The Art of Prospecting: Going from Reactive to Proactive | npENGAGE

The Art of Prospecting: Going from Reactive to Proactive

By on May 3, 2012


As a member of the Target Analytics consulting team, I typically ask clients how they would characterize their current prospecting efforts.  Are they reactive (pursuing a prospect based on gifts made) or proactive (pursing a prospect based on identified potential)?  All too often I hear (with some embarrassment), “Reactive”.

I try to assure these organizations that they certainly aren’t alone—this type of fundraising was once the norm.  However, in this day and age of incredible technology and sophisticated research tools, there are definitely ways that your organization can implement a much more proactive culture of philanthropy, sometimes even before a constituent makes his or her first gift.

Wealth screening options today are extremely diversified.  Gone are the days that the only cost effective way to do so was “by the batch” with results taking weeks to get back.  Offerings can be either full or self service and, depending on the vendor you choose, can also offer dynamic screening options, allowing you to screen all or some of your new donors even before a thank-you letter is mailed. 

Here’s one suggestion:   Depending on how many gifts your organization receives each day, determine a threshold that makes sense based on staffing capabilities.  For example, if you receive 500 gifts a day, you may want to look at new donors of $250 or more.  This may reduce your pool to 20 or less.  With dynamic screening tools, you could submit each of these individuals to your wealth screening service and have the results back in a matter of minutes.

Nineteen of these may return unremarkable results:  Numerous owners of $400,000 homes or individuals with small businesses.  But, imagine that 20th screen comes back indicating that your new $250 donor owns $12,000,000 in real estate, holds $20,000,000 in insider stock shares and annually makes gifts of $25,000+ to over a dozen non profits, some of which have missions similar to yours!

So, how would this change your response to his or her gift? Would you still send that same thank-you letter, or would you do something different?   Perhaps pick up the phone, express your thanks and invite the donor over for lunch? If you answered “yes”, you are definitely ready to change your current philanthropic culture from reactive to proactive.  And, if you need any more convincing, consider this: if you don’t do something different with the donor, there is a very good possibility the next organization he or she sends a check to will.  Why not let it be you?

Do you have a great story of how being proactive proved to be a game-changer at your organization? If so, I would love to hear about it.  Email me at

Laura Worcester is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at her


Laura Worcester, senior consultant at Target Analytics, joined Blackbaud in 2001.In her current role she advises nonprofits on utilizing screening results in identifying and evaluating best donor prospects. In 25+ years of fundraising experience, Laura has served as the chief advancement officer for numerous organizations and managed her own consulting business, providing grant writing services to arts, educational and health care organizations. She’s presented at development conferences and has been a regular contributor to Blackbaud’s blogs with selected posts being reprinted in journals such the NonProfit Times. A traveler since her study abroad days in Denmark, Laura’s committed to passing this enthusiasm on to her teenage daughters. Her family’s travel adventures were just featured in a neighborhood magazine in her suburban Milwaukee community. Contact Laura by email.

Comments (3)

  • Oliviadjones says:

    Hi Laura, we run quick research checks on all new contributions to find wealth indicators of interest that donor managers can follow up. We also do a lot of delving
    in to our database to find prospects (non-donors or low-level) based on criteria such as
    census data on home locations, length of subscription, price of tickets
    purchased over a long period of time.
    With the daily grind
    it can be hard to allocate time to researching and trialling new prospecting
    strategies and even discussing new ideas, but it can be so rewarding and our
    donor managers have seen their acquisitions grow through our proactive
    prospecting. I’d love to find out what others are doing to be proactive in this

    Thanks for your post,

    • Laura Worcester says:

      Thanks so much for your insights–it sounds like you are doing exactly the right things to “catch” low level donors who have the capacity to give much more.

      Your comment also pointed out that I should have clarified what I consider proactive vs reactive. I consider calling and prospecting low level donors to be very proactive. While they are already giving, they haven’t “self identified” as a major giving prospect by giving at a level that would normally get your attention–usually $1000 or more. By doing some basic research–and using your time efficiently to call the “right” donors from the time of their first gift, you can effectively cultivate them to become much larger donors than if you simply acknowledged these gifts with the “normal” thank you letter. If is unfortunate that “major donor stewardship” doesn’t typically start until that $1000 threshold is reached. My mantra is ”If you want someone to behave like a major gift donor, you have to treat them like one.” So, becoming aware of who these individuals are and changing your stewardship accordingly is definitely a good use of your time.

      And, you are so right that this can be grueling to do so—hence my comment that 19 out of 20 can be dead ends—but, the needle in the haystack can, as you point out, make it all worthwhile!

      Thanks again, Olivia–it is fantastic knowing we are reaching development professionals in all corners of the world!

  • Jennifer Fernando says:

    Awesome post. Thank your for sharing such a nice article.

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