While driving home from Apra Prospect Development, I listened to this TED talk. The article brought my mind back to some work I’m doing on estimating the number of gift officers needed to meet a campaign goal. For analytics projects like this, I use the traditional prospect count – 150. However, I have wondered if that portfolio size is just an inherited paradigm. The TED podcast gave some insight by introducing me to Dunbar’s Number.
According to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, the number of friends that we can manage is 150. Indeed, Dr. Dunbar asserts, that is our maximum despite how many friends we have on Facebook or Twitter. His theory that we are limited to 150 people in our social network is called Dunbar’s Number.
Dr. Dunbar’s theory is that our relationships have these echelons:
What does this remind you of? That’s right: David Dunlop’s Circles of Influence. These numbers also remind me of the way that the gift officers I worked with at Carnegie Mellon managed their pools:
I wonder if a system of Top 5 - Focus 10 - Cultivation 50 would improve productivity?
In the podcast interview, Dunbar notes that when William the Conqueror did a census of England and Wales, he discovered that each of the villages contained 150 residents, on average. And William the Conqueror himself divided his new kingdom into 150 pieces to reward his henchmen for the conquest, showing that his own network had a limit of 150 henchmen.
Dunbar’s Number also influences business – management theorist Malcolm Gladwell advocated “The Rule of 150” in his book, The Tipping Point. An organization needs to subdivide itself every time its number of employees reaches about 150. If you work in an office of more than 150 people, chances are you don’t know everyone that you ride the elevator with, and that may help create silos in your organization. If you don’t know the people in the Communications Office, how can you cooperate with them on sharing ideas and interesting donors?
So, if this is the wisdom known and used throughout human history and throughout management, then I do believe that 150 prospects are the MOST we can ask a gift officer to carry in his/her portfolio. Indeed, like it or not, if an organization has 1,200 prospects to qualify and cultivate, then the organization needs either 8 gift officers or a way to reduce the size of the major gifts pool, such as a propensity analytics study along with deeper research to unearth prospect interest and philanthropy. Otherwise, the major gifts team is set up to fail under the weight of so many relationships.
We often talk on our prospect development listservs about how we can motivate our gift officers to qualify prospects in their pools and how so many prospects are left languishing. My suggestion here is the same as on any topic: Set up the professionals to succeed (with appropriate expectations, tools, and access) before assigning them a consequence for failure.
This suggestion becomes more important to prospect development directors, who are often in the unenviable position of telling on their frontline staff but not being able to assign consequences. Prospect development teams must make portfolio penetration transparent to management to address whether gift officer’s performance or the gift officer’s portfolio needs improvement.
If your frontline staff carry more than 150 prospects each, what is their average rate of qualification? Do they get to everyone in a year? If not, can you adjust their pools to the most likely prospects? Or at least concentrate their geographic assignments so they can be more productive?
Feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail at Marianne@staupell.com to share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter: @Staupell and @mpellet771.
9/7/2018 01:10:20 pm
Great food for thought here, Marianne - another compelling rationale (with science behind it) for keeping prospect portfolios manageable. Thanks for the heads-up on the TED Talk - I'll add it to my play list.
9/8/2018 09:24:54 pm
Thanks for the comments!
Interesting piece Marianne. I always think about what else is the gift officer expected to do. Can they maintain active relationships for 150 prospects and record all those moves into the database? What about the number of internal meetings they are expected to attend? The number of mailing lists they need to review? What if they are managers that manage staff? I would be fine with a prospect list of 150 - but if you expect them to take on tasks that take away from building meaningful, deep relationships, then is that reasonable?
2/15/2020 10:36:21 am
Great post. Totally agree, and we've got a complementary piece "How Many Prospects To Assign to a MG Officer's up at www.advizorsolutions.com/resources
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