- April 10, 2020
- Posted by: DBarney
- Category: Uncategorized
As data and information professionals serving nonprofit organizations, we are often asked for sound methodologies for identifying new sources of prospects for our client’s fundraising program. Invariably, the conversation starts with gaining a better understanding of what is currently being done – and more importantly – what is not being done to tap the potential readily available to the organization.
Rightfully, fundraisers want to bolster the ranks of supporters and prospects. They want a deeper bench of philanthropic talent from which to pull. Look broader. Engage more. Acquire. Grow.
There is nothing wrong with this desire to bring messaging and mission to more individuals and organizations who might be able to infuse greater tangible and intangible resources into the organization. That, of course, presumes one can build affinity in this otherwise untapped pool of hope-to-be-stakeholders.
What seems more logical is looking internal to the organization first.
So, why would a group of data professionals care about the philosophy behind building a strong pipeline? Well. We are the ones who have to get that information into a usable form and avoid the common pitfalls this entails. We serve as the linchpin for data analytics and integration.
So where do we look to enhance the pipeline?
Often the battle cry of the fundraiser comes in the form of requests on par with:
“Give me a list of our top donors.”
“I need a roster of all $1,000 donors.”
The above examples beg the questions:
- Do we include only cash/stocks?
- Do unpaid pledges count? Gifts in Kind? Planned Gifts?
- How about soft credits?
- Over what timeline? Annual or lifetime?
- If lifetime, do we need to have a recent gift? Within 12 months? 18 months?
- Are these purely philanthropic donors or should we include event supporters who may participate for less-holistic reasons?
- Are event contributions measured by gross contribution or by deductible amount only?
So often the first pass of prospect mining comes in the form of singularity. Relationships and supporters are nuanced and complicated. Data is as well, and the utilization of information must strive to be more sophisticated in order to foster success.
When considering the top prospects, organizations will find potential by broadening how this category is defined. The issue is not only one of magnitude.
A donor who gives $50 per month exceeds a $500 donor who gives one gift at year end, but it is often the latter who stands out. A corporation which has consistently sponsored an event at the “bronze” level may be more important in the long-run than a one-time “gold” sponsor. Donors who come to the table every time they are asked – be it for an event, the annual campaign, a brick sale, an endowment initiative – show a diversity of interest that speaks to their commitment beyond the magnitude of any singular gift. And, yes. The $1 million donor counts too. They are all prospects. They all have some potential. Ignoring these other groups of supporters may result in an organization missing vital opportunities, as they endeavor to move prospects into and up the giving pyramid.
By examining frequency, diversity and magnitude, we are often able to broaden our fundraising pipeline. These are individuals and organizations who live in the system and with whom there is history. There is a starting point on which to build an enhanced relationship without having to build affinity from the ground up.
It is increasingly the responsibility of database administrators and analysts to ask insightful questions of fundraisers that more completely inform the prospecting process. It is also in the development staff’s best interest to field these questions and genuinely participate in meaningful discussion designed to “peel the onion.”
Those Other Lists
The fact of the matter is that most organizations have lists outside the fundraising database. That may be hard to believe, but it is true. These lists have potential. Certainly, they are not all overflowing wells of endless potential, but some of them certainly can be.
Not long ago we were engaged to worked with a large nonprofit organization which had recently gone through a merger. Both donor databases were brought together into one. Overlap was found and coding was enhanced to capture the diversity of support this new organization had previously garnered as two independent organizations.
The project was going smoothly, until the discussion shifted to the recommendation we made to integrate the volunteer database. These were staunch supporters of modest means who could not possibly be bothered with requests for financial support. How insulting! How inconsiderate! The potential of these poor little old ladies and men rested solely in the time they could give between knitting class and aqua-robics.
To make a long story short, righteousness prevailed and the lists were integrated with the fundraising database. As one might imagine, the results were not so surprising. Nearly 1/3 of the volunteers were donors. They weren’t just donors; they were donors of some magnitude, frequency and diversity. The fact the organization dealt with these individuals in two separate silos without respect for their commitment of time or money was arguably “insulting” and “inconsiderate.” The organization now has the opportunity to go from managing volunteers and, independently, asking for money to building relationships and ultimately seeking legacy support from life-long supporters.
Reality Meets Enthusiasm
Nearly every organization has a pool of untapped potential. The next time this conversation comes up, be sure to look under the hood at how prospects are defined. Don’t forget to consider those other lists as well, including:
Each of these groups want, or need, the organization to survive and thrive, but it should be recognized they are not all prospects. Enthusiasm must be tempered with reality. Further, a comprehensive plan to integrate these groups into the fundraising operation must be developed. Episodic fundraising may raise a couple dollars, but strategic prospect management which appropriately respects the potential of each stakeholder builds philanthropy, legacy and success.