The easiest prospects to identify are usually the ones that nobody ever mentions. Your current donors are your best prospects. Why do so many work so hard to cultivate a donor and then when successful, put those folks aside and think the next prospect must be somebody new? Everyone professes to understand this, but never does anything about it.
1 - They don't have to worry about explaining everything about your organization.
One or two stories about your work, your beneficiaries, or your dreams for what your organization would like to do in the future provide compelling information as well as good conversation.
2 - They don't have to ask for money.
The goal of these visits is to build a stronger relationship with your donors. The best success comes from having a "deep" relationship with fewer donors rather than a "superficial" relationship with lots of donors.
3 - They might actually enjoy hearing what others have to say about your organization.
With the current climate of accountability and openness, wouldn't it be nice for your donors to see that the board members actually care about what they think?
Prospecting is not a scary activity, and if started with already committed donors, your board may find it is actually fun. And as Harry Paul says, "Work Made Fun Gets Done!"
Awhile ago, I talked about the best prospects and where to find them. Thanks for the many comments that Tip generated. Because at some point you will need a prospect list beyond your current donors, let me summarize a couple of the responses and my reactions to them. Remember, these are prospects for significant current gifts or in estate plans.
One common suggestion was to ask board members to submit names. While this is a very good idea, how you do it determines whether or not it will work. To ask board members to write down names seems simple but rarely works. And if you ask them to complete forms with additional information, it almost assures that they won't respond. Yes, board members are critical to creating a meaningful prospect list, but names must be gathered in individual meetings with each person. Only in the privacy of a confidential conversation will they be comfortable enough to suggest names. And the critical goal of the conversation is to determine if that member is the right person to approach the prospect, and if not, who might be.
One good suggestion was to gather public lists of donors to other organizations. Many groups have publicity that lists donors such as the program at an event or show, the wall of recognition in a public place, or annual reports that identify donors. The use of this information is to see if your organization has any reason to approach these people because of a common area of interest or a way to help them achieve their philanthropic goals.
Working to build a prospect list is beneficial beyond the names. It focuses your attention on a primary goal of all nonprofits - raising money. A discipline that suggests you will try to add one or two new names per week seems much more doable than to announce a need for a list of 50 or 100 new names. It gives you a reason to call or visit individually with your board members (a practice you should be doing for many reasons) at a rate that you can accomplish. And, as you gather names you also gather insight as to what the best approach might be for each. Cultivating large gifts comes from an individualized approach, and that starts with prospect identification.
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