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?

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