At the heart of fundraising are our donors. Thus, the most fundamental component of a successful development effort is having a broad pool of prospective donors and prioritizing your limited resources to focus on the right donors, at the right time, for the right amount.

Developing new prospects and expanding your donor pipeline can be accomplished with a three-stage process we call raising your organization’s “donor IQs”: identifying (I) prospects for your pipeline, qualifying (Q) them, and ultimately segmenting (S) them to determine how to engage them.

I – Identifying Prospects

We can group our prospects into three distinct buckets. This is useful for prioritizing individuals in order to qualify and segment them appropriately.

  • Prospects: Existing and lapsed donors
  • Suspects: Individuals who have a connection to your organization, but have yet to give
  • Unknown Prospects: Individuals who are not yet affiliated with your organization

Q – Qualifying Prospects (The Three A’s)

Ask yourself the following questions when attempting to determine the quality of a potential prospect.

  1. Does this individual have the ability to give?
  2. Does this individual have affinity towards my organization?
  3. Do I have access to this individual?

To answer these questions, think about the following in terms of your prospect:

  • Ability: Affluent address(es), wealthy lifestyle, corporate executive or business owner
  • Affinity: Giving history to your organization or a similar one, or a direct connection to your organization because the individual is a patron, student, alum, patient, parishioner, etc.
  • Access: Connection to the prospect via professional networks, local communities, alumni organizations, religious affiliations, philanthropic activities, interest groups, family or friends

Prospects with all three factors – ability, affinity, and access – are the most likely to make a gift at the leadership level to your organization.

With this in mind, there are some groups of people who naturally do not make great prospects at this time in their lives. For example, CEOs that are young and new to the position are still early in their careers and probably do not have the ability to be a major donor. Additionally, when people are overcommitted philanthropically, they may not prioritize your organization in their giving choices. Lastly, celebrities may seem like a good choice, but are approached by a range of organizations and are unlikely to choose yours. It is important that we spend our time on prospects that have the greatest propensity for supporting your organization at a major gift level.

S – Segmenting and Tracking Prospects

Segmenting and tracking prospects is the foundation for managing the donor base. When done well, it drives a multitude of positive results, such as refreshing the prospect pool, focusing our efforts on the right prospects, controlling the process, and building excitement around our organization. The first step in tracking prospects is building the donor pipeline. The pipeline will serve as your tool for generating the donor lists for cultivation. We recommend including the following data points in the pipeline:

  • Name
  • Solicitation status (Ask, Brief, Cultivate)
  • Target ask and project
  • Key relationships
  • Affiliations
  • Strategy
  • Next steps

Other pieces of information may be useful, such as residence and contact information, organizational giving history, pledge payment status, charitable affiliations and other major gifts. Of course, the additional information should be tailored to your specific organization or sector.

The donors in the pipeline should be segmented into three main buckets:

  • High: Top 25 list; Leadership/strategic solicitations; “Players on the field”
  • Medium: Next 50 list; “Players on the bench”
  • Low: Unlimited number; Long-range list; “The farm team”

The pipeline is your best way to manage a large pool of prospects. When used well, it can be a powerful tool for understanding your donors and helping the staff to engage them in a meaningful way. It is a fluid, ever-changing document that is constantly being updated and added to. Managing prospects can be an exciting endeavor as you reconnect with lapsed donors, engage existing donors on a higher level, or find new donors with affinity for your organization.

Interested in Learning More?

Check out these articles to learn more about prioritizing your donor pipeline and building relationships with your prospects:

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About the Author

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. As leading consulting experts in campaign and development strategy, we plan and implement fundraising initiatives to help nonprofit organizations make a bigger impact—locally, nationally, and globally. For over 70 years, CCS has empowered many of the world’s greatest organizations to advance some of the most important causes in history. While the results of our work are immediate, the impact of the strategies, tools, and tactics we develop with our clients are enduring.