My Job is To Make Your Next Year Successful: The Value-Add of Prospect Management

Most fundraisers and their managers very appropriately have their eye on their top 25 households for the coming year. And as performance dashboard capabilities and prospect screening tools like GG+A’s DonorScape become more widely available, many fundraisers can also measure their progress against annual goals, as well as easily see exactly who is in their portfolios.

In the midst of this progress in prospect technology and monitoring capabilities, the role of prospect management is changing. Instead of simply reporting out on what is, prospect management is quickly moving toward providing intelligence as to what might be.

Take the following prospect capacity chart, for example:

We can easily see what is: the institution has a pool of 980 prospects with gift capacity of $100,000 or more, including six principal gift prospects with gift capacity of $1 million or more. Best practice tells us that to be most effective, major gift officers should have between 80 and 150 prospects in their portfolios, and a principal gift officer fewer. To help determine what could be, prospect management should next identify how many of those 980 prospects are assigned to a gift officer, and in what distribution. Is there adequate major gifts staff to support these prospects?

At the leadership annual giving level, we see that there are 5,905 prospects. Leadership-level annual gifts thus are a significant advantage for this institution. Prospects at this level represent an opportunity to strengthen relationships and build the future major gifts pipeline – critical for sustainable performance. This particular institution should think about distributing the majority of these prospects into leadership annual giving portfolios, which can hold more than 150 prospects. Blended gift officer portfolios – a mix of major gift prospects and leadership annual giving prospects – might also be an option, depending on how fundraising resources compare to the distribution of the prospect pool.

Now let’s take a look at geographic distribution.

This is a snapshot of the distribution of an institution’s prospects across the country. Organizing especially high-capacity prospects in this way helps raise questions and guide decisions that are vital to fundraising success; namely, whether the institution has the fundraising resources available to see all these prospects in different regions. It’s important to factor in information like this into future staffing decisions, when considering how you can help ensure gift officers can actually visit prospects.

Based on the data here, this particular institution (let’s say it’s in Wisconsin) should consider assigning two gift officers to the West Coast, given the number of high-value prospects concentrated in California. However, it might not be worth assigning a gift officer to Maryland, because there are only 35 prospects in that state, and it’s geographically far from the institution. Instead, the institution could send someone to Maryland every few years to touch base with prospects who have capacity greater than $10 million.

Leveraging the Present to Plan for the Future

The two previous charts, which are relatively simple, have provided immediate insight into the staffing needs by level and geographic distribution for the institution, as well as raised the question of whether blended portfolios might be most appropriate compared against resources.

But a more refined approach to prospect management would also consider (if appropriate to the structure of the institution) where all unassigned prospects might align with specific units.

In the chart below, we can see that of all of the unassigned prospects, there are only 49 principal-level prospects and 816 major gift prospects, most of whom align with Unit G. The institution may therefore want to increase staffing to support Unit G’s fundraising goals, and, moreover, consider increasing financial goals for the unit given its robust prospect pool. Conversely, the institution may want to reevaluate staffing for Unit H because there are no prospects at any level. Or, the institution may want to invest in finding leads for that area.

Prospect management can also provide powerful insight not only into how the year is shaping up for gifts officers and units, but also how they might expect future years to work out. By analyzing prospect value by stage, we can get an even deeper perspective. Unfortunately, according to the chart below, that particular institution is going to have a rough year coming up: most of its prospects are in the stewardship stage, with very few in cultivation of solicitation. There simply isn’t enough value in the early stages to have a successful year. The focus for the year should thus be on strategies for moving prospects into the earlier stages, to increase the potential for the year after.

These are only a few examples of how this type of sophisticated prospect analysis and forecasting can provide actionable insight, arming fundraising managers and institutional leadership with powerful information for future planning. It also actively engages prospect management in interesting, exciting work that has clear connections to institutional success – work that goes far beyond what is, and into what could be.

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