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Prospect Development FAQs

What is prospect development?

Prospect development includes the…

  • People, processes, policies, and technology needed

To ensure that…

  • Staff are effective and efficient, and
  • Prospective and current donors have high-quality and engaging experiences.

Definitions—like many things in our world—are in the eye of the beholder. If you ask three different people to define “prospect development,” you’ll likely receive three different answers. Ours is this.

Prospect development is a Venn diagram of overlapping disciplines. Mature prospect development is a continuous, systematic, strategic process that allows nonprofits to identify, engage, and nurture donors. It combines elements of research, relationship building, and management to ensure a steady influx of support. Embracing these key components can make the difference between reactionary, sporadic fundraising…and a growing, sustainable fundraising program.

What is the role of a prospect development professional?

Let’s use the lifecycle of a future donor as a way to frame the roles and responsibilities of a prospect development professional.


Prospect identification is the foundation of prospect development. And prospect research is the core of the identification stage. Effective prospect research serves to support fundraisers with the following functions.

  • Estimate a prospect’s philanthropic capacity
  • Quantify a prospect’s affinity for your organization
  • Identify likely prospects
  • Produce simple and in-depth prospect profiles

Prospect identification includes discovering and evaluating prospective donors—uncovering their interests, relationships, capacity and inclination to give—to inform and support fundraising strategies and outreach efforts. Sources include wealth screening tools, giving history to your organization and others, input from peers, existing donors, volunteers, members, board members, event attendees, etc.

At this stage, the role of prospect development isn’t necessarily to perform the research—this will depend on the size and scale of your organization—but to ensure that it is proactive, systematic, and produces results.


Not every person identified will be a suitable prospect. This is where qualification comes in. Qualifying prospects enables you to categorize them into segments based on their ability and affinity to give. Learning about a prospect’s professional experience, networks, and potential areas of interest inform areas of alignment with your organization. It helps portfolio managers determine the best place to spend their precious time.


There is some “art’” in the moving from the qualification to cultivation phase, where relationship building takes over. It includes:

  • Engaging: reaching out to begin building a relationship. This could include emails, phone calls, event invitations, mission updates, and personal touches like birthday cards.
  • Educating: informing prospects about your organization’s mission, vision, needs, and the impact of their potential contribution.
  • Listening: ensuring there is two-way communication. Listening to the prospect’s needs and then learning and adapting your strategies.

The role of the prospect development professional is to oversee this process. Are prospects being actively engaged? Are they moving forward in the process at an appropriate pace? Are new prospects being qualified?


Managing solicitations uses insights from the research and cultivation stages to determine the best way to ask for a gift. A simple way to think about this is that solicitation management includes tracking the data necessary to create a pipeline report.

  • When will you ask?
  • How much will you ask for?
  • What is the likelihood that they will give?
  • When do you estimate they will give?
  • What will they give to?

The prospect development professional ensures that this information is recorded in a systematic way so that the organization can forecast future fundraising.

Stewardship and Retention

The job is not over once the gift has been made. This goes without saying, but once the gift is received, it is crucial to recognize donors promptly and authentically, acknowledging the impact of their contribution.

The role of the prospect development professional—you may detect a theme here!—is to make sure it happens, at the right time and in the right way. It is understandable for major gift officers, who may be managing portfolios that are too large, to lose track of stewarding a gift that was made three or six months ago. The prospect development professional helps them remember, creating a better, warmer experience for donors.

What key skills must a prospect development professional have?

In addition to the items listed above, a prospect development professional should also have the following skills.


Prospect development professionals collaborate with gift officers and development professionals to ensure fundraising efforts are focused on working with the right donors for the right gifts at the right time (and, in many cases, with the right initiatives). A prospect development professional is a partner that helps elevate fundraisers.


Prospect development is a data challenge. You don’t need a system to maintain relationships with a handful of friends. But when that list grows to 50, 100, or 150 friends (and we multiply those times 2 or 10 MGOs), it becomes unmanageable. That is where technology comes in.

One of the roles of a prospect development professional is to ensure that the technology is configured and maintained to provide useful and usable data. If gift officers are managing a large portfolio (e.g., more than 100 prospects—which we would see as too large), they need to know where to spend their most valuable resource: their time. Good technology is the foundation of this.

With accurate names and contact information, wealth screening, interests, relationships, touchpoints, communications, giving history, etc., fundraisers can quickly and easily see, “how are we doing as compared to our plan.”

The prospect development professional needs to help the team know: “what must we do now to achieve our goals in the future.”


Being able to see useful information “quickly and easily” requires metrics. You must define targets for a handful of key measures and then surface them on reports and dashboards. At any point in time, you should be able to take the pulse of the program by answering the following questions, each one tied to a metric.

  • Are portfolios the right size?
  • Are we making meaningful contacts with the right number of people?
  • Are the right people in portfolios?
  • Are we asking for the right amounts?
  • Are we asking frequently enough?
  • Are prospects moving forward at an appropriate pace?
  • Are our donors satisfied?
  • Are we able to forecast fundraising revenue?


Prospect development professionals are in the customer service business. Their customers are major gift officers, advancement leaders, donor relations managers, prospect researchers, and—while they may not interact with them directly—donors.

Do nonprofits have “customers” and do they deliver “customer service?” You better believe it. Studies indicate nonprofits lose nearly 20% of their donors because of poor service. Findings from a customer service survey showed the following.

  • 95% took action after a bad service experience, and 79% have told others about it.
  • 82% stopped or reduced support because of negative experiences and most do not return.

Prospect development professionals help ensure their nonprofit does not forget the importance of good customer service.

Steve’s expertise lies in system selections, project leadership, strategic business intelligence, and ensuring that stakeholders are served by technology. He is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a frequent presenter at conferences. Steve enjoys helping nonprofits bridge the gap between technology and people. He approaches his work with two primary drivers: do excellent work and care about the clients.

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