Partnerships in Pipeline Development

By Liz Clark

Raise your hand if you have been asked these questions: “We’re short of our goal, where are the prospects to help close it out?” or, “We need prospects to support this new innovative project. Where are they?”

With a few proactive measures and collaborative effort, you can meet the challenges of identifying prospects and provide meaningful answers to your colleagues.

To answer these questions ahead of the public phase of a campaign, Creighton University formed the Task Force for Pipeline Development in 2018. My colleague, Emily Bauman, senior director of development – college of nursing, and I lead the task force of colleagues from annual giving, donor relations, athletics, advancement services and prospect development. Our goal: create a strategic discovery process for identifying new prospects.

At the time of writing this, we are now 18 months into this project and continue to adapt and make changes. Our task force has identified more than 500 prospects for discovery, which were given to gift officers in March 2019. Of those prospects, 64% have been contacted, resulting in 86 prospects being disqualified and 20 newly assigned major gift prospects. Through our leads process, we’ve also added 146 prospects to the pipeline for qualification.

Task Force Priorities

We identified challenge areas and determined new processes to help, ultimately focusing our efforts on these three areas: leads, disqualification and our gift table.


We have been doing great work engaging our alumni, parents and donors. However, we had no formal process for referring those names to other staff members if the prospect expressed other areas of interest. For example, if a volunteer wanted to make a gift or if a donor was interested in hosting an event, we needed a way to ensure their name was shared with the colleague who could best serve them.

We met this challenge by using an online platform that allowed names to be sent between individuals and tracked in the database. Emails are auto-generated through the system and show transparency about what follow-up has happened. Because it was important that everyone in the division feel responsible for pipeline development, there was a mechanism for gift accounting, donor relations and communications to send names to others.  

The most important part is the follow-up on the leads. We are consistent with our message to colleagues that leads are important to our work and must be followed up with in a timely manner. We have established a two-week deadline for lead follow-up. Leads that are not followed up with are addressed with the person who is responsible for it and their manager, as needed.


We have a process for tracking stages of assigned prospects from qualify to stewardship. Our challenge was with our unassigned pool and determining who is a good prospect, which meant we needed a way to track who shouldn’t be in our pool.     

We met this challenge by creating four disqualification codes. These codes are good for three years until the prospect development team revisits each name to determine if they go back into the pool or remain disqualified. Prospects could not be automatically disqualified if the last visit with a gift officer was more than a year ago.  

The most used disqualification codes are:

  • NMN – No management needed: Prospects that are not going to give over their annual giving level and thus do not need to be managed by a gift officer.
  • NC – Not in this campaign: Prospects with affinity and capacity but are not in a place to make a major gift in the next three to five years.

Two other codes were created to help disqualify prospects for a specific large-scale identification project. We routinely revisit these names with gift officers to qualify/disqualify but in certain cases, they can select the following codes:

  • NR – No response: Gift officer reaches out at least five times through two different means of communication and hasn’t gotten a response.
  • NT – Need more time: Gift officer has tried to reach out, but not enough times, and hasn’t made it back to the territory the prospect lives in.

Disqualification has helped tremendously with focusing our discovery efforts. Gift officers know who not to reach out to because they’ve previously been disqualified. And our alumni officers have found the “NC” code to be helpful because they can target those prospects for engagement until the time is right to make a gift.  

Increasing Our Major Gift Level and Real-Time Gift Table

With approval from our Vice President, the task force increased our major gift level from $25,000 to $50,000, helping everyone mentally shift to a higher solicitation gift level.

Our gift table is built off of the campaign rating gift officers give to each prospect. In the past, those ratings were updated twice a year, but our VP wanted real-time ratings. To address this challenge, we developed a system with our administrative assistants to have them update the campaign ratings as contact reports are filed. This feeds into our gift table, which is housed in PowerBI to be available as needed.

The Work Continues

Our task force is happy with our progress on pipeline development, but there’s still more to do. We periodically share progress with our division, to encourage and reinforce new behaviors. By leveraging the strengths of everyone on our team, creating cohesive partnership, and proactive measures, our work will pay dividends in the future.  

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