The Chutes and Ladders of Qualification

When we think about a successful gift officer, many of us think of someone who puts together strong donor strategies or compelling solicitations. We commonly overlook the most foundational, ongoing work of productive gift officers everywhere: prospect qualification.

In a recent training, I shared the idea that qualification work has a lot in common with the game many of us spent countless hours playing as kids (or as adults with children): Chutes and Ladders. The game has ups and downs, rewards and consequences. It can feel like you’re soaring at one moment then falling behind the next. Doesn’t that sound exactly like qualification?

It’s challenging to engage new prospects! We must implement persistent, thoughtful, varied outreaches to prospective donors … and many of them will never respond, while another subset will be open to engagement but be disqualified as having strong donor potential.

At the same time, this is the only way to build and maintain an active, productive portfolio and create more philanthropic impact for our institutions. It’s the source of countless new, mutually fulfilling relationships and acts of generosity. And, it’s necessary to our success as gift officers.

As we undertake this essential activity, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of the lessons of Chutes and Ladders that can help motivate and inform our approach:

  • The route to success is varied, reflecting our need to vary our messaging and outreach vehicles, from phone and email to LinkedIn and more.
  • We will absolutely have setbacks and make mistakes. But that setback may line us up for the next success perfectly.
  • Sometimes things will move quickly and sometimes they’ll move slowly; but every step is required to get to our destination.
  • Some opportunities come to us by surprise, but we still have to play the game by putting in the work before we can find them.
  • It’s essential to not give up. Even when we feel like we’re not making progress, we are just getting closer to the next big leap forward.
  • And finally, never steal prospects. Always coordinate with the prospect manager, because a coordinated, transparent approach is always best for the prospect, the institution and the reputation of the gift officer. The other approach is a long chute back to the beginning!

What analogies do you use to help motivate you through this critical work?

Qualifying is hard. Here’s how to make it happen.

Qualification: it’s perhaps the least favorite responsibility of a fundraiser. No one can argue the importance of qualifying new prospective donors; without it, our pipelines shrink and our fundraising becomes unsustainable. But that doesn’t make it any less intimidating.

That’s why leadership support for prospect qualification is essential. Leaders who reduce barriers and reward activity will, without fail, see stronger, sustained results.

Could any of these examples be adapted for your shop?

  • The University of Denver has completed two “Qualification Sprint Campaigns” based on the KDD Philanthropy qualifications training. These campaigns last five weeks, and each fundraiser is given a list for discovery/greater frequency of outreach with a goal of qualifying/disqualifying. Every touch point counts as a success, and their last campaign resulted in: 196 qualified prospects, 165 qualification meetings, and 2,088 qualification outreaches!
  • Another client has implemented “10–2 Tuesdays,” where all frontline staff make calls, share wins, and brainstorm challenges. This shared and ongoing effort has led to a significant increase in qualification activity.
  • In January, Case Western Reserve implemented a qualification protocol for 25 prospects at a time. They took the KDDP recommended 11 step process, and massaged to match their program needs. Early indicators are showing that the increased rigor is supporting stronger qualification results.
  • Another higher education client conducted an alumni survey — and realized that they needed to carry this effort further than just skimming responses for capacity indicators. Instead, they divvied the surveys and had team members call each respondent to engage in an authentic conversation, learning more about each alum and how they’d like to be engaged moving forward.

Each of these strategies has a few critical elements in common:

  1. They reward the effort. Qualifying new prospects is deeply important, but also high-effort for longer-term results. By creating strategies that reward fundraisers for doing the work, leaders remove a significant hurdle.
  2. They create rigor. By developing time-limited, high-volume campaigns, leaders set the pace for a focused, high-activity approach.
  3. They are relationship-focused. Fundraisers are contacting donors to get to know them, to understand their interests, to meet them where they are. This is the only approach that works.

By creating these three elements, you not only uncover newly qualified prospects — you also create a stronger culture of qualification that will continue to yield results. What steps can you take today to bring these three elements together at your shop?

If additional training and tools can help you polish your qualification tools, join us for the next two KDD Philanthropy qualification webinars in May and June!  And, if you want session one of the qualification webinar, you can purchase the recording, deck and exercise.