It’s been said that development officers complain about one of two things when it comes to fundraising priorities. They either say, “I can’t raise any money because the leadership can’t come up with any big ideas,” or “have you seen the list of things the leadership says it wants? How am I supposed to raise any money for that?”

Sound familiar?

Who should set the fundraising priorities, or “philanthropic agenda,” for the organization, especially in a campaign setting? What is the appropriate role for the advancement office in this process?

One of the keys to successful fundraising is finding the intersection of organizational priorities with donor interest. The CEO and other senior administrators should take the lead in setting fundraising priorities, and those priorities should flow from a strategic plan, if one exists. The advancement team can play a key role in the process, since they are in the best position to assess donor interest, often informed by feedback from a campaign feasibility study.

How do you integrate the input from these two stakeholders?

The following is a methodology that organizations can use to begin to prioritize their philanthropic agenda. The organization’s CEO might start by appointing a small working group to assess projects and ideas for their potential impact on the organization. This working group should represent the entire organization, and be comprised of individuals positioned to rate impact. Meanwhile, the advancement office could rank the same projects for donor appeal. Each group should have a chairperson to lead the effort.

The four-quadrant diagram shown below is the basic tool for “scoring” fundraising ideas for the campaign. The vertical axis represents the potential positive impact at the organization if the idea were funded, with a low score of “1” and a high score of “9.” The horizontal axis represents donor appeal, with the same 1–9 scoring system.

The table below provides a guide for reviewers in assigning overall scores for both impact and donor appeal.

Both groups would rank the projects in their respective areas of expertise with the CEO and other senior administrators rating for potential impact and the advancement team rating for potential donor appeal. The assumption would be that neither group would know what the other’s rankings were until after the ranking had taken place. Each set of reviewers could be provided with guidance for how to rank projects, including how to draw distinctions between projects, and other considerations.

The Four Quadrants and How to Handle Projects within Each
The scores for both impact and donor appeal should reflect the average from the groups that performed the rankings, and will range from 1–9, rounding up or down to create whole numbers. Once the scores are plotted horizontally and vertically, each project will fall within one of the four quadrants.

  • Quadrant I—high impact and high donor appeal. Should definitely make the final list of featured priorities for the campaign.
  • Quadrant II—high impact and low donor appeal. Could possibly still make the list of featured initiatives, but funding sources other than private gifts should be identified as well.
  • Quadrant III—low impact and low donor appeal. Should definitely not make the final list of featured initiatives.
  • Quadrant IV—low impact and high donor appeal. Not automatically excluded from the list of featured priorities, but not as prominently featured in campaign materials as items from Quadrants I or II.

Bentz Whaley Flessner can help your organization strengthen and define your philanthropic agenda. Contact Bentz Whaley Flessner at (952) 921-0111 or visit Together we transform philanthropy.

Originally published November 18, 2015

Copyright © 2015 Bentz Whaley Flessner & Associates, Inc.


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