You are sitting in her waiting room while the receptionist handles phone calls, waves at staff who come in the door, and greet delivery people as they come and go. Everyone else is welcome to cross into the inner sanctum while you wait for your client’s assistant to come get you.
You sit there, knowing that if you don’t land this donor or another one her size within the next six months, your organization will fail. Close your eyes and picture this scene until you start feeling the anxiety.
What do you need to know about the prospect to make this visit a success?
The answer to the question is information, but it’s also other things, like these:
How many of these needs do you fill in your shop? Are you an integral part of the prospect cultivation process, or an administrative assistant relegated to the back room? Does your answer to that previous question depend on your boss allowing you to expand or on your own ability to assert yourself? To help you walk through the gauntlet I’ve just built, let’s take a look at all of these needs one by one: You will see your value grow.
I’ve visited shops where the research analyst told me that he uses the data he finds on LinkedIn where he looks up prospects and I’ve visited shops where the debate rages between Research and Major Gifts on certain capacity ratings. I tend to cheer for the latter. Look at the information we provide and how it’s used to support organizations.
As someone who is studying the prospect from a distance, you can see the forest (or the bird’s eye view). So, you can say, “Because Mr. Smith’s wealth is primarily made up of real estate, I suggest showing him how planned giving can help him pass his holdings onto his daughter, Susan, without her having to sell any of it.” You can also say, “Ms. Lichen’s philanthropy is primarily focused on religious causes. She may be interested in Hillel.”
A conversation with your gift officer is best when sharing your suggested strategy. A good internal client will bounce ideas off of you. The best shops I’ve worked in or visited use storytime: Gift officers come together and share which cultivation attempts were being frustrated, and others encourage them with ideas. When Research is invited to those meetings, the Research Analyst can pipe up and say, “His sister is actually also a member and she gives every year. Maybe she can connect us to him.”
We are also able to give perspective on the prospect pool. If you are responsible for Prospect Management, your entire job is to give perspective on the prospect pool. The best shops have gift officers notifying Prospect Research and/or Prospect Management where they plan to travel, so suggestions can be made on fill-in visits. At all times, your shop should be providing who your institution’s top 300 prospects are – prospects, not donors. That way, your management and your frontline fundraisers always have a goal in front of them.
The experience item on our list really belongs to the training program for gift officers. When you get new officers, do you orient them? Do they know you? How can you reach out to them to make sure they see you as a partner?
The confidence piece is out of your control. A gift officer who keeps sending a prospect’s name back for more research without visiting the prospect may be showing lack of confidence. If you can say, “No” to these requests, you are better off for it. Saying, “No” is one way to show that you’re a partner.
It’s also up to you and how your shop is made up whether your news alerts carry information about your organization’s reputation. If you don’t do it, your public relations staff should.
The ability of a gift officer to negotiate a gift’s terms is also partly informed by your work. Think of case law. How about a strategic suggestion like, “Mr. Humphreys’ wealth is complex, but we were able to successfully solicit a $1 million gift for the children’s program from Dan Smith, whose wealth make up was similar.”
Whatever your specific job description, you do have both the responsibility and the right to participate in the conversation around your prospect pool. You are also a fundraiser, and your unique skills contribute to the strategic decisions around your prospect pool. Celebrate it!