This post comes from the Gravyty Fundraising Academy, a series that examines how fundraisers adapt and strategize to evolve what's possible through philanthropy.
Your guide for the Gravyty Fundraising Academy is Director of Customer Success, Lisa Alvezi. Lisa has worked with countless fundraisers across Higher Education, Health Care, and Nonprofit organizations to transform fundraising. As a former frontline fundraiser herself, her goal is to help you see better results from your fundraising efforts.
When is it time to disqualify a giving prospect? This is a big question and it's one that I see fundraisers and their managers struggle with all the time. I believe the root of the problem resides in the fact that it's our natural inclination to see failure when we can't qualify a prospect. However, there's a lot to be gained when you definitively disqualify someone -- namely your time and capacity to engage with prospects who are interested in your mission.
Knowing who to disqualify can be a bit of a mystery. Is it someone who you reached out to more than once but never responded? Are you eager to qualify them because of wealth data that you have about them? The number of scenarios that add confusion to the discovery process is endless. Truth is, getting to a disqualification takes a mix of science and some street smarts. Here's how I like to approach discovery work.
What's most important about discovery (qualification and disqualification) work is that fundraisers don't stop after one attempt, that they are consistent with their outreach, and they use multiple types of touchpoints to come to a final conclusion.
For example, I like to start discovery work with an email so that a prospect can expect my phone call or LinkedIn message a week or so later. If I'm not hearing back from those channels, perhaps another email and then a hand-written letter, spread out over the course of five-to-eight weeks will let me know which channel the prefer for contact. If I don't hear anything after all of this personal outreach, it's time to use those street smarts and let the silence speak as a no.
Add Context To Disqualifications
One of the challenges with discovery work is that disqualification can feel like failure to inspire or uplevel giving. However, disqualifications should not all be measured the same. Ask yourself, "What are you disqualifying this prospect for?" Is it forever? More likely, your disqualifying the prospect for something specific, such as a major gift, a campaign, or a specific subject area. Perhaps, you are disqualifying them for now, but they would make an excellent planned giving prospect.
One scenario that I see a lot is when a prospect or donor is sick. You can certainly disqualify them from solicitation as they manage through their difficult times, however, keeping in touch to express support and build the relationship during the disqualification period is still appropriate.
Another example is when a lapsed donor or prospect has a "Do not Contact" tag associated with them. In my experience, if it's been a while, an empathetic and handwritten note that expresses the desire to reconnect has requalified a number of donors. Oftentimes, their issues resided with past leadership or other concerns that no longer define the organization or the relationship.
Not all disqualifications are the same.
As I've pointed out, things can always change. And, in fundraising, we know that it's likely a different gift officer will be in your shoes in the next five years, without the empirical knowledge you've amassed. That is to say -- keep copious notes in your database to set your organization up for success in the future. Let them know where things stand so they can consider prospects with a fresh set of eyes.
The point of discovery work is to identify and build relationships with prospects and donors and inspire future and consistent giving. However, part of that work also includes disqualification. Getting to a disqualification should be seen as progress. If you hear a no, move on. Spend your time on the relationships that matter for your current objective.
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