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The Purple Dress of Development by Guest Blogger Sarah Richards

May 15, 2019 8:09 AM | Anonymous

In 2015 a photo of a dress went viral when viewers disagreed on whether the dress was black and blue or white and gold. The phenomenon showcased the difference in human color perception. Yes, a difference of perception. Views of the dress were not right or wrong, they simply had different perceptions. Sound familiar? Let’s put this in the perspective of development. A Prospect Development professional and a Development Officer have a meeting. The Prospect Development professional thinks a donor should be asked to support the cause with a $1,000,000.00 gift. But, the Development Officer thinks the same donor should be asked to make a gift of $500,000.00 to further the mission. They are talking about the same donor, so why do they come up with different gift suggestions? Similar, to the color of the dress, the Prospect Development professional and the Development Officer have different perceptions.

The common perception differences between Prospect Development Professionals and Development Officers led a team of Prospect Development Professionals in Ohio to conduct a survey to look deeper into these different perceptions. The individuals who conducted this survey were connected through a common Prospect Development group called OPRN (Ohio Prospect Research Network). The survey was led by Sarah Richards from The Dynamic Catholic Institute, Jane Owsley from The University of Cincinnati Foundation, Kimberly Rodstrom from Kent State University with special thanks to Becky Fullmer from the University of Cincinnati Foundation. These four women came from various different organizations and backgrounds which helped to look at the survey and the data from various viewpoints.

145 people participated in the survey. 71% of respondents were Prospect Development Professionals and 29% were Development Officers. Overall, respondents were most likely to be female prospect development professionals having been in their career 10+ years and working for urban organizations in higher education located in Ohio. However, overall respondents still had a good varied background of individuals, locations and organizations represented.

Overall both Development Officers and Prospect Development Professionals said that prior giving was the most important factor considered when deciding the size of a gift to ask a donor to make. Followed by affinity to the organization and then hard assets. However, the order of those three factors varied when broken down by organization type, male vs. female and Development Officers vs. Prospect Development Professionals.

But everyone is different in the way they view different factors in determining a donor’s ask amount. Thus, it is still helpful for Prospect Development Professionals to know what indicators are most important to a Development Officer so they can provide leverage when Prospect Development Professionals share information about a prospect. For example, if a particular Development Officer values and rates a prospect higher based on hard assets, highlight a prospect's hard assets in the meeting.

In the survey, communication style and preferences were also evaluated. For both Development Officers and Prospect Development Professionals, in-person strategy sessions were the most preferred way to share information when determining a prospect ask amount.  However, when looking at the second prefered style of communication, Development Officer’s preferred email and Prospect Development Professionals prefer notes in the database. Looking at the different ways both perform their jobs, this makes sense. Development Officers are often on the road meeting with donors and it is easier for them to communicate by email. Similarly, Prospect Development Professionals spend most of their time in the database.

Overall, affinity to an organization, especially prior giving, was the leading factor considered when determining the ask amount, above identified capacity. But everyone is different and it is important to highlight the factors that are valued most by the specific individual. Additionally,  in-person strategy sessions were the most preferred way to share information when determining a prospect ask amount. But if those cannot take place, Development Officers prefer to receive information by email and Prospect Development Professionals prefer to share information by entering it in the database. The insight found through this survey is interesting but it is important to open a conversation in your office to determine what factors and communication styles works best for the individuals on your team because black and blue or white and gold it is still a beautiful dress.

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