By Drew Fox Jordan • November 22, 2019

    Smaller Portfolios: Short Term Gains for Long-Term Sacrifice?

    Perhaps one of the most divisive trends in fundraising today is the shrinking portfolio. More and more organizations are slashing gift officer assignments by 30, even 60 percent. The rationale? If fundraisers have fewer prospects to manage, they’ll be able to provide each donor more attention, which means deeper cultivation and potentially larger gifts.

    For example, EAB wrote an article concluding “Bigger portfolios mean worse returns [for organizations].” It’s not shocking to see the numbers, however, the EAB report found the reason a smaller portfolio strategy is more successful is that it reduces the number of distractions placed in front of gift officers, thus enhancing the ability to focus.


    Why have we accepted a fundraiser’s distractedness as a reason to hold them responsible for less? Why don’t we seek solutions that drive focus rather than cull pipelines? And, are analytics dashboards, data visualization tools, and more data and reports a part of the problem?

    Let’s dive into the numbers at play in this smaller portfolio strategy. Most organizations employing the strategy shave a gift officer’s primary assignments to 50-60 donors, however, they still keep “prospect” or “discovery” pools for each fundraiser that usually range between 75-150 prospects. The expectation is that a gift officer won't focus the majority of their time on these prospects, but will do some discovery and cultivation throughout the year to ensure these rated, high capacity, high affinity (or however they might be classified) prospects receive some type of engagement from the gift officer.

    In reality, what’s happening is that the overall number of potential donors to manage hasn’t shrunk. What has changed is that the gift officer is only truly held accountable for the top 50 or so prospects that have been identified for them. Generally, the remainder of the pool lies dormant, a non-priority that’s mostly untouched while sitting in a nebulously assigned pool, getting no meaningful outreach.


    So what’s the long term effect of this strategy?

    If a primary pool includes 50 potential donors and the prospect or discovery pool is around 100, how is that any different from prospect portfolios of 150? The difference seems that we’re giving fundraisers an excuse to do less.

    While gift officers hyper-focus on a smaller pool of donors for larger gifts, what future gifts are being sacrificed because of the lack of discovery and cultivation of future major gift donors? Missing from the EAB report and other analyses of the smaller portfolio trend is exactly this– what are we losing in the long term for the short term gains?


    We don’t need smaller portfolios. And we don’t need discrete discovery pools.

    We need better ways for fundraisers to manage more prospects – meaningfully, today, for current and long-term major giving.

    What Action Can You Take?

    Instead of pointing the finger at unmanageable portfolio sizes, examine instead the time your fundraisers spend each day on the core aspects of their work. How much time is spent…

    1. Digging through data in spreadsheets, reports, and the database?
    2. Looking at data visualizations, interpreting analytics dashboards, and thinking about what to do next?
    3. Doing cold outreach to “discovery” or unassigned prospects?
    4. On the phone and in meetings with their assigned prospects?

    If you find that the majority of their time is spent in numbers 1 and 2, your issue isn’t portfolio size. The issue is how your fundraisers spend their time.

    Learn how organizations like VIA Public Media maintain large fundraiser portfolios along with qualification and prospecting work with fundraiser enablement, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), here.

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