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A Gift Frequency to Area Report Can Locate Your Most Loyal Donors

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By Christopher Hubert, Assistant Director of Prospect Development, University of Virginia

It’s funny how the right question, asked at the right time, can lead to some amazing changes in how you produce research for your colleagues. In my case, it was the director of our planned giving department, Jason Chestnutt, asking me, “Is there a way to determine whether prospects have been giving to our institution for 15 years?”

As it turned out, his question was the catalyst to move forward with a question I had been stuck on for quite a while: how best to capture our repeat donors? I certainly had been to enough presentations and conferences to know that these prospects, which can be overlooked by advancement officers, are often precisely the donors who are looking to make life-changing gifts. (Source: The Supporter Journey) Jason, as it turns out, recently attended a prospect research seminar by Sarah Tedesco from DonorSearch, where he learned that… 15 years of giving is a good indicator of a major gift prospect, and a fantastic indicator of a planned giving prospect. We were both recently promoted to management positions within our offices, and as I was thinking of ways to reach out to planned giving in order to widen our prospect pool, he was interested in reaching out to prospect development as a creative solutions provider.

So armed with a new sense of direction and a strategic partner, I approached one of our senior analysts, John Gulino, with an issue I had grappled with for weeks. He returned with a report in literally about thirty minutes. (This is also a good point to remind you that even if you are not necessary adept at creating such reports, hopefully you can leverage the skills of your colleagues!) That report for Jason became our “Gift Frequency to Area” report, which has become a tool that is employed by our staff, as well as available to everyone in our advancement community. Essentially, it’s a simple form where you can fill in the phrase “___ of years giving within the past ___ years,” which then produces a list of prospects that reflect the giving pattern entered. Users also have the option to include giving to a specific unit, as well as specifying assigned and unassigned prospects.

I usually turn to this report when I am farming our database for potential proactive rating reviews. I look at the top ten percent in terms of total giving to area and make sure their capacity rating reflects their giving to the University. I also see if that prospect is a member of our planned giving society, and if that prospect has been visited by a gift officer within the last year. If a prospect has no rating or an outdated one, I check that prospect’s propensity score (an in-house developed metric that measures the prospect’s likelihood to make a major gift within the next three years) and determine whether that prospect should receive a proactive capacity rating review. Whenever I meet with a gift officer to discuss ways to identify and cultivate new prospects, I’ll bring various reports depending on previous conversations, but I always include the Gift Frequency to Area report to determine if that unit’s most loyal donors have been approached by a gift officer. On more than one occasion, merely looking at the list has jogged a gift officer’s memory and resulted in new strategies.

For such a simple report, the information provided can be invaluable. One of my favorite parts about the report is that it allows prospect development to effortlessly expand the scope of our prospect pool. While I may examine the top 15 or 20 prospects for major gift capacity, there have been occasions where a query has resulted in 150-200 prospects who have given to our university for 15 years. Everyone on that list is a potential candidate for a leadership annual fund gift or planned gift. For those of you who are often concerned that outreach efforts to gift officers are not effective, a report like this can be an excellent way to illustrate the power of prospect research. You’re not simply providing a gift officer with information, the report itself is a wonderful marketing tool and opportunity for a gift officer to initiate meaningful contact with a donor who has already self-identified as having a strong relationship with your institution. Of course, if your institution already records repeated gifts and has membership clubs for repeated annual givers, then your gift officer has further incentive to develop and cultivate a relationship that can result in a legacy gift.

And by the way, these prospects have supported your mission for at least 15 years; if nothing else, don’t they at least deserve a thank-you? If we are truly being donor-centric, it may fall upon us to assert to our colleagues to explore these prospects, especially if they are being ignored in favor of less-connected major gift prospects. With so many institutions competing for philanthropic dollars, fundraising shops need to be vigilant about maintaining relationships with the donors that truly feel a connection with their institutions. For these prospects, the $25 gift might have more meaning than some donors’ major gifts. But as any researcher can tell you, the data cannot tell the whole story. A diligent gift officer, however, can hear that story and provide that donor with the opportunity to make a significant legacy gift.

If you do not have a report like this in your current arsenal, why not try this to remind your advancement team of the need to cultivate all tiers of prospects and to solicit legacy gifts? By using this report, you serve the gift officer, the mission of your institution, and most importantly, the donors who are searching for an opportunity to define their philanthropic legacy.

This article covers a portion of the material I explored with Jason Chestnutt in a breakout session of this year’s APRA Conference, “Strategic Partnerships with Gift Planning.” If you’re interested in learning more about this report, as well as other directions our office has taken as a result from working closely with our colleagues in gift planning, the session is now available on APRA’s Conference On-Demand page (fee may be required).

(Thanks to Laura Phillips for her feedback and assistance!)


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. LYNN #

    Great read !

    October 22, 2014
  2. Gil this is SO true ! I have followed this type of lead many times. Finding that juxtaposition between long term consistent donors and wealth/philanthropy is a happy thing!

    October 22, 2014
  3. We will be creating our own “gift frequency to area” report soon! Thanks for posting this helpful article.

    October 29, 2014
  4. Great article Chris! Thanks for sharing.

    Pam Lewis, George Mason University

    October 29, 2014

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