The fundamental pillars of all successful fundraising efforts include a compelling case, strong governance, a comprehensive plan, and a robust pipeline. But what happens when you’ve worked your way through your pipeline and still need new ways to uncover prospects? The easiest connections to make are the ones that already exist! Leveraging your existing relationships to reinvigorate your prospect pipeline can be a game changer.

“We Need to Find New Donors!”

If only you had $1 for every time you heard that sentence…you wouldn’t need new donors! Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Building and refreshing the prospect pipeline requires constant activity and attention. With thoughtful and deliberate collaboration, there are several ways to expand your pipeline. Often it’s as simple as starting with your relationship capital—who you know or who your board knows.

A prospect list review session, sometimes referred to as relationship mapping, is a common practice among nonprofits. It is an effective and efficient method to enhance your pipeline. Pretend that each of your board members are one of the many spokes of a wheel; they branch out from the middle and serve as connectors between the center and the outer rim. But who are they connecting to the center of the wheel?

With some strategic planning and forethought, you can leverage the contacts and networks of your board, and develop paths to individuals that can make a difference for your organization.

Implementing the Strategy

A New York City performing arts organization was struggling to identify new prospects, and their prominent and well-connected board members constantly offered to make introductions to their networks. To capitalize on these offers of introduction, CCS assisted the organization in developing a strategic plan to engage individual board members, leverage their networks, and uncover new prospects.  

Six weeks in advance of the following Board meeting, the organization’s development team compiled a list of every peer nonprofit board where a member of their own board also held a seat. From this group of 30+ organizations, a streamlined list was compiled that noted the name and title of every other board member of the peer organizations. In total, more than 500 names were presented. The lists were compiled into a booklet to be distributed at the upcoming Board meeting.

During the list review section of the Board meeting, each member received their own booklet. CCS and the Head of Development teamed up and led the Board through the process of reviewing the names on each page. Board members were asked to indicate the people with whom they would be willing to facilitate an introduction by checking a box next to each name. Development staff were also in attendance to help capture information—ensuring that all connections were noted. At the end of the meeting, the booklets were collected.  

Following the meeting, development staff collated the lists and created individual profiles for each identified connection, noting corporate information, philanthropic interests and history. One-on-one meetings were then scheduled with board members, where strategies for engagement and cultivation of the new prospects were developed.  For example, one board member noted their interest in making a connection to eight new prospects. For each of these eight prospects, detailed cultivation plans were developed, including an invitation to an upcoming musical performance and a private tour of the facilities where a meet-and-greet would take place backstage. For other prospects, cultivation plans included an introductory breakfast for the prospect to meet the senior leadership and opportunities to learn more about educational events at the organization.

Though this process required extensive time and effort from the development team as well as the commitment and support from the Board, it resulted in more than 80 new identified connections. Of the 80+ connections, more than half were invited to a general cultivation event and tailored engagement plans were developed for the remainder.  Board members felt they had provided an invaluable resource and it helped deepen the working relationship between the Board and the development team.

Key Takeaways

Regular prospecting and list review sessions should be built into the daily culture of your organization.

  1. Engage Board members, early and often, in deliberate conversations about potential prospects within their networks and circles.
  2. Ask your Board to facilitate introductions. This is an effective way to mitigate potential hesitancy around not wanting to “ask friends for money.”
  3. Create a regular calendar of list review sessions for each board meeting. Provide board members with relevant and targeted lists. Prospect lists for review can include peer nonprofit boards, for-profit and corporate boards, foundation boards, university alumni, and aspirational donors.

CCS Fundraising is a strategic consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.

About the Author

Leigh Taublib-Kiriat has more than a decade of experience working with and within nonprofit organizations across various sectors. She specializes in strategic development planning, capital and endowment campaign design and management, board of director growth strategy, major gift fundraising, and advancement office management. As a Vice President at CCS, Leigh provides counsel and expertise to leading nonprofit institutions in the healthcare, academic, religious, and cultural arenas, where she partners with clients to set ambitious goals and achieve impactful results.