Do you have a healthy prospect list?

Your prospect list is always evolving, right?  I’m sure this is true for all development directors.

moving targetHowever, sometimes it can be like trying to hit a moving target.

My prospect list is no different.  With recent changes to the development structure in our organization, it’s been even more of a challenge than usual.  As we grow and add more people to each development team the prospect assignments are changing almost on a daily basis.  Roles within each team are being determined that makes it necessary for prospects to be reassigned to other members of the team.  For instance, Emeriti faculty and scholarship contacts are now all one team members responsibility.  So all prospects that fall into those categories are being reassigned to that person.

So, needless to say, I’ve been laser focused on updating my prospect list lately and making sure that it reflects the responsibilities of my role in the team.

That got me thinking….What should a healthy prospect list look like?  I did a little research and uncovered a few indicators of a healthy prospect pipeline.

First, it should include active prospects at all gift levels.  It’s important to have a strategic balance in your list that includes annual donors through major donors.

Second, your list should include active prospects at all stages of the development cycle.  This is a major key!  To be successful, it’s crucial to have prospects in the initial contact phase, cultivation phase, solicitation phase, and stewardship phase.  And, each phase should be balanced with about the same number of prospects.  You don’t want your list too top heavy in one phase over another.

Third, prospects should be moving through the various stages.  Analyze the movement regularly to see if prospects are getting stuck in one phase, and make a plan to continue movement.

Once you’ve gone through these three steps and determined that you have a “healthy” list, then make sure you add new prospects regularly.  New prospects at all stages of the development cycle can come from self-referrals that come in to your organization.  These should be available to each member of the development team for inclusion on their prospect list.

Thanks to AFP and “Creating a Healthy Prospect Pipeline” for many of these ideas.

What does your prospect list look like?  Do you have a healthy balance of prospects and donors?  Please leave a comment below.

Photo Credit:  Moving Target

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6 ways to say thank you

Saying thank you to your donors is nothing new.  But, putting a new twist on the process can often be challenging.

Recently I came across some interesting ways to say thank you.  Nonprofit Hub posted their article “These 12 Ways to Thank Donors Will Keep Them from Saying Goodbye”.  Nonprofit Marketing Guide offered “Nine Clever Ways to Thank Your Donors”. Both of these articles gave me some exciting and unique ways to spice up the usual thank you letter.

Take a moment to check out this video highlighting the top 6 ideas I took away and plan to use in the future.

#1.  Offer a next step. One way to keep your donors passion and interest alive is to include a next step in your thank you letter. Inviting them to an event for new donors, or give them a link to your website or video that highlights their area of interest, or tell them to look for the upcoming e-newsletter.

#2.  Send a handwritten note.  A handwritten note is something special in today’s world.  Keep it short, but write from the heart.  It will make a strong impression with donors and can be the start of a long relationship.

#3.  Be enthusiastic. Putting enthusiasm into the thank you letter is something that can really make a difference with the donor. Don’t be afraid to get excited and show that excitement in your letters.

#4.  Make the donor the hero.  Make sure you use the word YOU frequently. Don’t make the whole letter about your organizations past accomplishments or future goals.  It’s about them!  Not you!

#5.  Include photos – it’s an instant attention grabber. Tie the photos into their recent donation and you’ve made an instant connection between your donor and your cause.

#6.  Change who’s saying thank you.  Consider changing it up and having others say thank you. Changing who says thank you gives the donor other perspectives on how their donations impact your cause.

Join the discussion and let me know your unique ways to thank your donors.


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Engaging donors who don’t want recognition

Every once in awhile we come across a donor who is extremely generous and at the same time very private.  They don’t want publicity or recognition of any kind.  They just want to quietly help a cause that they are passionate about.


I applaud people like that for their selfless acts of kindness!

But, it does make it a bit more difficult to steward and cultivate them, at least in some of the usual ways.

We recently received a substantial donation from a family to build an entire lab including cutting-edge equipment, supplies, and maintenance of the facility.  Normally this type of major gift elicits a naming opportunity, media coverage, and special invitations to exclusive university events…..just to name a few.

This family fits into the private donor category I described above.  They came in recently to tour the lab and told me that they absolutely do not want their name on the lab – they are just happy that their donation will benefit others.  We told them how the lab is a game-changer for the university.  Not only will it enable cutting-edge research for faculty and students, it will be available for community use as well.  They left looking satisfied, fulfilled, and very happy!

But, what now?  We want to engage them but not intrude on their privacy.

Here’s a few thoughts:

  • Continue to invite to events, but limit the number. And, most importantly personalize the invitation instead of sending via mass e-mail or snail mail.
  • Build on their areas of interest. When this family was visiting the lab they mentioned that they hadn’t toured the campus in quite awhile. They were specifically interested in the new knowledge center. I found out when they will be in town again and invited them on a personal tour the campus…..they were thrilled with that idea.
  • Utilize already existing connections. In this case, the family worked with one of our faculty members extensively in the past and established a wonderful relationship with him. This connection could be the conduit for future meetings.

Every donor is different.  And, treating them all the same can be a huge mistake.  It’s important to be able to recognize that fact and then personalize your stewardship and cultivation program to fit their individual needs.

Photo Credit:  Thank you

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Objections are your best friends

I was reviewing some material recently from a development conference I went to over a year ago.  First thing I discovered is that it’s a good idea to get those binders out every once in awhile and review what’s inside.  We all  have several of these binders in the file cabinets in our office.  You know….the ones they give out at conferences packed full of good ideas that we almost immediately put away and never look at again once we get back to the “real” world of fundraising.

handling_objectionsThe binder I was looking at recently came from an Institute for Charitable Giving conference called “The Art of Asking”.  I’ll be the first to tell you that it was a great conference with a lot of interesting information, but most of it was pretty basic stuff.

Here’s the thing:  the basics are what fundraising is all about!  And, the good news is, they don’t change much over the years.

As I was paging through the binder the following information caught my eye regarding handling objections after making an ask:

  • 27% of solicitors quit after the first objection by the prospect
  • 11% quit after two objections
  • 4% quit after the third objection

When asked about making contributions…..

  • 73% of prospects stated that they asked an average of 3 questions before making a decision

This means that……

  • 42% of solicitors have already quit before the prospect is ready to make a decision

Wow!  I don’t care how seasoned a development director you are, these are facts we need to remind ourselves of often!

So, dig out those conference binders and dust them off.  I think you might be surprised what you find inside.

Photo credit:  Handling objections

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Golden Reunion – a great opportunity to build relationships

golden reunionEach year the University of Nevada, Reno holds a Golden Reunion for those alums celebrating the 50th anniversary of their graduation.  It’s held every year during commencement week so the Golden Alums can participate in all the events leading up to and including commencement. Our Alumni Relations department does an excellent job of hosting many fun events and activities for the alums during their week back on campus.

The development team uses this opportunity to meet alums who might otherwise be difficult to get a meeting with.  This opens the door to future phone calls, e-mails, and meeting requests because now you’ve already met them, introduced yourself, and had a chance to begin getting to know them.

Alums that you already know introduce you to their friends from college.  Now you’ve made a new connection!  And, as part of the conversation, you learned a story about when they attended the university and fun times they had while they were students.  Not only are you building relationships, you get valuable – and often interesting, historic information – that builds your knowledge about the university.

Another great development opportunity was putting together “gift packets” for our Golden Alums.  This year we had 5 alums who received their degrees from the College of Science, and 4 who received their degrees from the Mackay School.  We always have small giveaway items available, such as pens, key chains, glasses, mugs, etc.  This year we put together some of our nicest giveaway items into gift packets and presented these to our alums at the Commencement Dinner.

Here’s the key:  we included a personalized, hand-written note in each packet.  Each note welcomed them back to campus and let them know how proud we are to have them as OUR alums!  We often don’t hear any feedback, but this year I received a card from one alum.  She thanked me for the hand-written note and told me how grateful she was that we took the time to make her feel special.

Knowing I made a difference in her life – even for just a moment – makes my heart happy!

That’s what development is all about!

Photo Credit: Golden Reunion

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This week’s post that made me stop and think

I try to read at least 3 blog posts each day and often choose which ones to read based on an interesting title or picture.  Today I clicked on a post by Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels of the Veritus Group titled “Don’t Be Afraid to Lead“.

That short, but very straightforward title caught my attention right away.  But, it was the caption under the picture that really piqued my interest.

The caption read “Just tell me what you’d like me to do, and I’ll do it.” – said the CEO, Board member or volunteer when asked to help in fundraising.  WOW!  That’s exactly the conversation I’ve had with several of our board members recently.  And has been the subject of several conversations with the leadership of our organization.

One thing I like to ask our board members when I’m meeting with them is “what’s your impression of our board meetings?”  “Are the meetings serving the purpose for which you signed up and how can they be improved?”  Many of our board members also serve on other boards, or have in the past.  As such, they are the perfect people to give feedback and advice.

The board members all agree that the information presented at the meetings, including research findings, development updates, new program initiatives, and student body growth, is informative and interesting.  They enjoy hearing from faculty members on their cutting edge research, or from students on their accomplishments and goal achievements.

But, one of the most telling answers I get when I ask “what could we do better?” is that they want to do more than just listen – they want to help but aren’t being told what to do or how to do it.

That’s why “Don’t Be Afraid to Lead” is this week’s post that made me stop and think.  It gives an unfiltered, unapologetic explanation of fundraising leadership: why it’s necessary, what needs to change, and how to do it.

What I learned from this very well-written post is that it’s the Development Director that needs to:

  • Lead and not wait for offers of help.
  • Come to board meetings prepared with a list of individuals, corporations and foundations that the board can help the organization connect with.
  • Tell the board what they should be doing to help – because they want to help!
  • Meet with the organizations leadership prepared with a list of donors to call or meet and the background information on each.
  • Not be afraid to say “We need your help!” and then be very specific about what that means.

In a nutshell, our thinking needs to change.  We shouldn’t be waiting for the CEO or Board members to lead the Development Director in fundraising, the Development Director should be leading them in what they can do to help.

We shouldn’t be afraid to lead!  Thanks Richard and Jeff for giving permission to do just that!

Photo Credit:  Leadership

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Cultivation isn’t all about events

Cultivation is that period of time that starts with the first meeting between a prospect and an organization and the official “ask”.  There are so many ways to cultivate a prospect, many of which involve events.

Events work….don’t get me wrong.  They are a great way to engage prospects and donors in areas that they are passionate about supporting.  But, events can be costly, take a lot of time to arrange, and often  are less than well attended.

Relationships-300x300In a recent meeting of our Development Team I asked the question: “What are some of the ways you cultivate your prospects and donors that doesn’t involve events?”  I received a lot of interesting ideas.  Here are some of the best:

  • Give a tour of the university, focusing on an area of interest to the prospect. Many prospects haven’t seen all that is new to the university. And, sometimes just want to tour areas that were interesting to them when they were a student years ago. Once their area of interest is determined, tours of research labs, museums, or new facilities are all great ways to cultivate interest in your organization.
  • Ask a prospect for advice. Many prospects have experience and expertise that can help your cause. Asking for advice gives your prospect the feeling that they are helping you succeed and that can successfully lead to a future donation to your organization.
  • Send them a publication or article of interest. After finding out what interests your prospects, a creative next step is looking into that area of interest and following up with an article or information that supports their interest.
  • Take a picture of a place in their past and send to them. Suppose a prospect has told you about a part of campus that really meant something to them, or an area in town that holds significance to them. Taking a picture and sending it to them shows that you have listened to them and care.
  • Take them up on offers of help. Allowing prospects to help with events or development projects is an excellent way to further their interest in your programs and cause.

These were just a few of the excellent cultivation ideas that came out in our recent development meeting.  It’s so important to share ideas across the industry that we can all benefit from.  I’m sure you have others ideas that we haven’t thought of yet.  I invite you to share your ideas by leaving a comment below.

Photo Credit:  Cultivating prospects

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