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Identification and research

Prospects are either contacts you want to turn into donors or existing donors who you want to give again.

Effective prospect management is the backbone of successful fundraising. It is the creation and management of an information tracking system (sometimes called a ‘moves management’ or ‘donor tracking’ system) to chart the progress of prospects through the continuous fundraising cycle of identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.

A well-organised prospect management system benefits everyone – fundraisers, donors, prospects and beneficiaries – as it provides a framework of operation that ensures the fundraising effort is efficient, as dictable as possible and accountable.

Whilst prospect management applies to any fundraising situation, it is generally used for the management of major gifts/priority prospects (where an individualized strategy is appropriate) or for a specific campaign.

Many prospect managements systems are fully integrated into the contact database, especially where a sophisticated, multifunctional, multi-user database is in place – an ideal situation, as information is all in one place.

However, prospect management systems are ‘living’ documents. Therefore, even prospect management systems that operate apart from the database (e.g., on spreadsheets) must eventually have a way of feeding critical content back into the central contact database in order to create a permanent, comprehensive institutional record for each prospect.

How to do prospect management

The basic data about prospects and their pre-existing (if any) relationship to the institution is split into groups according to an agreed set of criteria (sector, age, nature of relationship to institution, area of interests, etc.) and assigned to a fundraiser.

The fundraiser manages these prospects through the database or exports the information held about them into a standalone system (e.g., spreadsheet). The fundraiser then has responsibility for moving the prospect through the fundraising cycle. This might involve:

  • Research: Key information about each prospect such as giving history and priority giving areas.
  • Analysis: Assigning ‘ratings’ to a prospect in accordance to key criteria, such as capacity to give, inclination to give, strength of affinity to the institution, readiness to give and predicted level of giving (target ask).
  • Solicitation strategy: Devising and assigning a solicitation strategy to each prospect, this might involve contact methods, identifying suitable events to which they might be invited, deciding which academic colleagues to introduce them to, identifying an appropriate project that might interest them, etc.
  • Developing a schedule that will lead to an ask: When to make first contact, when to review, when to ask, etc., and tracking progress against this schedule.

Where the facility is available, fundraisers should use the prospect management functions of the central database to assist their prospect management – recording interactions and analysis.

Fundraisers using standalone systems may chart the progress of the prospect in greater levels of detail than need to be recorded centrally; they are the ‘working’ records of individual fundraisers. The important thing is that any information gathered on these individual prospect management records must be accurately recorded and that eventually the pertinent points are entered into the main contacts database. Otherwise, information held by individual fundraisers can be lost.

The table below shows an example of an extremely simplified standalone prospect management system (* = information generated from a database report; ** = information to feed back into the central database as major ‘moves’ occur):

Prospect*Type*Last gift*Potential gift*Stage**Interest area*Strategy**Next step**
Ms JonesIndividual major gift$25,000$100,000CultivationEngineeringPotential sponsor for new engineering buildingChancellor dinner – sit next to engineering chair
Foundation ABCFoundation$50,000$100,000CultivationEngineeringMeeting with program officer to updateSubmit proposal for Nov. deadline
Co. XCorporation$50,000$250,000Make the askWorkforce development (and PR / recognition)Potential sponsor for executive MBA programme; 10 employees are alumIndividual meeting to request sponsorship – bring exec MBA director & employee

Prospect management systems are only as good as the people who use them

Fundraisers are busy people, and entering information into prospect management systems can be a laborious and time-consuming chore. However, well-populated prospect management systems are essential to the smooth operation of successful fundraising team.

Everyone who is involved in the fundraising effort is responsible for the maintenance of the prospect management system and how it relates to the centrally held database. A well-run fundraising team should agree to a set of policies and procedures to govern how information is managed within a prospect management system and how this information is regularly reviewed and merged with the centrally held database. These policies and procedures must be enforced.

It is common for fundraisers to hold regular team meetings to review the progress of prospects using the prospect management system and agree upon next steps.