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Incorporating disqualification into your prospect management strategy

Prospect qualification – the process of identifying and qualifying individuals or entities interested in supporting your organization’s mission – is critical to ensuring the success and longevity of your work. Qualifying donors and prospects on a consistent basis is critical.  It ensures that you are engaging a deep pool of supporters whose philanthropic capacity and inclination are aligning with your mission and needs. But just as important as qualification is disqualification.

Why? Because focusing on engaging prospects with a genuine, current interest in your organization affects your team’s productivity and morale, expedites the process of closing major gifts, and ensures that stewardship strategies are effective and impactful.

Here are three tips for incorporating a prospect disqualification strategy into your prospect portfolio management work.

Step 1: Clarify your organization’s definition of “disqualification”

To keep your team focused on the top priority prospects, set quantitative and qualitative parameters for your organization’s prospect disqualification process. Keep in mind that a disqualified status can change, so incorporate systems for reviewing disqualified prospects periodically. Your organization’s disqualification parameters may include the following:

  • Three personalized touchpoints within six months with no response
  • Despite research, the organization has no viable contact information nor identifiable connections to the prospect
  • The prospect states that your organization is not a philanthropic priority
  • The prospect is not likely to make a major gift to your organization within the next 18–24 months
  • The prospect declines a major gift solicitation, or responds to a solicitation with a gift that is lower than your organization’s major gift/managed prospect threshold
  • The prospect asks to be removed from all mailing lists and asks not to be contacted by the organization

It can be hard to let go of some prospects, but remember: prospect portfolio management is an exercise in prioritization. Disqualifying prospects and removing them from your portfolio creates room for you to add and qualify new prospects.

Step 2: Complete outreach, record activity, and review regularly

Your donor database exists, in part, to preserve institutional knowledge when staffing changes occur or multiple staff members are interacting with a single donor. To maintain a consistent relationship with donors over time and across your organization, record and monitor all activity resulting in prospect disqualification. Here is a useful mindset to adopt: if it’s not in the database, it didn’t happen.

Ensure prospect outreach activity is recorded in a way that allows the data to be easily exported from the database into a report (along with donor visits, proposals, and gift closes). Pull reports monthly or quarterly to identify scenarios where quantitative disqualification criteria has been met (e.g., no response to three personalized touchpoints in six months).

Additionally, teams should be diligent about recording donor visit contact reports and substantive correspondence in the database. Email chains and meeting notes provide important evidence and context for qualitative disqualification (e.g., “Mrs. Jones shared that while she was happy to make a gift to our organization, she did so in honor of Josie and does not intend to make any future gifts.”)

Step 3: Stay in touch, passively

No matter the size of your organization, you likely communicate with prospects in a variety of ways, from highly personalized outreach (such as 1:1 interactions, handwritten notes, access to senior leaders, or private tours) to mailing lists. When you make the decision to disqualify a prospect from a portfolio, never delete their record or write them off forever. Instead, ensure they are still receiving some type of correspondence from your organization, such as newsletters, event invitations, or annual appeals (unless they explicitly asked not to be contacted).

Over time, the prospect’s circumstances or priorities might change or a different voice or activity might resonate with them. Until then, this strategy will keep them informed of your work without exhausting the finite time and energy of your team.

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