Our month-long #ResearchPride focus on prospect management closes today with advice from one of the mountaintop gurus on the topic, Lisa Howley. It would be impossible to overstate Lisa’s expertise and generosity in sharing her knowledge over the years, and I’m delighted that she agreed to close out the month for us here on the Intelligent Edge to talk about creating a roadmap for solid prospect management success. ~Helen
We all want to change the world. Or at least our prospect management (PM) systems. It’s a common refrain by prospect management practitioners and gift officers alike. Walk down the hallway in any development office and you may hear someone scream in frustration ‘the system is broken!’
It can be daunting to be tasked with fixing a broken prospect management system. Sure, staff have been sharing their woes, and you have been compiling issues. But where to start?
First, you need a road map. In other words, a growth plan that outlines the critical business needs for the prospect management system. This plan should also list the proposed system changes that will address the critical business needs, resources needed, and timeline for the change.
Creating a System Road Map
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to prospect management systems, there are common needs that all systems should address:
Often systems break when there is no prospect management policy or guidelines. A prospect management policy is the cornerstone of a comprehensive prospect management system. It drives what is tracked in the database, procedures and fundraising practices. Without a policy, systems may never realize their full potential.
Systems can also break when there is no:
- Accountability for prospect management activity
- Self-service business intelligence/ability to query data
- Regular training and education of the system
- Regular maintenance and review of the system
Engaging Leadership & Key Stakeholders
As a starting point, look to leadership to provide vision and desired outcomes for system change.
For example, I was charged with fixing a broken prospect management system for a previous employer. Leadership’s vision was that the system would drive fundraising success, measured by increased annual revenue. Their desired outcomes were to clarify gift officer roles and collaboration, create an open cultivation culture, stop prospect hording, and advance portfolio optimization. Leadership’s vision and outcomes were clear, and shaped all decisions in the system’s redesign.
Engage key stakeholders in facilitated discussions around system challenges and needs. You want to hear from gift officers and staff who are expected to use the system regularly. Include those who are new to the system as well as super users. Hearing a diversity of experiences and needs will illuminate system patterns and trends.
I also recommend reaching out to peer organizations as well as organizations that have systems you admire. And don’t forget about campaign/fundraising counsel – if possible, ask for input regarding best practices and innovations for systems. They may also be able to identify peers to reach out to that weren’t already on your radar.
Defining System Needs
Defining needs will shape the scope of work for system change. These questions can help guide conversations:
- What current system elements work, and should stay the same?
- What current system elements work, but need refinement or improvement?
- What current system elements do not work, and should be removed?
- What new elements need to be added to the system?
- What is desired impact of change?
- What would success look like once the change has occurred?
Other questions to consider with leadership and key stakeholders:
- Will the system require a complete overhaul?
- Can most of the existing system be used, and only updates are needed to certain system components?
- Does a system component not exist that needs to be created?
Keep in mind that the words ‘broken system’ is a subjective term. What works for most may not work for all based on individual preference or style. And with competing or limited resources, and it is just not realistic to expect a system to meet every single need identified.
Focus on the critical needs – the key drivers for success – that will further the identified vision and outcomes.
Addressing System Needs
Next, determine which prospect management system component(s) will best address each critical business need:
This is an opportunity to engage leadership, stakeholders and end users in further discussion around the system. Identify the best viable options for change and facilitate conversations around which options will have the most impact.
Factor In User Experience
As you are determining system changes, think about the end user experience:
- How much of staff time will be need to be spent maintaining and using the system?
- How will staff be trained and educated on the changes?
- How will staff be supported through the change?
Ultimately, you are trying to gauge how the proposed changes will further staff’s ability to be efficient and effective in their efforts. For end users, this means a system that is easy to learn, easy to use and easy to apply.
A Viable Road Map
I operate by KISS (Keep it Simple and Straightforward), a principle that states that systems work best if kept simple. Simplicity should be a key goal in system change, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. Focusing on key business needs and outcomes supports simplicity. It also supports the creation of a viable road map.
Budget and resources are also key factors in finalizing a viable road map. The effort in creating a procedure document is vastly different from the effort to creating new prospect management tracking in your database. What efforts can be supported now, and what may need to wait until next year?
Ultimately, what makes a system road map viable is fundraising leadership. They must be on board, united, and visibly championing efforts for any prospect management change to be successful. So, if you’re in charge of starting a prospect management revolution, make sure that you and your leadership are leading the charge together.
Lisa Howley is Senior Director of Development, Health Sciences at the University of Southern California. A long-time speaker, mentor, and volunteer, Lisa is a past Apra and NEDRA board member.