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Get Real With Your Prospect List

Resource Center - Foundation

Liz Rejman

By Liz Rejman, CFRE

I recently polled a group of development officers and asked them if they were effectively connecting with every single constituent on their prospect list. The unanimous answer was no.

With an average of 150 assigned prospects, not one fundraiser could say they connect in a meaningful way with all of them. It seems that the top 30 prospects are given the most attention, while the majority of assigned prospects are left to languish on the list.

It’s time we got real with our prospect list. To get started, ask yourself the following questions:

Why is this prospect on my list? Development officers often inherit prospects from other development officers. Sometimes, it’s because of staff turnover. Other times, it’s because a development officer doesn’t know what to do with the constituent so plays the hot potato game. After a while, no one can remember why a prospect was even assigned to a list. Make sure there is a valid reason for a constituent to be assigned to you before adding them to your list.

Does this prospect have a combination of capacity, affinity and connectors? Ideally a prospect would have all three traits. If you don’t have this information, conduct some research in order to determine if they are the right person for your list. If an individual has capacity and affinity; or; capacity and connections, they could be a good prospect to have assigned to your list. Capacity alone is not a good basis for assignment to a prospect list. There must be some alignment with your organization either through interest or a connection with a key stakeholder.

What is the return on my time investment with this prospect? Have you systematically ranked your prospects based on information such as giving history and past involvement with your organization? A RFM (recency, frequency, monetary) analysis or simple engagement score (both are done using internal data) will help you rank your prospects in a quantifiable way. Not only will this will help you identify where you should be investing your time but also who are truly your top prospects.

What is preventing me from connecting with this prospect? Do you have a door-opener? A door-opener could be an introduction by a board member or a cultivation event such as a tour. If there is no appropriate door-opener, this might not be the right time to have this prospect assigned to you.

Do I know what will happen with a prospect if I drop them from my list? Often, fundraisers are reluctant to drop a prospect from their list because they don’t have a clear understanding of what will happen internally with the prospect. Develop a plan that will address this concern. Within the plan, outline when you will review these unassigned prospects to determine if the timing is right to reassign them to a development officer.

A prospect lists is a great tool to help fundraisers be effective and efficient. It’s time to get real with your prospect list so you can engage and inspire everyone on it.

Liz Rejman, CFRE has spent her entire career in the nonprofit sector bringing her dynamic expertise to health care, education and the arts. Professionally her focus has been on database management and prospect research. She has a particular interest in social media as a research tool and the effect of personalization of the internet on balanced research.  She recently transitioned from full time researcher at a large hospital foundation to Head of Development and one person fundraiser for Museum London (Canada). Follow her on Twitter, @erejman or visit her blog at

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