The Two Faces of Prospect Management
By Mark Egge, Senior Manager, Prospect Management, Greater Twin Cities United Way
I am a complete and total “two face.” It’s a work thing. Sometimes I’m outgoing, gregarious, and personable; other times I’m inwardly focused and lost in my thoughts. Sometimes I am everybody’s best “office friend” and focused on learning all about their user needs and problems. Other times, I focus all my energy on thinking through systems and about how data is structured. In short, I am the Prospect Management Guy.
There is a reason for each mode of thinking, and it’s always to advance the prospect management program at my organization. In fact, I have to play these different roles in order to effectively run the prospect management system.
Before I go any further, let me quickly explain what I mean by “prospect management system.” It is a means of tracking and reporting fundraising activities and planning. The system will usually involve a centralized database for capture and reporting of information, rules and procedures that standardize how information is “translated” to the database, as well as meetings to help facilitate communication.
A prospect management system helps us maintain our focus on our best prospects. It helps us manage our prospect pipeline, and it provides insight into how our fundraising is going. It can clue us in to when we are in need of more prospects, and it helps ensure that we are actively cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding our donors.
This system can be a strange place. It’s where imprecise human relationships and interactions meet metrics and reporting. Most fundraisers don’t naturally think about quantifying these various aspects of their daily work, such as visits and phone conversations – and all the other activities that are part of the plan for securing a gift from a prospect.
So, we’re asking frontline fundraisers to do things (like entering information into a database) that doesn’t always help them do their jobs. Yet, the fundraisers are the ones who provide the “fuel” to really make a prospect management system go. They carry out the activities, deliver information on those activities to the system, and make the final call on how an activity translates to a code in the system. (They will be using the reporting and also may modify their behavior based on that reporting.) Without the fundraisers, the system simply will not work. At the same time, most of the time the prospect manager has no formal authority over them.
Today, a lot of the talk about prospect management systems (at conferences, in articles, etc.) is focused on the technical side of the equation: the reporting, which activities should be tracked (and how), what standard benchmarks are for various metrics, and so on. This is all important, of course, because without these pieces you don’t have much of a system at all. But the “soft” part that seems to be ignored a lot of the time is the “people” component.
Because the person in charge of the prospect management system is so reliant on others, it is critical that he or she be good at the “people” piece of the puzzle and, accordingly, have a diverse skill set.
A colleague of mine at a nonprofit in the Twin Cities told me once about all of her struggles trying to get a system off the ground. She had great technical skills; she understood how the reporting needed to work; and she knew how all the codes and processes fit together. My friend had all sorts of fantastic technical knowledge, but ultimately she needed to get others on board with the plan, and this was not a skill set that came naturally to her.
On the other hand, I recently consulted for a small college in the southern U.S. as they were hiring a new director for their research shop, who would be responsible for creating and running a prospect management system. Candidate 1 had experience with prospect management, but he wasn’t necessarily strong in terms of working closely with others. Candidate 2 had no direct experience, but she had plenty of transferrable skills around liaising between systems and people; convincing staff to work with her (even if there was no immediate benefit); and educating people on how to best report information into a database.
Even without any direct experience, she was the better choice for this position. The college hired her and she has flourished as she built out the prospect management system. Through some training and additional professional development, she grew her understanding on the technical side, which paired perfectly with her great soft skills.
So what does all of this mean for someone who is trying to run a prospect management system?
If you are overseeing the prospect management system on your own, figure out where your weak areas are and see what you can do to improve on them. Ask others to help you out with both of these tasks. Not only are your colleagues likely to accurately find your areas for improvement and come up with ways to address them, but this will also help strengthen your relationships with them.
Additionally, consider recruiting others to help you handle the pieces of the prospect management program that don’t come easily to you. Even when folks are busy, they often enjoy being the person who comes in to “save the day.”
If you are part of a team running the prospect management system, make sure both the technical and the interpersonal sides are covered by team members, and play to people’s strengths as much as possible. Got a group full of introverted, detail oriented people? The next time you have a hiring opportunity, see if you can bring in someone to balance the group with his or her stronger interpersonal skills.
If your group is already well balanced, ensure that the more socially oriented people are the ones who interact with your frontline staff and draw out their best collaborative work with you, and the technical types are handling the back-end details. It’s also a good idea to have your prospect management team learn from one another, especially as it makes you all well-rounded and raises your collective expertise.
Ultimately, for a prospect management system to work well, the person running it obviously needs to be able to understand data, reporting, and system dynamics. But just as importantly, it’s critical that one is able to influence others and negotiate effectively. What a stellar combination. They’re two positively charged faces that complement one another, leading to an effectively run prospect management system.
Excellent blog about prospect management. Certainly would be useful to nonprofits to get a clear understanding of what needs to be done as well as what to look for when hiring.
Spot on, Mark! My first several years developing a prospect management system at my large and messy organization was probably 70% “people work” and 30% “systems work.”
Perfect description of so many great tensions in advancement and development …. thank you!
Seriously Mark, are you sure you weren’t sitting in our conference room this morning as we went through an informal SWOT analysis? 🙂 Thanks, Barb Tigan
Mark, I find it problematic that your only recommendation here seems to hire extroverts for the job. It may not be the first instinct of an introvert to take on the sort of interpersonal work that needs to be done, but they are not incapable of it.
Great article, Mark. Definitely rings true from my experience.