Building Your Prospect Pipeline

Guest Post by Marge King, InfoRich Group, Inc. 

As a researcher, my clients often ask me how to build a prospect pipeline from external sources—panning for gold, if you will. Sometimes the need for a list is because an organization is starting a new program, sometimes it is because the organization is concerned about new donor acquisition—or the lack thereof. In the December 2014 issue of InfoRich Group’s newsletter I discussed why we need to develop a prospect pipeline and/or acquire new donors; in this post I am going to discuss how to build that pipeline using external sources like a pro.

One of the most common ways to acquire new donors is to rent or exchange donor lists with other organizations.

If you decide to rent a list, I recommend you consider using a list broker because the broker can help you navigate the hundreds of thousands of lists available while advising you on the one that will likely be the best for your purposes. Before you contact a list broker:

  • Write down how you would describe your current donor.
  • Decide whether you want to rent or exchange a list.
  • Determine your budget.

To learn why using a list broker is a good choice, visit That List Lady’s website.

Another way to build your prospect pipeline is to ask for names from your board, staff, and volunteers. It is surprising how many organizations do not ask the people closest to them whom they know as likely donors. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has a tool called The Webbing Exercise to help you get those closest to your organization to provide the names of people they may know as likely donors. You can download AFP’s The Webbing Exercise tool here. These types of exercises often reveal networks and spheres of influence that may help take your organization to the next level. Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE, explains The Webbing Exercise here.

Fundraisers know there must be three things present (a/k/a the three-legged fundraising stool) before a prospect becomes a donor:

  • The prospect must have an ability to give (capacity).
  • The prospect must be philanthropic (propensity).
  • The prospect must have a connection to our organization (affinity).

It is fairly easy to develop a list of prospective donors meeting the criteria for two legs of the fundraising stool—the ability to make a gift, and those who are already philanthropic. But, we generally want to also identify prospects who might have a connection to our mission. Next we are going to use our internal insight about our donors and research to build a better list, or prospect pipeline.

Before we start our research, we need to use the insight we have about our existing donors. If we are lucky enough to have a data mining person on staff, that person will help us build a really solid list of the attributes of our best donors. If we don’t have a data miner on staff, we’ll need to write down the attributes of our best donors—where they live, do they seem to work for one or two industries, are they of a particular age or gender, etc.

Once we have a clear sense of our potential donor, we can create a prospect pipeline with a list of prospective donors that have the ability to make a gift and are already philanthropic (two legs of the three-legged fundraising stool). To compensate for the third fundraising stool leg, we’ll look for gifts made by these prospects to a mission-similar organization. By understanding the best prospect attributes, we can use the attributes as search criteria to develop our list. When we add to our strategy the attribute of past giving to mission-similar organizations, we are representing the third leg—the connection to the organization attribute—in our list building. (It may not be a direct connection to the organization per se, but it’s as close as we can get.)

iWave’s makes list building a dream. The ZoomInfo, Political Giving, Track Wealth, Real Estate, or Prospect of Wealth modules of PRO can be used to build narrowly-focused prospect lists. Each has an Export function that is easy to use and the results can be exported in CVS file format.

By using insight and research, we can create a list of prospects with a propensity to give and whose interests are closely aligned to our mission. Do you need help panning for gold? Contact Marge King for a free prospect identification and list development quote.

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