Development officers shifting back to a “new normal”

Development officers shifting back to a new normal

Yeah, we’re not back to normal yet. But as individual states start to re-open their economies, the advancement economy is starting to re-open, too. We talked with David Cortes, AVP for Development at Baylor University about how their team of major gift officers is getting back to a new version of normal.

David covered a lot of ground in our conversation and there were plenty of great takeaways. Here are the highlights (and we’ll give you a link to jump to each point in the video).

Use emergency fundraising as a catalyst for portfolio turnover

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The Baylor team looked at prospects who had been in portfolios for a couple of years without movement. These prospects had been visited during that timeframe but hadn’t yet made a major gift or any type of gift.  

David’s team asked this segment in their portfolios for gifts to the President’s Excellence Fund, which Baylor is using to directly support students with needs arising to COVID-19. 

If the donor responded with a gift, then the fundraiser will keep building that relationship. But if the prospect didn’t respond, then Baylor will take it as a sign that person may need to move out of the officer’s portfolio.

Gift conversations are starting to get back to normal 

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Every day, the world inches back toward “normal”. With Baylor’s fiscal year concluding in May, there’s a built-in opportunity to revisit past gift conversations. 

Their gift officers are starting to get back to the practice of qualifying prospects and revisiting gift conversations with donors they started pre-COVID-19. Since the team has been really active since the start of the crisis, some of these conversations have already come up organically. 

Looking to FY21: Same goals and metrics, but new ways to get there

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As David and the rest of Baylor’s leadership plans for the year ahead, they’re looking closely at setting goals. The team plans to keep the same activity and financial goals for the next fiscal year. But they’ve built in flexibility into their plan, knowing that giving will likely be down in the first quarter.

And for the first time, Baylor will count virtual visits toward each fundraiser’s goal of 180 meetings for the year. They’re looking at allowing a range of anywhere from 20-40% of visits to turn into video chats — not as a “crutch” for gift officers to avoid in-person meetings, but to expand connections with prospects who live in far-flung areas, places where travel is still restricted, or to get a dean involved in more gift conversations.

50 meaningful conversations a week

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At the start of the crisis, Baylor asked each of their development officers to have 50 meaningful conversations a week. They emphasized phone and video calls over email and asked his development officers to purposefully check in with every prospect in their portfolios.

That’s a ton of activity — much higher than a typical gift officer does in a typical week — but the right tools, insights, and dedication make it possible.


Continue sharing stories

We really liked two other things David talked about.

Baylor emphasized sharing stories to support fundraising for the President’s Excellence Fund. Since students submitted applications for assistance, Baylor could anonymize those stories and show donors exactly how their gifts were being used.

He also mentioned that one gift officer, Josh Lassiter (who shared strategy for other regional gift officers in a recent webinar), was hosting campus speakers for short video interviews. He talked with people in areas such as admissions, student life, alumni engagement, and parent engagement, then shared the recordings with his prospects, helping them get an insider’s view of everything happening in Waco, Texas.

Looking for more?

We talked about re-opening the advancement economy with three leaders from the University of Virginia and talked to UConn Health for tips for frontline fundraisers asking for health sciences gifts for the first time.

Here are all the resources we’ve gathered for fundraising and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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