Building a Gift Officer Portfolio from Scratch

We talked with Anna Schlia, director of advancement for the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music about building a portfolio from scratch. Anna’s been at Eastman for three years and now carries 150 active prospects, but she started with none.

How’d she get to full capacity?


Anna dug into the interests and affinities of Eastman School alumni, but also looked for University of Rochester graduates who had a current interest in music or may have spent time in the music school while they were on campus. She’s constantly mining social data, giving history, past contact reports, and more.

“Fundraising is skill-based, it’s knowledge-based, but there’s a little bit of an art to it, and then there’s also a little bit of magic to what we do.” — Anna Schlia

Anna’s top three tips for portfolio-building

1) Start with social engagement to discover affinity and interest levels

Anna looks at how U of R alumni interact with Facebook content around the arts. Are they actively following the Eastman School of Music page? Do they comment or like posts about music?

She uses EverTrue to track those interactions. Facebook engagement helps paint a picture of who each donor is today and what they care about. It’s helping Anna grow and manage her portfolio.

“I really like Facebook engagement with no prior giving,” says Anna. “I like that search a lot, just because it does the affinity and the level of interest dig for you. ”

“It’s not always as simple as, ‘Oh the degree program they graduated from, that’s going to be their interest.’ We all go in with blinders of, ‘This is who they were when they were 18, so this is going to be what they want to fund when they’re 55.’ We can’t assume that they’re the same person.”

Anna also keeps an active Facebook profile just for her work at Eastman, interacting with alumni who send her friend requests. It’s a natural way for Anna—a musician and a self-described “band nerd”—to connect with donors and potential prospects.

“I recently connected with a woman to see if she wanted to be part of an upcoming grant challenge. We’re friends on Facebook and I saw that she’s in Thailand with her orchestra. I was able to say, ‘Hey, hope your travels are going well. Your pictures are fantastic. I want to share this project we have going on with you.’ A personalized touch point makes the relationship even stronger.”

LinkedIn searches also reveal potential affinities for music, whether it’s a job-related role or volunteer experience with local arts and music organizations.

“I had a great meeting with a woman who is a VP at Sony Music, and she would never have been on our radar because she’s a graduate of the University of Rochester,” said Anna. “But it turns out that she loves Eastman. She was over here all the time when she was an undergraduate and took voice lessons. That’s data we do not have. She’s now in our fold.”

2) Don’t ignore giving history

Early participation in the annual fund is a good indicator of a future major donor and even modest giving on a regular basis increases the likelihood of a planned gift. A donation, no matter its size, reflects belief in the institution’s mission.

“Never underestimate giving history,” Anna says. “I think it’s so easy to be distracted or impressed by wealth indicators that we often overlook the folks that have 25 years of giving to the annual fund.”

“Fundraising is skill-based, it’s knowledge-based, but there’s a little bit of an art to it, and then there’s also a little bit of magic to what we do. It’s fun to come across those folks that might have a loose relationship with your institution, but you’ve got to remind yourself that your next gift is probably going to come from somebody who’s given to your organization before.”

3) Tap into keywords to mine historic contact reports

With an upcoming event celebrating a former faculty member, Anna and the Eastman School team wanted to bring in graduates and donors who had a relationship with the professor. They searched for his name in EverTrue to find anyone who had mentioned him to a gift officer and quickly compiled a list of invitees.

“A decent contact report along with that keyword search really tells us what was going on with the donor years ago before our time,” Anna said. “We were able to find all the folks who had mentioned this professor’s name and they were all positive. We invited that group back to campus… We’ve got some great folks coming to the concert and we were able to identify the right people at the right time.

Are you a gift officer building a portfolio? Try out Anna’s searches:

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