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Why The Donor Engagement Process (DEP) Works

Management Series


Like many fundraisers, I learned fundraising in real-time,  doing work about which I was passionate and learning from mentors. And,  like many fundraisers, there were moments in my career when I made mistakes. These mistakes cost donors time and they cost the organization extra money.

In particular, I recall working with a prospect whom we’ll call Peter, who was very open to meeting and discussing his interests and his passion for the organization for which I worked. While I regularly reminded Peter that his wife was welcome to join our meetings, she never joined Peter and me as we discussed philanthropic opportunities and what mattered most to Peter.

After several meetings, over a year-long period, Peter seemed enthusiastic about a project and I asked Peter if he’d be open to receiving a proposal that outlined what we’d discussed.  My assumption was that he could then determine if he wanted to make a gift. It was at that moment that I realized my mistake. Peter exclaimed, “Sandy, I don’t make the decisions on how we spend our money! My wife manages our finances and takes care of everything we do with our money.” Clearly, I missed an important piece of Peter’s story . . . and one I should have learned in the early stages of Peter’s and my relationship. But, I’d learned that Peter had financial capacity and an interest in our organization . . . so I thought it was enough to ask for a gift.

My story is one that, unfortunately, isn’t unique. Managers with whom we partner frequently share the challenge of working with their direct reports to assess and diagnose “stuck” situations with prospects and donors, lingering situations where a seemingly enthusiastic prospect suddenly stops returning a gift officer’s calls and emails, and gifts that close much below the amount that the gift officer projected. Without x-ray vision, how can a manager see inside a gift officer’s work and provide guidance?

Managers who have worked with Plus Delta Partners do, in fact, have a way to see within a gift officer’s work. Similar to moves management, but with specific objectives, questions and outputs defined at each stage, the Donor Engagement Process (DEP™) provides a diagnostic tool to help identify skill gaps within a gift officer’s work and a road map to assist the manager with building talent over time.

Much like a doctor may require an X-ray in order to see what’s happening on the inside of the body to provide a thorough diagnosis of a patient, the DEP can be a fundraising diagnostic tool to help managers assess the health of fundraisers’ work and their portfolios.

Applying the discipline inherent in the DEP is, in fact, just like holding up an X-ray machine to the fundraiser’s process, providing a clear picture of what may not otherwise be clear, even to the fundraiser:

  • What’s really unfolding in the fundraiser’s donor meetings?
  • Where might the fundraiser’s process be going awry?
  • Where can we apply some sort of “treatment” (tools, training, or skill building excercises) to get things back on track?

By orienting themselves within the framework of the DEP, and by discussing appropriate objectives, questions, and outputs with gift officers, managers are able to assess the effectiveness of a fundraiser’s donor meetings and provide feedback to realign the fundraiser who may be going off course or teetering on the edge of the “friend-zone.” Additionally, the questions embedded in the DEP help fundraisers and managers recognize the difference between what the gift officers think they heard vs. what they actually heard from their prospect.

Much like a doctor, as a part of the diagnostic process, managers have the opportunity to help gift officers navigate their work with prospects and donors by prompting discussion through questions:

  • How was your meeting able to help your prospect explore what they may wish to accomplish with their philanthropy?
  • What did you learn about your prospect (that you didn’t know before your meeting)?
  • Where is the prospect in the decision-making process?
  • Based on what you know and still don’t know, what do you suggest are the appropriate next steps?

Had my supervisor and I had access to a tool like the DEP, in the days when I was working with my prospect Peter, I can’t help but believe that she and I would have been able to recognize my mistake earlier in the relationship.  Perhaps that recognition would have led me to be more direct in recommending that Peter’s wife participate in our discussions.  And maybe, just maybe, I would have gotten a more positive response when I asked for the gift.

Understanding how (and if!) a fundraiser is effectively assisting their prospect through the decision-making process can help managers diagnose if a fundraiser is facilitating effective meetings and asking the right questions at the right time.

Like the follow up visit to the doctor, where the updated X-ray shows a healed and healthy bone, fundraising managers are able to use the DEP to assess the shifts in the effectiveness of their fundraiser’s process and its compounding effect. With a fundraiser’s heightened awareness of their structured fundraising process, the fundraiser gains confidence, dexterity, and productivity in their work. This fundraiser has more effective conversations with their prospects, leading to impact-driven gifts. Impact-driven gifts lead to happier donors. And happier donors are more likely to give again.

While we don’t all have X-ray vision, as managers, we do have the opportunity to help fundraisers see their work—and their path—more clearly. And, as managers use the DEP to assess, diagnose, and apply treatments to help fundraisers get back on track, prospects and donors will have a healthier and happier philanthropic experience.

Here’s to healthy fundraising.

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