Portfolio management best practices and how to implement them in three stages

By November 5, 2020November 19th, 2020Fundraising Best Practices

Whether you are a development team of one or 200, creating portfolios is a valuable project management strategy to keep the organization’s top prospects at the forefront of your fundraising efforts.

Stage 1: Where to begin? Establishing a portfolio of prospects.

As you’ve likely heard before, an organization’s top prospects are those who have capacity (personal means) and inclination (interest in your mission). So, how do we determine capacity and inclination?  We rely on data and anecdotal information.

Begin by running a query or report from your database with the following data points:

  • Prospect ID
  • Name
  • Address
  • Number of years of giving
  • Number of gifts
  • Lifetime giving amount
  • Capacity (wealth screening score or in-house rating)
  • Last gift date
  • Last gift amount
  • Largest gift amount
  • Largest gift date

While there are innumerable data points to evaluate, these results will help you formulate a basic donor profile including donor history (number of years of giving, number of gifts, largest gift, and cumulative giving amount to your organization), giving frequency (how often they’ve given over the span of their relationship with your organization), and giving recency (how recently they’ve given).

Combining these data points with a capacity rating gives you a data-driven analysis of a donor’s capacity and inclination. But that isn’t the whole story. It is critical to layer on any anecdotal information you have about the prospect.

To flesh out your data analysis, refer to contact reports (reports written following gift officer interactions with the prospect), colleagues with institutional knowledge, and/or volunteers who know the prospect. For instance, does a contact report from a meeting with Mr. Smith indicate that your organization is among his top philanthropic priorities?  This is a clear note of high inclination.  Alternatively, did Mrs. Jones tell a gift officer in 2015 that she wanted to be removed from all solicitations and call lists? Regardless of her capacity, she is not inclined to support the organization and should not be assigned to a portfolio.

Now that you have a comprehensive list of viable prospects, they can be divided up into gift officer portfolios. Portfolios can range in size from 25–200 prospects depending on how much time the development officer spends on frontline fundraising.

Depending on the size of your organization and the number of gift officers, portfolios may be further divvied up by school (if applicable), region, fundraising priority, or rating.

Stage 2: What now? What to do once you have a portfolio.

As a gift officer assigned a portfolio, there are a number of steps you can take to effectively manage your prospect list. First, prioritize prospects within your portfolio by sorting and filtering. Using the same data points that were evaluated to build your portfolio, prioritize prospects within your portfolio by assessing donor history, giving frequency, and giving recency.

Next, combine this data with anecdotal evidence to set an individualized engagement strategy for each prospect. When possible, identify a target solicitation amount and date to help your prioritization moving forward. Do you have any updates to share on an initiative they supported in the past? Is there an upcoming event to which you’d like to extend a personal invitation? Which current fundraising priorities align with their noted interests? Once you’ve identified the strategy, create a next step action: email an update; send an invitation; request a meeting.

As you work your way through your portfolio, evaluate your activity and progress on a monthly basis.  Are you executing and updating your next step actions? How many unique outreaches are you making per month? How many meetings are you completing? How many solicitations? How many gift closes? How many disqualifications? Here are more tips on evaluating gift officer impact and success.

Most importantly, make sure you are recording your work in the database. If it’s not recorded, it didn’t happen.

Stage 3: How do we keep this up? Best practices in year-over-year management.

Think of three P’s when it comes to successful ongoing portfolio management: policies, partnership, and prospect research.

Policies: Particularly for organizations with multiple gift officers, it is important to have prospect management policies in place to ensure expectations and responsibilities are clearly defined and to avoid duplication of engagement efforts. Some examples of prospect management policies include:

  • Criteria for assigning and disqualifying prospects from portfolios
  • Protocol for moving prospects between gift officer portfolios (i.e., moving a prospect from an annual giving portfolio to a major gift portfolio; or, for educational institutions, moving a prospect from a centrally-based portfolio to a school-based portfolio)
  • Clear gift crediting policies that encourage collaboration

Partnership: The key to effective portfolio management is active and creative partnerships. Depending on the size of your shop, partnerships may vary. For example, planned giving, annual giving, researchers, and development and/or organizational leaders may be helpful partners in strategy development and cultivation (or solicitation) activities. Thinking about partnerships in a different way, an often overlooked partner is your organization’s CRM, especially when development colleagues across your organization partner to keep the records up to date.

Prospect Research: Effective portfolio management depends on accurate and up-to-date donor data and information; therefore, timely reporting and regular research are critical. Research teams should establish a year-round process for screening and rating new donors to the organization (or new families entering the school for educational institutions), creating a pipeline of prospects for gift officer portfolios. For smaller shops that may not have a research function, setting up Google Alerts for top prospects or training gift officers (or another staff member) in research and prospecting basics is a worthwhile investment. Setting aside just a few hours a week to look at top prospects or to vet new donors is essential for effective portfolio management.

Jen Herrmann is Vice President and Adele Beekman is Senior Consultant at Graham-Pelton. They can be reached via email or by calling 1-800-608-7955.

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