“” “Honey I Shrunk the List”: What Is Happening to Your Prospect Pipeline?

Professional Fundraising Certificate Program

“Honey I Shrunk the List”: What Is Happening to Your Prospect Pipeline?

In the late 1980s, I loved to watch Rick Moranis search his yard for his bite-size family in the movie “Honey I Shrunk the Kids;” I particularly liked the “giant ant” the kids rode across their lawn to the back of their house.

Recently, I spent some time thinking about my organization’s pipeline and realized that we have spent a lot of time with the same prospects. As a result, when we receive gifts, we are actually seeing our pipeline getting smaller. Like the characters in one of my favorite movies, it’s shrinking.

Keeping your pipeline from shrinking — and even better, finding ways to expand your pipeline — is, of course, easier said than done. It’s particularly challenging for nonprofits that do not have a built in base (alumni, patients, members, etc.), but you might find some of these ideas helpful in your role.

First, we must recognize that the work or pipeline building is the responsibility of prospect research, prospect management, frontline fundraising, and program delivery. For many organizations, all of these functions may sit with one person or just a few people; for others, these represent distinct groups or departments. With this lens, you can then consider the following:

  • Who uses/benefits from your services? Who volunteers for your organization?
  • Who is involved with organizations similar to yours and, even better, to organizations that are focused on adjacent areas (for example, if you work for the American Cancer Society, you should also be looking at people involved with hospitals)?
  • Who comes to your events?
  • Who has met fundraisers from your organization?
  • Who is in the news that might be interested in helping your organization?

Once you have identified these people, do some light research to provide direction on where to start a new relationship and begin getting to know them. Note that the key to success here is that it is rarely the first person you meet within any of these categories who is going to be a viable prospect for you. Often it is someone in their network and, I find, it is actually the third degree of separation that yields the most promising prospects.

Being explicit about your role in the prospecting process in the first conversations you have is important. Your honesty will put people at ease and encourage them to be more open about their professional and social networks.

If you are eager to move prospects into your major gift program, Blackbaud’s very succinct six-step process is worth reviewing. There is much more to building and running a successful major gift program, but it is not a bad place to get started.

So, no need to pull out the giant magnifying glass to find your future donors, but rather, focus on expanding your pipeline so that it will be incredibly clear where your next gifts will be coming from. Nothing in life comes easily and this definitely falls into that category, but it is well worth it for the sustained success of your fundraising operation over time.

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