Many of our clients are preparing for or headed into a major campaign. Their success will depend on many things: engaged donors, clear priorities, sufficient infrastructure, etc. Campaigns also largely rely on those agents who transform these important elements into fundraising outcomes: development officers. For DOs to be successful, however, leadership of your development shop must play a role. Below are four ways to prepare your DOs to raise more money.

Target Area 1—Making Sure They Have the Right Portfolio
The best fundraisers in the world can’t raise much money if they are only assigned low-likelihood or low-capacity prospects. How an institution prioritizes and assigns its top prospects influences individual performance and donor outcomes greatly (people rarely give if they are not asked). Part of setting fundraising goals for the year or for the entire campaign should include making sure your best prospects are assigned to the right portfolios.

Target Area 2—Setting and Overseeing Time Management and Performance Expectations
Prospective donors who are placed in a portfolio must be met with diligent outreach and strategic engagement. The best fundraisers are those who (a) spend more of their time with donors and prospects and (b) drive relationships towards earlier, larger asks. Across the industry, metrics have been used to address how often DOs meet with prospects (activity), but few institutions evaluate performance based on how donor potential has been realized (strategy). What results is fundraisers incentivized to complete tasks but not to reach outcomes. Common missteps in this area include:

  • Multiple distractions or competing demands for DO time to be spent away from major gifts.
  • Metrics assigned outside of the context of a DO’s portfolio (e.g., high solicitations expected in a discovery heavy portfolio).
  • Constantly changing or unclear expectations for performance.
  • Metrics driving all recognition, to the exclusion of other achievements (gifts scheduled to come in after the fiscal year, shared prospects, etc.).
  • Minimal intervention and action when performance expectations are not being met.

Even if they are well-established, metrics and expectations have to be meaningfully managed for each fundraiser. Managers should be empowered and expected to provide active feedback on performance, distinguish between metrics of activity versus strategy, and be allies in protecting fundraiser time.

Target Area 3—Offering Focused Skill Building and Training
Two-thirds of fundraisers surveyed want more training and professional development than they are currently offered (BWF 2014 Frontline Fundraisers Metrics and Performance Survey). Relational fundraising is not a task that is mastered quickly; it is a skillset that has to be deliberately grown and expanded over a career. However, there is no distinct training program that will work for all development offices or fundraisers. The training that a fundraiser needs in his/her first two years differs wildly from the professional development that will help elevate a 10-year+ veteran. For many fundraisers the skill building that would most benefit them is less about the theory of soliciting a gift in the abstract and more about how to work with the donors and agents of your particular institution. For more information on the value of training click here.

Target Area 4—Fostering Community and Collaboration
Development officers are more likely to move and actively manage a portfolio when they are granted some ownership. DOs will take more responsibility and better partner with research and prospect management teams when they are empowered to move disqualified prospects out, have access to up-to-date research and records, and are trained in best practices in portfolio management. Additionally, fundraisers demonstrate stronger performance when they care about the mission of their organization as well as their colleagues. Working within an office that builds a sense of community encourages DOs to reach out when they encounter a challenge with a donor, utilize and create resources for the benefit of all, adhere to reporting and systems protocols, and build loyalty to the institution.

Development offices require the right prospects, compelling priorities, and effective processes to be successful. Those institutions that rise above their peers in fundraising build programs that prepare, encourage, and empower their development officers.

BWF’s TalentED practice offers customized training, talent management strategies, and intensive webinars to better prepare all members of your institution for fundraising. Contact us at for more information.

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.

Originally published November 11, 2015

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