- Suspect - a name in the database or a dreamed-about wealthy resident.
- Prospect - someone with whom you have an introductory relationship, such as a small contribution, a guest at an event, or a responder to an ad, story or group presentation.
- Qualified prospect - now you know something about their interests and if they are a potential match for your organization.
- Donor - the successful cultivation of a qualified prospect who will continue to give, make a major gift, consider an estate gift, or participate with your organization in some volunteer way.
But the real work has only begun. For the most important contact is what happens AFTER that initial gift. In far too many organizations, once considered a "donor", the attention devoted to securing that first gift is abandoned and the move is to get another "prospect" into the "donor" category. In other words, the building of a strong lifecycle relationship has just ended. Future contact is a mailing, invitation to an annual meeting or a financial statement from time to time. Do your donors feel like you think they are "dead?"
Now that we've thought about the lifecycle strategy of building donors, we need to think about some of the ways to put that framework into practice. The ultimate success may differ from one organization to another or one campaign to another, but for most of us, an estate gift would be celebrated as a major accomplishment.
Instead of thinking about donor categories by profession, by geography or by size of gift, think about creating categories of lifecycles. Suspects seem easy to recognize. However, a recent discussion with one client brought the realization that their entire prospect list was really all suspects. They had bought a list of "high net worth zip codes" for their area. Think about how you "qualify" your suspects before you add them to a list and hope for the best.
Consider defining your development activities based on prospects' lifecycle. For example, rather than an individual visit with someone who knows nothing about you, think of ways to introduce your work with a small group who all learn together. This provides economy and efficiency, and is often a much more desirable option for board member involvement than a one-on-one visit.
Moving from the overview group state can then be programmed based on your available resources - people, budget, time and talents. For some the next lifecycle may be to identify those with interests in the same area or program, where again you can deepen the relationship in small groups that are more focused on the prospects' interests.
If you consider the lifecycle in your marketing and development work, you will ultimately find that when it is time for an individual meeting with a qualified prospect you are well prepared to provide a compelling case for support because you know something about the prospect's interests.
For more nonprofit funding tips, as well as endowment development, nonprofit administration and management, subscribe to Endowment Development Institute's Newsletter here.