By Andrew Reeher
The life of a gift officer is full of uncertainties. Opportunities for meetings and proposals emerge and vanish very quickly. The prospect pool itself is quite dynamic, with financial developments occurring rapidly, or slipping away. Best-case scenario: a gift officer can draw connections between prospects, and see opportunities on the fly that can open new doors, and provide critical new support from a philanthropic prospect.
But when and how can data – specifically, wealth information – help gift officers as they work to develop a prospect into a donor? Wealth information about a new relationship can be invaluable when the time is right – or an expensive luxury, if officers don’t use it in their relationship strategy. The new standard of performance is real-time delivery of critical information to the point of need. This leads to more focused gift officers, more informed conversations, and proposals that are unlikely to leave potential on the table.
As founder of The Reeher Platform, a shared fundraising management software that is transforming the way colleges and universities raise money, my team and I have seen the challenge in applying data in relationship management: getting the data to the front line when and where it is needed. And once the data is there, the challenge is in making it easy for the front line fundraiser to apply it themselves. For researchers and advancement services professionals who are working on this challenge, it is actually more of an HR problem, and a change management problem, than it is a data problem. The future of advancement services is leveraging technology to reduce costs and improve return on these investments, rather than building elaborate systems and data sets that don’t create value for the folks on the front line. That’s why The Reeher Platform added a new module earlier this year called Donor Discovery.
As we work with institutions that are applying wealth screens for gift officer use, we see two primary problems: a “push” problem, and a “pull” problem.
“Push” – getting data to gift officers in a timely manner
Researchers purchase screenings to identify wealthy individuals. The challenge is to “push” the data to the officers and get them to act on it. This begins with large bulk run screenings, which may be part of a campaign feasibility study. It can take a long time to move from a file downloaded by a vendor, then to have it inserted into a database, then to be validated by a researcher, and translated into information that gift officers can use for their prospects.
A scenario for one of our customers is a common occurrence: On a database of over 150,000 records, 18,000 of them came back with a meaningful level of wealth. It would take months for researchers to sift and validate the data. The newly identified individuals would need to find their way into portfolios for qualification, and officers may or may not get around to making contact. Given this size of this organizations officer staff, there were over 1,000 prospects with a meaningful level of wealth for every officer. The problem is compounded by gift officer turnover at 25 to 30 percent per year. It is not uncommon for three years to elapse between when a wealth screen is purchased on a constituent and the data is used during a visit.
The old framework of passing that data down the line, to eventually be applied by an officer means that most of the money spent on the wealth screen can be wasted on data that is no longer current, or never applied.
“Pull” – enabling gift officers to quickly access fresh data
The “pull” problem is that gift officers often have opportunities presented quickly, and they need fresh data for a particular situation. This may be for assessing a prospect who identifies themselves as interested. It could be looking for information on a prospect that was identified as “worth meeting” by an existing major donor or trustee. Perhaps it is developing a strategy for a particular project their dean is interested in. In this case, the officer wants data now. The data needs to be digestible. If it is “fresh,” that’s a bonus.
The officer’s request for that data goes to a researcher, and the researcher is frequently very busy with a range of duties. If turn-around isn’t immediate, the officer frequently goes forward without the insight, resulting in the officer asking for too little, or perhaps not following through on the new prospect conversation at all.
All of this is compounded by a gift officer staff that includes many new faces. These folks need to be trained on systems and procedures, and with many duties, they are resistant to learning to use tools or protocols, and instead look for support staff that will run down the data for them. This compounds the spending problem with the hidden cost of needing to add staff to support the distribution of the data that is backlogged in the process and getting out of date.
The solution: narrowing the pool and simplifying complex data
We designed our new Donor Discovery product to address both the “push” and the “pull” problem we were seeing in the data in the Reeher Community. By making it easier for research to prioritize the research pool through the application of our Expected Value Index (EVI) inclination scores with more detailed wealth data, we can narrow the pool for analysis. With the Reeher Platform as the delivery mechanism, Prospect Management can be sure that these high-value contacts are prioritized and met.
On the “pull” side, our clearly formatted and easy-to-digest Donor Discovery view inside our very popular Relationship Profile means that non-researchers can make sense of the complex data in a screen. With the ability to request a screen on-demand with Reeher Mobile, gift officers are can act as soon as an opportunity presents itself. This combination allows existing research staff to focus on higher value activities, and reduce the need for clerical staff to support gift officers, allowing the organization to put more officers in the field, and build critical new relationships.
Andrew Reeher, President and CEO of Reeher, has more than two decades of experience in consumer marketing, strategic planning, executive leadership, and consulting. In 2002, Andy started Reeher to focus on using data to improve management practices within university fundraising. Today, his business helps more than 95 leading universities improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their fundraising efforts. Andy has a BA in history from Grove City College and an MBA from the University of Chicago.