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Prospects Make It Possible: The Value Added by Prospect Development
Do prospect development professionals add value to the fundraising team, the organization, the mission, or the impact to our communities and the world we live in? Absolutely! But articulating this value to our fundraising colleagues and leadership can be a challenge.
As a full-time staffer in prospect development at The Ohio State University, I didn’t worry so much about articulating my value. Now as CEO of my own prospect development consulting business, articulating my value is always top of mind for my clients and me. Being able to clearly demonstrate the return on investment for prospect development is key to my success. In fact, any reasonable business coach will tell you being able to communicate your unique value proposition is fundamental to success. The same is true for our individual success as employees or consultants.
As a business owner, I have realized how deeply our industry is challenged by value articulation. In prospect development, we talk about value articulation amongst ourselves, commiserating around the water cooler. We attend panel discussions or educational sessions at our local conferences and conduct salary surveys to shape parameters around our pay. Yet we do little to tell our story to the larger world of philanthropy. Just as we measure and report the impact of a gift officer’s work, we can — and should — measure our own work to tell our story and illuminate the return on investment for prospect development.
One tactical way to measure the value is to utilize the research manager assignment in our respective customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. Assign yourself as a research manager to prospects you identify. In addition, it is helpful to have a research manager assignment for any funders actively moving through the donor cycle with support from your research. Every six to twelve months, pull a report and look at the progress of the prospects you’ve identified for new or increased giving. Be sure to include funders you’ve been involved with as it relates to strategy meetings.
In addition to new names you identify, your research and analysis have undoubtedly allowed your frontline team to move relationships forward with other prospects. We are part of the fundraising team. Utilizing research manager assignments allow you to name and assign value to your role. We can clearly define, track and share out the impact of our unique contribution to larger fundraising objectives.
Another tactic is to drive prospect strategy meetings. Start by renaming and rebranding your donor strategy meeting as the prospect development meeting. To be clear, driving those meetings does not mean you do all the prep work and compile all the materials for everyone. Your role is more of a facilitator than a meeting organizer.
Being the facilitator for prospect development meetings is that dance we call “managing up and out.” I recommend using automated surveys and forms to help gift officers prepare for meetings. This standardizes the meetings and creates expectations about what is important to discuss during these strategy meetings. By driving this, you set a standard for the way meetings are conducted. You are the one that best understands the CRM and the larger data management structure. You are most in tune with the elements within the larger discussion that you want to track for future reference and reporting. While a gift officer absolutely has the responsibility to provide accurate, timely and meaningful contact reports and to make key updates to donor engagement plans, there will still be elements that you can pick up on and turn into data fields.
The final tactic is to be your own prospect development publicist. Episode 176 of popular nonprofit consultant Joan Garry’s Nonprofits Are Messy Podcast is titled, “Why the Nonprofit Sector Needs a Publicist.” Garry makes the case that most people misunderstand or have a misrepresentation of what fundraising is all about.
If fundraising in general needs a publicist, then prospect development surely needs one. I would argue most of the world does not even know this industry even exists. Our own colleagues misunderstand what we do. I regularly encounter fundraising professionals who have never had the luxury, privilege or the investment of a prospect development team — even career fundraisers who have generated hundreds of millions of dollars for organizations. When I hear their stories, I always think about how much more effective, impactful and enjoyable their work could have been with a strategic thought partner by their side feeding them qualified names.
The individual prospect researcher may not find it important for the entire world to know what they do, but it’s necessary in order for our larger profession to be valued. It’s important for the budding researcher or emerging data scientist to understand there is an opportunity to have great impact in the world.
There is opportunity for those who are naturally introverted, naturally curious and inquisitive, and who possess brilliant analytical skills to enjoy rewarding career paths that leave the world a better place. There is a profession outside of history or library science that can also offer meaningful impact. As new and younger professionals come into this industry, I want them to enter feeling valued.
Prospect development is an important way to ensure the long-term success of an organization and its mission. It is a key component of any successful fundraising effort. These tactics better position us to recognize our contributions and to make the case for more equitable and value-based compensation.
Without prospects, missions suffer and transformation is diminished. Finding qualified prospects who make large scale transformation possible is our value. And that is a powerful story to tell.