Staying Organized as a Gift Officer

I believe that being highly organized is the most important proficiency for an effective major gift officer. An individual who cannot keep good notes, follow up in a timely manner, or juggle a few dozen tasks a day will struggle to manage a portfolio of donors even if they have fantastic interpersonal skills. Productive habits are formed over time, and each individual needs to find what works for them. My favorite book on this topic is Getting Things Done by David Allen. Here are some examples of tactics I use to be responsive, organized and thorough in my donor outreach: 

Keeping a cloud-based to-do list.

One of the things I love about my job is the variety. Shifting between dozens of tasks quickly throughout the day is a dynamic that gives me energy and holds my focus. In major gift fundraising, there are so many followups and small tasks that can slip through the cracks if you don’t capture them all in one place. For me, this absolutely must be digital and sync between my laptop and smartphone, for the times I only have access to one or the other. I have been using the free web application Trello for at least five years and it basically serves as a digital sticky-note bulletin board. Anything that needs to get done this week gets its own “card,” and can be moved between “lists'' which I title Monday-Friday. You can set deadlines, attach documents, and even color code. It works for me, and if I ever need to migrate to a different software, I would need this level of functionality at a minimum. 

Keeping a digital donor file for each individual.

I may be a millennial, but I am familiar with file cabinets of manila folders that contain the “donor files” of a traditional fundraising office. Obviously CRM software has made this practice obsolete, and we tend to refer to a constituent record in the donor database to find any useful information on that individual. Depending on your CRM provider, you may be able to easily upload an unlimited number of attachments to a record and use this as a complete donor file. For me and the software I have used, it is still beneficial to create a digital folder in the shared drive for every donor I work with, alphabetized by last name. I can include rough drafts of proposals, meeting read-aheads, newsletter stories, photos, or anything else that pertains to that individual. How you organize your computer files is up to you, but because I have more than 175 assigned prospects, everything needs to be separated by individual if I want to find what I need. 

Creating a read-ahead for each donor visit.

This tactic can provide a last-minute reminder of the most important questions to ask or other objectives, just before walking into a donor meeting. In this single page document, I include details like a snapshot of their recent giving history, and sometimes little things like the name of their grandkids or where they last took a trip. I find that the process of creating this reference sheet is just as helpful as having it to refer to before the meeting. Having a consistent format helps keep this tool organized, and it can be adapted for board members or VPs who are accompanying you on a visit. The worst feeling is walking out of a meeting and realizing that you forgot to ask for something - having a printed reminder can help to prevent that. 

Entering a contact report within 24 hours of any meaningful donor interaction.

This one should be the industry standard, and falling behind on this can become the Achilles heel for a gift officer who is getting overloaded. I wish I had a perfect memory, but without frequent and thorough notes I have trouble recalling many of the tidbits I learned while speaking with donors. I’ve become proficient about entering contact reports on the same day as visits, and include as much detail as I can. These notes are helpful for future staff members many years down the road, but their primary function is to help me pick up right where I left off with a donor. Besides after in-person meetings, I also enter contact reports for any meaningful donor interaction - leaving a thank you voicemail, sending a birthday or sympathy card, or dropping an interesting news article in the mail. Keeping complete and detailed notes helps me to have all the information I need to provide good donor stewardship and stay organized in my work. 

Using Static Spreadsheets (sometimes it’s okay.)

This practice helps me work faster without losing any important information. When I have a list of 15+ donors to reach out to for a meeting, I find it easiest to create a column for “First Attempt,” “Second Attempt” and so on, entering the date that I reached out in each row. While this isn’t a dynamic way of capturing info in the database, meetings usually take 2-5 outreach attempts before they are scheduled, and I can wait on entering a contact report until I get a response. There is an efficiency of scale when I’m tackling a larger group, say for an upcoming trip, where I can see at a glance who I still need to follow up with to schedule a visit. I like to color code individuals according to their responses. Depending on your CRM software, you may be able to adapt this practice for batch uploads into the donor database, for something like “sent Christmas card” to a large group. 

The Dance Card 

This is a tool that I credit my amazing supervisor Kathleen Bonte for introducing to me. The origin of the term “dance card” is from the 1800s in Viennese nobility, and referred to a booklet where a lady would write the names of the gentlemen she intended to dance with at a formal ball. In our office, we use this term to refer to the spreadsheet of portfolio strategy for each of our assigned donors. We take a snapshot of total giving in each of the last five years, and group donors according to what they might be able to give in the coming year ($1,000, $2,500, $5,000, etc.). The segment of donors who may be able to make a major gift this year is pulled to the top. We multiply that amount by a likelihood percentage for each tier, ranging from 30-70%, which gives an adjusted estimate for the total cash and commitments we can set as an annual goal. I wanted to mention this organization tool because it not only helps with planning ahead and setting smart goals, but also keeping track of individuals throughout the year according to their giving levels. There is always a margin of uncertainty with predictive data points, but we find that the likelihood percentages even out the variance and we are able to set ourselves up to hit our goals. 

As my work style evolves I love to incorporate new tactics that help keep me organized in my role. What are the tools in your kit that you couldn’t imagine living without? 


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