For Impact


Sourcing Prospects

Funding | | Nick Fellers

Recently, we worked with some of our clients to analyze over 100 major funders to determine the means by which they first entered the prospect pipeline.

We then grouped sources into these five buckets. The groupings are simple and we’re sharing them here in the hopes that they might help you think about how you’re identifying prospects.

    1. Referrals. This included anytime someone gave us a name, made an introduction, or influenced someone to engage with us (for example, at a virtual experience).

    2. Research. This included any name (individual/corporation/foundation/government source) that was identified as a result of trying to match criteria, or through some other review of publications/news (such as reading the Chronicle of Philanthropy).

    3. Intentional Networks. These prospects were often described to us with these words, “I first met them at XYZ conference last year and then we continued to talk.” We developed this category to include all activities by which you can pursue or opt-into a chance to meet and know others. Examples of this would be peer groups, accelerators, or conferences. On a more localized level, this could be a town hall meeting.

    4. Community Members/Alumni. This is a bucket exclusive to certain types of organizations like universities, hospitals, and churches. Obviously, a lot of their prospects originate as alumni, grateful patients, and church members.

    5. Marketing/PR (Inbound). In the traditional marketing world these would be inbound leads. These are prospects that found the organization and/or gifts that were made as a result of media exposure, strategic branding, or a marketing campaign.

          Most readers can invest time today to identify names through research and referrals. Not only are these means available to any sales person (fundraiser), they also represent the most systemic value created across our analysis. In simple terms, these were the means by which organizations (outside of education, health care, churches, and disaster relief) originated 85% of their $1M+ gift relationships. 

          Some coaching notes:

          • This list speaks to means of identification, not method of outreach. For example, you could send an email to a referral or you could have a connector/champion make an introduction. Or, the champion could invite the referral to attend an experience wherein they see or participate in your impact.

          • Approximately half of the successful referrals included a warm introduction; the other half of the time a successful referral outreach occurred because the organization reached out to the name directly. 

          • When it comes to referrals, don’t ask your board (or another group) to give you names. Instead, visit with individuals one-on-one. Engage them at altitude and then use either an ideal profile or a list to brainstorm names. Instead of asking, “Who do you know that…” Change the prompt to, “Can you help us brainstorm the names of individuals/corporations/foundations that match this profile?”

          • When it comes to research, start by identifying the causes you represent. Most organizations represent more than one cause (eg. youth+workforce development+education). You can research funders to these causes (the methods and strategies are too numerous for this article). You can also identify organizations that align to these causes and start to identify funders to those organizations/causes.

          • “Intentional networks” was not a source we expected to group in our analysis but 15% of the sales people (fundraisers, ceos, executive directors) we spoke with had developed large portions of their portfolios by working the conference circuit. They were very strategic (and often used research/referrals) ahead of the conference to ensure they were with the best/most aligned people at the conference.

          • We’re not big on trying to build a sales pipeline from marketing/PR. To be clear, these can be effective strategies to generate some gifts, but we can’t point to any replicable system – at scale – that works across all the sectors we impact. If we’re building a fundraising/prospect plan we might use this bucket as a placeholder in our model. Example, “Based on history, let’s assume that 8% of our names (leads) and 3% of our funding will come from people that watch our TED talk.

          • Finally, before you think about developing a strategy to identify NEW names, my number one piece of advice would be to stop and make sure that you’re maximizing your existing relationships! Across our consulting practice – including the campaigns we manage.. the major gifts efforts we construct… and teams we support… we find that 60% of existing funder relationships are not yet maximized!