For Impact


Maximizing Relationships – A Checklist

Funding | | Nick Fellers

How do we find new prospects? This is a question of nearly every organization. 

Before we talk about going outside of your network to find new prospects, the answer is to start by making sure that we’re maximizing existing relationships. 

Most relationships are not maximized at this given moment. We know this based on working thousands of prospect strategies across all types of organizations. When we apply the actions below to prospects who were thought to be maximized, we see an increase in funding and referrals 70% of the time! 

Why is it that we can increase the funding or referrals so often? Why is it that so many prospects are not maximized? 

The answer is pretty simple: there is no scorecard to tell you that you’re leaving referrals, or money on the table. A prospect will probably never say, “If the approach were a little different, I would be more inclined to open doors and I probably would’ve increased my commitment by 50%.”

If organizations had this feedback, they would tweak their approach instead of trying to take their approach to new prospects.

At For Impact, we are in a unique position in that we have thousands of repetitions with clients, to help them evaluate and implement strategies with current funders. That experience has produced this simple checklist we use and you can use as a reliable guide to ensure you’ve maximized relationships. 

And before we lay out the checklist let’s examine the difference between doing these things and not doing these things. It’s not incremental. It’s scalar. It’s the difference between a $10K and $100K commitment. It’s the difference between no referrals, and three warm introductions. These actions consistently and collectively maximize a prospect’s passion for your cause. They build on really simple brain science concepts that allow the prospect to fully understand your needs in a way that resonates most with them. And, they ensure that the prospect has what they need in order to be a champion and help identify new prospects! 

Maximizing Relationships – A Checklist

  • Have we visited with the prospect 1-on-1?

    Visiting with a prospect 1-on-1 (in person or virtually) increases the level of engagement (when compared to group meetings, events, and mass communications) by 10x because it creates focus on personal discernment. Instead of asking, “What is everyone going to do?” someone asks, “What am I going to do to help, or make an impact?”

    Organizations often have untapped opportunity for more engagement in these areas:
    • Boards. Some of the very best relationships are not maximized because they are engaged in group settings (i.e. board meetings). For example, we often see that an organization makes a year-end appeal to board members at a board meeting. Simply move this conversation to a 1-on-1 and get 10x the results! It’s simple but often overlooked.
    • Current commitments (that did not result from a 1-on-1 conversation). This could be someone that gave at an event. It could be someone who was so moved by an appeal that they sent in a major gift (without a visit). Or, it could be a family/foundation that renews support annually (without a 1-on-1 discussion). In the best cases, a 1-on-1 visit unlocks a lot more opportunity. Otherwise, it’s great stewardship and an assurance that you have truly maximized the relationships.

      Note: One-on-one is a shorthand. This could be virtual, or include two-on-two, or other combinations, but the key is to be in a situation where you can have a dialogue with the prospect. Speaking of dialogue…
  • Have we had a dialogue?

    For this checklist it’s not enough to say that we asked some questions; we have to really emphasize dialogue! Did we really listen to the prospect, ask more questions, and continue to listen?

    This is about much more than the old maxim, “Selling is not telling.” It’s about WHY that maxim holds up:
    • The brain becomes more engaged when a person is talking. This is literal. We could put someone into a brain scanning machine (fMRI) and watch their brain activity increase while they talk about something.
    • You can build your message on the prospect’s words. So much of potential philanthropic investment (or really ALL sales) is lost in translation. Without changing any of your programmatic process or impact you can use words that resonate much more effectively with the prospect.
    • You can build your message on the prospect’s relevant interests, or address relevant objections. You can’t discover these without listening.
  • Have we engaged (at altitude) around the three questions of every funder?

         1.  At 30,000’ – Toward what end (does your organization exist)?
         2.  At 14,000’ – Where does the money go?
         3.  At 3’ – How can I help?

    Every. single. funder. has these questions. They may not ask them explicitly, but if we don’t provide clear and compelling answers as part of our presentation, or case, then they leave a hole somewhere in the passion (at 30,000’), the logic (at 14,000’), or the action (at 3’). We need all three to maximize the interest and action on the part of a funder.

    Commonly we see that an organization might do a great job engaging prospects at 30,000’ but they can’t clearly articulate where the money goes in a way that’s concise and compelling. Funders and champions will support the mission but they are reluctant to help open doors until they have confidence in these answers.
  • Have we made a clear ask? (This is expanding upon 3’ How can I help? From above)

    The number one critique we hear from funders of the organizations that approach them is that the organizations are not clear in what they need.

    People are generous – and amazing – and so I won’t say that a prospect never guesses at your funding need. Instead, I will say that 95% of the time, a funder will not rise to the level of your need until you tell them clearly what is needed (to fund the vision). This means that 95% of the time that you’re not clear in your request, you can’t be sure you’re maximizing the commitment.

    This clarity holds true for prospects and referrals – be as specific as possible. “Can you help me think of two (individuals/corporations/foundations) that match our ideal prospect profile?”

Action: Look at your current portfolio, prospect list, or campaign plan. Look at your top five relationships. Can we answer YES to each of the questions above? If so, we can reasonably think of the prospect as being maximized at this given moment. If not, make a plan to visit, have a dialogue – at altitude – and ask.