Happy #ResearchPride month! I’m so happy to share something new we’re doing this year on The Intelligent Edge to celebrate. Our field is brimming with great talent and great ideas, particularly around the area of prospect management. This month we’re featuring four experts discussing aspects of the topic that impact most of us in the nonprofit sphere. Jessica Balsam kicks us off with an introduction on why prospect management is so important to your nonprofit’s success. Take it away, Jessica! ~Helen
I’m excited to kick off this #researchpride series on prospect management, because I get really excited about great prospect management systems. Like the bun to the burger, like the burger to the bun (in the words of the Beastie Boys), a great prospect management system exists as a perfect and necessary complement to research.
A great prospect management system is more than some tables and fields in a constituent relationship management database (CRM). It’s more than a collection of reports. It encompasses fundraiser training, portfolio building, analysis, and policy. Just like research, it requires close working relationships with frontline fundraisers and a deep knowledge of the practice of major gift fundraising.
(Oh no, did I lose you because I said policy? Come back! Policies are not scary, I promise!)
Who does prospect management?
The 2018 Apra salary survey (free to members) says just over half of us consider research our primary job function. But the reality is, most of us do both research and prospect management in our day-to-day work. I happen to work in one of those shops where I specialize in prospect management, partnering closely with our teammates who specialize in research. But many of us wear both hats. In past roles, I’ve also worked at organizations that placed such a high value on research that prospect management was continually pushed aside for more visible things like screenings! and President’s briefings! and really detailed prospect bios! and I think that’s a mistake.
Why do we do prospect management?
Why can’t we just have a paleo burger without a bun? This might be where my analogy breaks down, but stick with me because a bun is a really delicious addition to your burger. In short, we do prospect management to focus, guide, organize, and prompt.
Prospect management brings focus by setting standard metrics, and building portfolios accordingly. Focusing on the right prospects, and keeping our eye on the right ask amounts to maximize philanthropic potential.
Who should contact which prospects? What are a frontline fundraiser’s responsibilities to document interactions with prospects? How many prospects should be in a portfolio, and at what rating and stage? Prospect management provides clarity to guide fundraisers’ actions.
Data architecture is a big part of what we do. Blend the right contact report types and the right proposal stages, and you get great analysis for projections and trends.
A great prospect management system not only lays down guide rails and sets up best practice guideposts, it also prompts users to stay within the lanes. (“It looks like this proposal has been in the same stage for six months – is that right, or do you have an update?”). Proactive prompting also underscores the importance of your policy and ensure it’s woven into the fabric of your fundraising operation, rather than becoming a stale document. (“Reminder – your role as relationship manager is to coordinate strategies for this prospect”).
Maintaining a great prospect management system takes time, and it takes a mind shift from the focused intensity of research. Structure your day or your week to protect your prospect management time, and it will pay off in big ways for your organization. You’ll have your burger and eat it too.
A huge thank you to Jessica Balsam, Director of Prospect Management at the University of Washington for this kick-off article. A long-time volunteer for our profession, Jess is the 2016 Apra Distinguished Service Award recipient.