Challenges and Opportunities for Prospect Development in 2017

prospect developmentGuest Post by Lori Hood Lawson

As US President Donald Trump proceeds to sign executive orders as I write this, a number of national and international nonprofit organizations either reap the rewards of such directives or run headlong into an unannounced fire drill(s), or a combination of both. What can you do, in your prospect development positions at your organization, no matter what side of the order your organization’s mission is on? It helps to understand the mindset of your major gift donors. Fortunately, there is a lot you can measure and track to help your organization navigate the year 2017.

New Year, New Realities

Everyone has just survived this toxic election season and now what? Many super wealthy people (i.e., HNWIs) reportedly have already prepared for a doomsday scenario. They’ve likely purchased property and/or signed up for residency in New Zealand. They are also likely reconsidering their philanthropic focus, either through impact investing, refocusing their foundations, or both. As the Trump Administration proceeds on its march to slash funding for social causes, some nonprofit organizations will thrive in terms of private funding as a result.

Look at the donations to the ACLU as a result of the immigration ban executive order. In just two days, the civil rights organization had received $24 million. The ACLU stated it usually receives $4 million in donations ONLINE in a good year; so, yes, this is six times the amount they usually receive online in one year received in two days. Celebrities and venture capitalists were also pledging to match donations to the organization via Twitter. The ACLU recently partnered with Y Combinator to learn how best to use this new-found money.

Where Did The Money Go?

“Wait, Lori,” you might say, “Y Combinator is for startups.” Y Combinator, which usually takes an equity stake in companies accepted into its program, is not taking a stake in the ACLU. Read the link to the Forbes article for more information.

Kal Penn, actor from House and Designated Survivor TV shows, and former Obama staffer, after receiving a comment on Instagram telling him to go back to his own country (FYI, Kal was born here in the US, in New Jersey), continues to raise significant donations for the International Rescue Committee. As of this writing, Kal’s Crowdrise fundraiser has raised $830,475.

In addition to the above, you also have the fact many of the usual political contributors with significant amounts of disposable income abstained from donating politically this past election season, because they did not feel strongly about either of the major party candidates. Where did that money go, and where is it going to go now?

prospect developmentWhat Can Prospect Development Professionals Do?

In this challenging and dynamic environment, what should you do as a prospect development professional? Get well-versed in wealth and philanthropic advisors’ advice – you can easily find this via wealth management articles and stories about philanthropy directed at HNWIs and UHNWIs. What are your prospects and donors being told to do during this uncertain time?

Advice From Advisors

As an example, among the advice being distributed is the following from Arabella Advisors:

  • Give generously to the organizations which are in dire need of help. “Regardless of the mission of your foundation, your track record as a donor, or the legacy you are pursuing, find resources to give to organizations engaging on the issues in today’s news.”
  • Impact matters. Arabella is advising a reassessment of donations to organizations one is not passionate about or that “aren’t achieving impact.” This suggested reassessment includes reviewing current priorities and personal donations with “emerging needs” at the foundation of such assessment.
  • Continue political contributions. The thinking is this: while foundations themselves cannot contribute politically, a foundation’s trustees can do so personally. Arabella is advising to not wait until the next election.

As a prospect development professional, you can assist your organization, even if your organization is not one focused on social welfare or human rights, by identifying and tracking how your donors’ philanthropic interests may shift or are shifting (or have shifted). This philanthropic interest shift also happened during the Great Recession, so this is something you likely were doing back then as well. If not, no time like the present!

Ideas For Your Strategy

Consider the following in your strategy:

  • Can you predict what shifts in philanthropic interest may happen?
    • How do the POTUS’ executive orders impact your prospects and donors?  Her/his businesses?  Their family? Their family’s businesses?
    • Don’t get trapped in your own filter bubble when you research impact of the POTUS’ executive orders. Make yourself examine these through all multi-partisan lenses.
  • Which supporters is your organization at risk of losing based on this interest shift? Which donors will reduce their support of your organization?
    • Are they now giving elsewhere and, if so, for what purpose?
    • Does this track with their previous donations to other organizations?
    • Which other boards are your donors serving on? What types of organizations are those?
  • Take a look at political contributions, not only at the federal level but the state and local levels as well.
    • Don’t forget to look at each state/locality in which your prospects and donors have residences and/or business locations.
    • What initiatives are they supporting? What have they supported historically?

Other Considerations

  • Have your prospects with family foundations changed the focus of its grants? What about your organization’s other prospective funders? Take a look at the foundation’s website, if available, as well as its social media presence. What I noticed during the Great Recession was a reliance on social media as a means to communicate this shift in focus. The Foundation Center’s Glass Pockets is a great repository for the various communication tools utilized by a number of large foundations. Otherwise, it should be easy enough with your mad PD skills to find a foundation’s communication tools! Also, go back and take a look at the foundations ruled out as matches with your organization’s mission – have they shifted to funding an area which is a match with your organization?
  • Continue to track interests over time, even if/when the political dust settles. Set up alerts for this – both via the press outlets (for press release level donations) and tools like iWave’s PRO.
  • Now is the time to screen for not only philanthropic donations but also on political contributions.

As a prospect development professional, you really can and should contribute to your organization’s strategy during this time of rapid change.  You can do this by through viewing this challenge as an opportunity to show the power of data as a business asset.

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About the lori hood lawsonauthor: Lori Hood Lawson is CEO and co-founder of, where she only uses data for good. She’s often found on Twitter @WorkingLori.

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