Productivity Hacks for Gift Officers

Gift officers wrestle with productivity, time management, and maximizing their efficiencies. How can we get more out of our time-strapped days, and, most importantly, make the best use of time with prospective donors?

Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours in day (and, no, cloning yourself isn’t a viable option yet). For far healthier alternatives, try the following hacks to do more with your time.

Follow The Rule of 3

Whether setting your meeting agenda, talking about aspects of your organization’s work, or assembling giving opportunities for a donor, try presenting your ideas in threes to make them more memorable and persuasive to your audience.


Here’s why: In cognitive psychology, Cognitive Load Theory is a concept that refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. It argues that the more information a person has to learn in a shorter period of time, the more difficult it is to process that information.

Donors who are new to philanthropy, or new to giving with your organization, are often unsure about how to respond to a gift officer’s questions. It’s especially key to build trust with a donor in these early stages of the relationship. Inundating them with too much information can overwhelm them, sour the relationship, and decrease the likelihood of their making a gift.

“Offering a short list of relevant examples, stories, or ideas can create a sense of comfort with donors,” recommends Plus Delta Partners, a firm that specializes in working with fundraising organizations to generate growth. “It helps guide donors into a more thoughtful and honest conversation… and can even help him or her visualize themselves participating with your organization in a way they may have never imagined.”

Another reason The Rule of 3 is so useful for gift officers is that it helps make your donor meeting preparation more concise and efficient. Time and time again, it has forced me to eliminate agenda items or topics irrelevant to the donor’s interests—which in turn reduces the number of items to study and the amount of time spent doing so.

“Playback” the Meeting to Your Donors

The decision-making process varies from donor to donor. Towards the end of each meeting, try recounting aloud the most salient points from your conversation. This will ensure that you’re steering your next interaction towards its appropriate outcome.

“This provides clear opportunities for donors to clarify or correct their interests, which, in turn, gives you and them the accurate information needed to decide upon how to best move forward,” according to Plus Delta Partners.

Much like The Rule of 3, this useful framework has helped me carry out an honest dialogue with prospective donors and, in some cases, reduced the amount of moves needed to secure a gift. It’s also helped me build credibility and trust with donors by demonstrating that I’m actively listening to them and keeping their best interests in mind. Plus, the “playback” makes it easier to recall details of my donor meetings at a later date.

In one instance, this tactic helped me redirect a prospective donor to an annual giving colleague. Upon hearing my “playback” of our meeting, it became clear to the prospect that he really wasn’t ready to make a major gift—thus freeing up my time to spend with other prospects who might be ready. In another case, this method helped a donor clarify the giving range that he was willing to consider, making it easier to identify giving opportunities that best suited him.

Prioritize Outreach by Your Donor’s Past Giving and Online Engagement

Having trouble deciding which prospect on your list to contact first? Feeling overwhelmed with how to best prioritize your portfolio for identification or qualification? Start by looking at your prospects’ giving history and their online activity with your organization.

Earlier in my career, I managed an annual giving program where leadership-level donors could affix personal inscriptions to chairs in one of our campus’ amphitheaters. Prospects received three touchpoints:

  • An email about the program offering a virtual tour of the amphitheater
  • A print brochure with a personalized letter from a classmate encouraging them to contact me to participate or learn more
  • A personal phone call from me

So how did I prioritize my phone calls? Using my own grading system based on the prospect’s past behavior. For example, prospects earned a point for being a LYBUNT, opening my initial email, or clicking on the email’s virtual tour link. I sorted the prospects from most behavioral points to least to create my priority groups.


In the end, this strategy helped me personally secure 33 out of 51 amphitheater chairs, resulting in $330,000 in unrestricted funds. “Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior,” my graduate marketing professor once said. Chances are, the same holds true for the prospective donors in your portfolio.

To hack into new levels of productivity, try experimenting with these tips as well your own to see what works best for you.

Patrick’s got a lot of other prospecting tricks up his sleeve—check out his last post here.   

Patrick Rooney has worked in development for more than a decade, supporting organizations such as Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, and, most recently, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. He lives in Boston with his wife, Nicole, and their two children, worships the Red Sox, and is obsessed with the classic movie Jaws. Send your questions, comments, and story ideas to him via LinkedIn or

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