach is to try to understand why your gift officers believe they need new prospects. Are the prospects in their portfolio the hot potatoes that pass from team member to team member? You may want to do a strategy deep dive with your colleagues to see what thoughtful outreach can move the needle on this prospect and then Disqualify if there’s no response. Are they doing outreach with little success? They may need additional training and help to craft a better message. If they’re still hungry for more new prospects, I would offer them a targeted list of unassigned prospects for cold calls.
You also must allow for the possibility that some of the prospects are not viable and should be removed from the portfolio. It helps to have a process in place so that the prospect will get some outreach, such as emails and direct mail. If they donate, great! Then, they can be reassigned as a warm lead. It may be difficult to hear that the prospect isn’t going to work for a gift officer but having a candid conversation can get you both on the same page. It is helpful to get input from the gift officer on characteristics of their ideal prospect, it could help you better understand their needs and find prospects that they are truly excited about doing outreach to!
Joan: Thank you, Anonymous, your inquiry is something many in prospect development struggle with. Our frontline fundraisers tend to experience a scarcity mind-set, a feeling that they don’t have enough and/or need more. Realistically, they have everything they need so I must agree with Jessica on her advice, and I would suggest the following:
- When the plea for more prospects is made, ask about the progress on the prospects already in need of qualification. This can be simply and professionally stated as, “Definitely, I can get you more prospects, however, I see that you have 30 still in need of qualifying? Is there anything that I can do to help you move that along?”
- Set up strategy sessions for the most difficult prospects. This could be a case of needing a lot of what Jessica has already shared – contact information, a more engaging message, or simply coaching (there are times in which our fundraisers need an extra push of boost of confidence in their work).
- Tell leadership, get buy-in from those in-charge because qualification is everyone’s shared responsibility. The leadership at your organization has to hold frontline fundraisers accountable, and this can be done by making qualification a yearly goal that they are held to.
- If your organization permits – you can set up a policy in which prospects can only stay in the qualification stage for a set amount of time, if no action is completed by that time, the prospect is either given to another fundraiser or placed back into a prospect pool. This is the type of policy that not only equates to accountability, but it respects the prospect researcher’s time for sourcing the name, and it acknowledges the importance of qualification work. It is strict, but sometimes that is what is needed. For example, fundraiser Bob is assigned prospect, Helen James, on March 29th, if there is no engagement by August 29th then Helen is no longer a prospect for Bob. Some organizations have 6-month outreach policies, and within that, a check-in at the 3-month mark to gauge progress and to give a soft push concerning the removal of the prospect.
Jessica and I have suggested strict and gentle enforcements that show seriousness in the qualification work, and partnership to get real work done. The real work requires for movement within a portfolio, rigid rules on the size of portfolios per fundraiser, and candid conversations on collecting prospects in portfolios. Collecting prospects means to exacerbate portfolios with little action or movement on prospects, they just sit there – this is unhelpful activity.