This week I’m delighted to share with you an article written by prospect management expert, Janna Holm. I was introduced to Janna at an Apra conference by Lisa Howley (more from Lisa later this month!), and Janna’s enthusiasm for our field and, specifically, her delight at building strong and dynamic prospect management systems simply won me over. I’m so pleased that Janna agreed to lay out the foundations for us in today’s blog post so you’ll get to meet her, too, if you haven’t already. ~Helen
Research Pride Month is such a special time to me—our friends and colleagues around the world come together to celebrate accomplishments and where our industry is headed. Our field has undergone some incredible transitions over the years. In my last job, I went digging for office supplies and stumbled upon a filing cabinet in an old storage closet, only to find it full of index cards holding tidbits of information and asset data on our alumni. This was their “research system” through the 1980s.
I’ve used databases built in the 1990s where cell phone and email fields were hidden away under “miscellaneous info” as they weren’t common enough to have a home yet. Now, in 2019, our conferences are full of discussions about machine learning and artificial intelligence. It’s amazing to think about how far we’ve come.
One of the biggest transitions over the years has been to incorporate prospect management into shops that historically focused on prospect research. I’ve seen and worked at organizations where prospect management was fully established and ingrained in the culture, and others where prospect management was still nascent or didn’t exist. But over the years, this has grown to become a vital part of a major gift shop. So how does it begin?
When to Begin:
Any organization with multiple staff involved in fundraising should start thinking about a prospect management system. An airport with only one flight per day may not need an air traffic controller, but the more planes you add, the more vital coordination becomes. The same is true for prospect management—when more staff and donors are involved, it becomes increasingly important to have a prospect management system in place.
To build out a strong prospect management system, you need to think not only about your constituent relationship management database (CRM), but also the policy around how you work and the procedures that delineate who does what and how that work is done.
Incorporating Prospect Management in your CRM:
Going back to our air traffic controller example, they need to know which planes are taking off and landing, at what times, and in which direction. They need to know their runways, and wind speeds, and who’s ready versus who’s running behind schedule. In order to ensure prospect management is coordinated, it helps to know some data as well.
No matter which CRM you’re using, there should be some ability to begin tracking prospect management or moves management. Most prospect management systems begin by tracking the following elements:
- Who oversees the relationship with this prospect?
This could be labeled as a Gift Officer, Relationship Manager, or any number of titles, but it’s helpful to note which person is in charge of the relationship and responsible for coordinating outreach to the prospect.
- Where is this prospect in their relationship to our organization?
Different organizations use different stages (see the 4-, 5-, 6-, or 7-stages of a gift solicitation), but you’ll want to know who is at each step of whichever cycle you choose.
- What have we asked this prospect for previously, and how did it go?
You may refer to these as Asks, Solicitations, Opportunities, Proposals or myriad other names, but this would be a place to track what size gift you solicited, what program or project it would fund, when you asked for it, and what the outcome was.
- What have we done with this prospect?
Tracking your actions or contacts with a prospect ensures you’re capturing their history. Did they attend an event? Did you send them a holiday card? What did you talk about in your last face-to-face visit? Some organizations will track every single “touch” that happens with a prospect, while others focus on more “substantive” actions that move the prospect along through the stages of their relationship to the organization.
As your organization grows in size and complexity, you may want to begin to track other things like additional staff involvement (secondary relationship managers, volunteers, leadership involvement), details about the prospect’s capacity and affinity, the short- and long-term strategy for a prospect, your metrics for fundraising staff, or more in-depth information about proposals or activities.
Creating a Prospect Management Policy:
Once you have those ideas for what you want to track, there are still some vital things to consider. Your system needs to have a policy behind it and procedures in place so your colleagues know how to use it.
Your policy document should cover questions that may arise as your colleagues adopt this new system. Those will look different based on your organization, and you can find some good examples online. It may include topics like:
- How do prospects get assigned to a staffer?
- When should prospects be added or removed from a portfolio?
- How are staff expected to share information about a prospect?
- What information are they expected to track in the CRM?
- Who enters that data?
- What happens if there’s a conflict about assignment, solicitation, etc.?
- What information can and cannot get entered into the record (due to HIPAA, GDPR, FERPA, or ethical concerns)?
- What happens when a staffer leaves your organization?
An aspect that should be incorporated into every prospect management system is a glossary to specify what each data element means—what counts as a “visit”? How are you defining “qualification”? It’s hard to stay coordinated if you don’t speak the same language, so make sure colleagues agree on how terms or data fields are defined at your organization.
Up and Running
Once a prospect management system has been crafted and implemented, it will still go through tweaks. Maybe a policy needs to change, or you’re adding some planned giving staff and need to think about their assignments differently, or you realize you need to add a new stage. Building a strong system that colleagues understand and use, and regularly adapting it are key elements of moving prospect management forward.
Our industry is dynamic and we’re progressing faster every year. Our systems should be built to track our history, but also to allow for evolution, so that in 10, 20, or 30 years, we can see a prospect’s journey from stage to stage and gift to gift (and so in 10, 20, or 30 years, we have a data set to use for all that machine learning!).
So, as we near the halfway point of Research Pride Month, I hope you all take a look at your prospect management system. If you’ve had one for years, does it need any edits or changes? If you’re just getting started, what can you do this month to move it forward a bit? Celebrate what you’ve done, and where our industry has been. Let’s keep adapting, growing, and improving!
Janna Holm is Director of Prospect Development at The Trust for Public Land. Currently a board member of Apra Minnesota and a longtime volunteer and speaker for Apra International, Janna is past president of Apra Maryland. She tweets great stuff here.