Retaining Your Prospect Development Staff: 5 Best Practices

This content is presented by DonorSearch as part of a content exchange with Apra Connections.

Prospect development is an incredibly important feature for any organization relying on donations for its operations.

This development includes the process of identifying possible major donors by using online information, including wealth and philanthropic indicators. These indicators include data such as real estate holdings, stock acquisition, political contributions, and past involvement with any nonprofit organizations.

Without compiling all of this information, it can be very difficult to find the right potential donors to solicit for major gifts or to know how much to ask of them. Therefore, retaining a dedicated staff member to conduct this research will help your organization save time and energy for your other needs.

Some ways to retain this important staff member are:

  1. Begin with the right hire.  
  2. Provide the proper tools.
  3. Make it easy to donate. 
  4. Keep online information secure. 
  5. Communicate with your staff.

Make sure you know the basics of prospect development and its uses for nonprofit organizations. Now, let’s dive into the first best practice.

To begin your relationship with a prospect development professional on the right foot, you want to be very specific with your hiring process. Start by making a list of the attributes you need in your next hire.

Begin the process of finding a prospect development staff member by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Does the prospect development professional have a similar experience level as the rest of your fundraising team? A similar track record will ensure your new team member can hit the ground running.
  • What do you need help with from the hire? Just the research process? Fundraising consulting? Capital campaign strategy? Training? Make sure your researcher will be able to fulfill all the needs you need met. 
  • Is the potential hire a good cultural fit with your team? The hiring and work processes will be much smoother if the prospect development staff fits in comfortably with your team. 
  • Does the hire’s priorities align with your nonprofit’s mission statement? All your staff members should be well aware of your mission statement and align with its purpose.

The very beginning of the hiring process with your prospect development staff can have a huge influence over how the relationship will continue into the future.

The more prepared you are to hire a prospect development professional who will serve all the needs of your organization while seamlessly integrating with your other staff members, the better the engagement will continue.

Make sure your prospect development staff is prepared with the proper tools to do their work. This doesn’t mean you need to micromanage them, but provide them all the tools they need to complete their work.

Different software solutions can help make your prospect development staff’s process much more efficient. For instance:

  • Database search tools. Search tools make it much easier to search for and find the names of people who have the philanthropic and wealth indicators that suggest a potential interest and ability to make a major gift contribution to your organization. 
  • Matching gifts database. A matching gifts database can be a great motivator for major donors to give and potentially double their donation. Employers will often match the gifts made by their employees to nonprofits. To read more about matching gifts, check out 360 MatchPro’s guide.
  • Portfolio tools. Your staff members typically need to create portfolios on the individuals they research. This portfolio will help them to stay organized to help your organization reach out to those prospects now and in the future.

By providing all the tools your staffer needs to do their job, you will ensure they have time to be as effective and efficient as possible.

With the proper search and portfolio tools, your prospect development staff will stay organized with their work. Organization eliminates frustrating wasted time trying to find different tools and files.

Meanwhile, the matching gifts database will make the job of the staff members more efficient. It is also the goal of your prospect development staff to gain large donations, and a matching gifts tool makes this goal more achievable.

While it is the job of your prospect development staff to find prospective major donors, landing these donations is the ultimate goal of the relationship.

Providing your staff the most effective tools to succeed is important, but don’t forget to provide the donation tools to your donors as well!

When you or your staff reaches out to donors of any size, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to make their contribution to your organization.

Make sure your donors have the opportunity to donate through channels such as:

  • Online. Providing a place on your website where people can make donations makes it easy for people to donate from the comfort of their own home. Online giving tools make it easy to set up donation pages, manage gifts, and process donations. 
  • In person. Ensure the hours of your organization are available on the website and updated correctly on Google so that people know when they can visit. In addition, you may consider setting up meeting times with major donors to give them a tour. 
  • Mail. Offer a mail-in donations option. If you send fundraising request letters to prospective donors, include an envelope that is already self-addressed and stamped to your organization to ease the donation process further. 
  • Over the phone. Many donation requests are made over multiple calls with prospective donors. While they may not donate directly over the phone with you (or maybe they will!) be ready to direct them to the easiest donation platform for the donors.

When you make the contribution process easier, donations are more likely to come through. Through these successful donations, your prospect development staff can see the fruits of their labor. Offering more donation outlets is a smart prospecting strategy; many organizations first identify new major donors by their engagement with lower-level online campaigns, for instance.

When your prospect development staff and yourself have the same goal to increase donations, and that goal is achieved, your relationship with one another will be much smoother.

Your prospect development staff and donors value their privacy. Make sure all your information, databases, website, and profiles are safe and secure.

Can you imagine if you came into work one day to realize your website was hacked and your donor’s payment information was revealed? That is a nightmare situation for anyone.

Keep your website secure with a reputable security plugin to protect your passwords. People have a bad habit of using the same passwords for all websites and choosing words with personal connection. Make sure your password is protected with plugins like Swoop.

Establishing hypertext transfer protocol secure for your site (https rather than http) is another way to protect your website information. HTTPS encrypts communications between your website and browser.

Website security might seem detached from prospect development at first, but the two are more interconnected than you might think. This interconnectivity includes elements such as:

  • Secure websites lead to trust in your organization from your prospective donors. Trust is a part of the foundation of your relationship with prospective donors. When supporters trust you, they are more likely to respond positively to the call from your staff. 
  • Donor information is protected when your information is more secure. If you keep databases that are connected to the internet in any way, they are more vulnerable to leaks. Setting up security measures reduces this leak risk. 
  • Adding security measures shows donors you care. Showing your supporters that you care about them and their safety on your website will increase their faith in your organization. This makes it easier to turn your prospective donors into actual donors.

Keeping your information secure makes the relationship between your organization and your donors friendly and positive. This positive relationship trickles into the daily activities of your prospective research staff, and ultimately, the relationship between your organization and your staff members.

Open communication is the key to your relationship with any of your staff members. Make sure there are plenty of open lines of communication between staff members and executive positions within your organization.

Channels of communication should be clearly defined to each member of your staff. Consider creating structured, open channels of communication such as:

  • Executive office hours. Leave some time available every day where people are welcome to the office of the executives within the office to discuss anything. 
  • Regular meetings. Set up a meeting every week or month with your prospective research staff to check in on work and discuss new ideas for the department. 
  • Email protocol. Be sure everyone, including your prospect development staff, knows the proper email protocol for your organization.

Tell your prospect development staff the methods of communication that will work best for you, and make sure it works well for them as well.

Be honest when you talk with your staff members. Openly discuss your intentions with their role in the organization and their performance reviews. Simply being true, honest, and open will set up a relationship with your prospect development staff which will last over the years.


Your prospect development staff is an integral part of your organization. They connect you to the major donors you need to keep the organization afloat. These 5 best practices to retain these important staff members for your organization are excellent first steps you can take today to strengthen both your fundraising infrastructure and retention abilities.

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