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Finding the Fundraising Sweet Spot

What is a sweet spot? When we think of the “sweet spot,” we think of that prime area where you hit your mark squarely. There is also an efficiency of motion that leads to a better result. In baseball, you know you’ve hit the sweet spot from the speed with which the ball jumps off the bat with a loud, clear crack and no vibration. Hitting the sweet spot is a culmination of movements where the consequence is only a few feet, which is oftentimes the difference between a home run and an out. In fundraising, many gift officers struggle to find their sweet spot. They visit the same prospect four times a year regardless of the prospect’s stage in the cultivation cycle and have no concrete plan to ask for a major gift. They get meetings because they can get them, not because they are used to strategically move gift conversations forward. Duplicate this scenario a few more times with more prospects, and a gift officer can easily make 15 visits a month. As a manager, you may initially like this volume, but you’ll eventually start to wonder why the gift officer isn’t making their dollar goals and is not a top performer. Just like haphazardly swinging the bat can be hit or miss (it takes plate discipline to hit the right pitch), visiting prospects for the sake of it does not guarantee results. To help gift officers find their fundraising sweet spot, we developed a new concept, the Eduventures Top 25.

The Eduventures Top 25

In a national study, we found that quarter of surveyed gift officers significantly outperformed their peers on a number of productivity metrics. One trait in particular stood out as the sweet spot: these high-performing gift officers had an annual solicitation goal of 20-30 major gift solicitations per year. Of these prospects, they actually solicited an average of about 80% (18-21). Notably, they also accomplished this far more efficiently, with fewer visits per solicitation and higher close rates. Key Indicators for High Performing Gift Officers Based on the results of this study, we created the Eduventures Top 25 to help gift officers prioritize the prospects they plan to solicit within the next fiscal year and more strategically manage their activity to achieve results. It is operational and strategic and provides focus for gift officers and prospect researchers alike. It’s likely that a gift officer has more than 100 prospects to manage. For most prospects, it will take a significant number of touches over two or so years to close a gift. By focusing on 25 who have been cultivated in the previous year, gift officers can prioritize prospects that will have a greater impact. The end goal isn’t less activity, but rather more efficient activity with a greater number of prospects. Fewer touches with the Top 25 frees up time to focus on other prospects in a fundraiser’s pipeline. By setting a goal of 25 prospects, gift officers can make 80% of their intended solicitations and still have significant success.

Creating a Top 25 list

Who do I include?
  • Prospects who are ready to be solicited within the next fiscal year.
  • Prospects who have been qualified and cultivated in the previous fiscal year.
  • Those who have the greatest capacity to give and the greatest affinity or likelihood.
How do I get started?
  • Strategize with internal partners for advice on how to present the right cause.
  • Leverage information from prospect research and examine call reports or salient information about the prospect, press, other gifts, etc.
  • Focus on the donors interests and align activities that will yield the greatest impact on the institution.
When do I adjust my list?
  • Each year, establish the top 20-30 prospects to be solicited in the next fiscal year, with the goal of soliciting 25.
  • Each quarter, review and adjust solicitation strategies for the Top 25.

Beyond the Who, How, and When

Establishing your Top 25 is just one of the foundational components in Eduventures’ Gift Officer Productivity Toolkit, which addresses all of the core elements of a successful major gift program. As you work with your gift officers to improve their productivity, encourage them to take the time to establish their Top 25 with you and their prospect researcher. The process will enable the kind of focus they require to perfect their swing.  

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