On the Importance of Qualifying Prospects | npENGAGE

On the Importance of Qualifying Prospects

By on Sep 20, 2011

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One of my roles as a consultant is helping non-profits move the science of predictive modeling and wealth screening into the art, or practice, of real-world fundraising within their offices.  I love this part of my job!  It’s where the academic meets the profession; it’s where the statistics meets the function … it’s where the rubber meets the road.  However, as much as I enjoy blending the art and science of development, one of things I find most frustrating is the resistance of some front-line gift officers to cleaning out their prospect portfolios.  (You know who you are!)

So, let’s ask the basic question:  Why do most organizations choose to undertake a predictive modeling or wealth screening project?  In my experience, part of the reason most projects are completed is to identify new major gifts prospects.  Prospects, who once identified, still need to be qualified, cultivated and solicited by a front-line gift officer if the non-profit has any hope of moving the prospect from being a potentially average annual fund donor to potentially stellar major gift partner of the non-profit.

I heard about a study on the news recently indicating that the human mind can only effectively manage 150 relationships.  Without getting into the debate about how many prospects any gift officer should have in his or her portfolio, I am fairly certain that when all of a gift officer’s relationships (personal, familial and professional) are considered, most are over-extending their 150-person limit. 

With that said, building a strategic portfolio must be a key consideration in effectively managing the relationships in any gift officer’s life.  The goal, of course, is not just ensuring the sanity of the gift officer, but also fulfilling the mission of the non-profit he or she serves by closing as many gifts as possible.

Before assessing any newly identified prospect, gift officers must first undergo a thorough review of their current portfolio. 

  • Do any prospects need to be removed to ‘make room’ for new relationships to be formed? 
  • Are any prospects’ scores higher or lower than you expected?  Why do you think that is?  Are the scores valid or do you know additional information to supersede the scores?
  • Is your current strategy for each prospect sound, or does it need to be adjusted?

In going through this process you must first and foremost, consider this:  Do not ask: “why did the results come back the way it did?” instead, focus on asking “what do the results tell me that I didn’t already know?”

Only once you have a clean and thoroughly reviewed portfolio will you know how many new prospects each gift officer can currently handle.  For new prospects, consider:

  • Who are they?
  • Where are they?
  • What is their previous relationship (giving, advocacy, patient/alum/friend, event participant, other) to my organization?
  • Is there something about this prospect that is interesting to me?
  • Is there something about this prospect that negates his/her predictive modeling or wealth capacity scores?
  • Is there anything I can infer from the wealth screening data that isn’t explicit?
  • Are there any relevant life/personal circumstances that I know of outside of the data?
  • Is there anyone else (staff, volunteer, board member) at my organization who knows this person and may be better suited to answer these questions, or better suited to help in the qualification process?

 In sum, ask yourself: “What is my strategy for assigning and qualifying this prospect?”

Back to my job for a moment.  Assuming that you have a plethora of potential prospects to consider, (and you probably will!) qualification and disqualification of prospects is incredibly important.  While analytics and wealth projects are designed to identify potential prospects, no project is going to close a gift for your organization and no process is an absolute certainty.  The art of fundraising, relationship building and ‘friendraising’ lives on and prospects still need to be qualified, cultivated and solicited by a gift officer. 

If you have any tips on qualifying new prospects, I’d love to hear from you!  Please feel free to post to this site or email me at melissa.stepno@blackbaud.com.

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