Advancing Philanthropy

Life Lessons/Professional Guidance: Let’s Be Honest. Are You and Your Team Set up for Fundraising Success?

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Assessing staff time allocation, portfolios, and metrics.

We all wish there were more hours in the day. Equipped with our carefully constructed  to-do list, we start each day with the best intention of checking items off the list so we can move projects and relationships forward. For example, a typical day might look something like this:

  • Call Carol Smith and set up a lunch meeting.
  • Facility tour with the Murdoch Foundation.
  • Write stewardship report for the Cooke family.
  • Send handwritten thank-you notes to this month’s major donors.
  • Produce the invitation list for upcoming major donor cultivation event.
  • Prepare proposal for a major donor solicitation next week.

This is a worthy list, but rarely do our days turn out the way we intend, especially when we sprinkle in administrative meetings, managing staff, answering emails and phone calls, and people popping into our office. On an average day you might get through 2–3 items on your list and then save the rest for the next day. But the next day turns out to be a repeat—another 2–3 items checked off the list and another day of meetings, emails, and management. You might start to ask yourself, “When is the fundraising supposed to happen?”

With the new year comes new opportunities—including the opportunity to make the coming year better than the last. One of the keys to succeeding at that is to make the most of your time. After all, the more efficient you are, the more things you can check off that to-do list. A great way to kick off the new year is to take a thorough look at how you are currently managing your time to see if there’s any room for improvement. In fact, why not make it a New Year’s resolution!

The purpose of this article is to empower you to assess your (and your staff’s) time and allocate it appropriately, allowing you to spend more time on what matters most. We want to show you how to design systems to help increase the amount of time you spend fundraising.

Assessing Your Time

Figure 1: Typical Time Allocation of Fundraising ProfessionalsIn reviewing time allocation studies with clients, The Alford Group has found a common distribution of how development professionals spend their time (see Figure 1). Of course, based on your role and organizational structure, your time might be allocated somewhat differently. (Tip: If you track your own time for a certain period—maybe a week or a month—you can build your own chart. You might be surprised by how much time is spent in these or similar categories.)

We have found that most revenue-generating positions spend between 40–55% of their time on fundraising activities not related to board or committee meetings and preparation. To put that in perspective, that’s only about 3 hours and 45 minutes spent on donor-facing activities in an 8-hour day.

With that in mind, let’s take another look at our original to-do list and estimate how much time it would take to complete each task:

  • Call Carol Smith and set up a lunch meeting.  (10 minutes)
  • Facility tour with the Murdoch Foundation. (1 hour)
  • Write stewardship report for the Cooke Family.  (1.5 hours)
  • Handwritten thank-you notes to this month’s major donors. (1 hour)
  • Produce the invitation list for upcoming major donor cultivation event. (1 hour)
  • Prepare proposal for a major donor solicitation next week. (1.5 hours)
  • Total time: 6 hours 10 minutes

No wonder we only accomplish a few items on our list—we’re trying to squeeze 6 hours of work into 3 hours and 45 minutes! This is not enough time to be successful in generating revenue or working a portfolio. In general, development staff with portfolios should spend 60–75% of their time on prospecting, donor engagement, and solicitation.

Protecting Your Time

If you want to increase time spent on donor-facing moves and engagement, you’ll need to automate processes and re-allocate your time away from administrative activities. Be your own vigilante when it comes to safeguarding the time that is earmarked for donors. Any and all gains should be put toward fundraising. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t let meetings run over the allotted time. Let everyone know at the onset that you and your team have a hard stop—and stick to it. This keeps people from taking too long on their agenda items.
  • Assess which meetings you and your staff attend. Review the agendas for upcoming meetings to see if a team member really needs to attend. If there is not any relevant information that will help you in your fundraising efforts, you might skip it and instead read the meeting minutes. Another option is to only attend the portion of the meeting that is relevant to fundraising.
  • Close your door—with a sticky note. If you are making calls or working on a donor proposal, close your door and let your colleagues know with a fun sticky note. Something like “I’m raising money!” or “I’m calling our major donors” will alert any social butterflies not to disturb you unless it is work-related or important.
  • Automate board and committee reporting. We commonly find clients spending 3–4 hours per month preparing 1–2 board or development committee reports—and they do this manually! Invest time in automating this process. If your donor database can’t produce the reports, export the data into a spreadsheet template with formulas that automatically calculate your totals and then convert the data into a visually appealing format.

Spending Your Time on What Matters Most

If you and your team can successfully spend 60–75% of your time on fundraising, you’ll want to invest those 5-6 hours each day on the right efforts and the right prospects. Critical steps include: 1) reviewing key performance indicators to ensure you are measuring the right activities; and 2) reviewing portfolios to make certain they are the appropriate size and composition.

Let’s start with metrics, mainly because fundraising professionals respond to them. They know their monetary goals, understand where they are tracking with those goals on any given day, and work all year to achieve them. Other metrics are also important in keeping development staff on track, but it is important to make sure they are the correct ones.

Choose metrics that encourage substantive connections with donors. Instead of asking staff to have 12 face-to-face meetings each month with no regard to who or why, ask them to have eight meaningful meetings that move donors toward solicitation. The last thing you want is the staff person who only held 10 meetings this month to quickly schedule two last-minute lunches with long-standing donors who have already been cultivated, solicited, and stewarded—just to meet the 12-meeting metric. The intention of those last-minute meetings is achieving a metric, not advancing the relationship. The right metrics make a big difference.

The composition and size of your portfolio are also critical for success. With your 5–6 hours each day, can you proactively manage the portfolio that is assigned to you? For many years, the rule of thumb was that fundraising professionals should manage 100-150 prospects. We’re now finding that smaller, targeted portfolios are more beneficial for the fundraiser’s time management and the donor’s experience with the organization. Because the portfolios are highly focused on the best prospects, revenue shouldn’t decrease. Portfolios in the range of 75–100 prospects allow fundraising professionals to craft unique cultivation and solicitation strategies and connect donors to their passions.

Our advice is to focus on prospects who are moving forward. If you find that some donors tend to live in cultivation and cannot be moved toward solicitation of a gift, they should be eliminated from the portfolio and managed through broader donor engagement. You only have so much time, so you have to be selective of your prospect pool.

We hope this article has inspired you to assess your time and focus it on what matters most. As with any type of analysis, you’ll want to start by collecting current and accurate data on how you spend your time. When you do, will the allocation look like it should for you and your team to best reach your fundraising goals? If not, maybe it’s time to make some changes.

Brenda B. Asare Brenda B. Asare is the president and CEO of The Alford Group. The Alford Group is a full-service consulting firm specializing in the nonprofit sector. Services include fundraising, strategic planning, governance, data analytics, interim staffing, corporate partnership strategy, and more. The Alford Group empowers organizations to reimagine what it means to make a difference by helping them aim higher, reach further, and dream bigger.

Mary HackettMary Hackett is the associate vice president of data analytics with The Alford Group. Mary operates Alford Analytics and Alford Diagnostics, providing deep insights into donors, trends and gaps in giving, fundraising programs, and infrastructure that inform organizational decision making. For more information visit

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