Best Practice: The Perfect Prospect Qualification

Part II

Part I in this series on the perfect prospect qualification process focused on wealth screening and using technology to begin your search for lead and major gifts. Today’s post will delve even deeper into the process and will introduce some of the best practices we’ve developed while leading hundreds of prospect qualification sessions.

Who Should Be Invited to Participate?

You’ve conducted a wealth screen to narrow down the list of prospective lead donors.  Now, take a look at the list to determine who should be invited to the prospect qualification session, keeping in mind that peer relationships are key to a successful qualification process (more on this in a minute).

At each prospect session—often multiple sessions are necessary—I carefully steer the participants to glean as much information as possible about the prospects.  This is where we find out that potential donors don’t love us as much as we thought they did.  Or where we discover new names that love us even more.  We learn who’s going through a divorce, who just sold their business, or who is facing medical issues—all information that can impact a solicitation.

On occasion, I’ve had the wrong people in the room for a rating session.  Some try and control the conversation.  They won’t let others talk, or they belittle their input.  Other times, participants just don’t know the prospects.  In these instances, we thank participants for their time and replace them with more effective members.

Resist the temptation to include someone just because leadership says, “politically we need them in the room.”  If they don’t know the prospects, or if they will hinder input from others, they shouldn’t be invited.

Along these lines, I’m reluctant to have an organization’s ED, president, or headmaster at the rating session.  I’ve found that participants defer to them, or they are more reluctant to share.  Instead, I fill these leaders in on an1y pertinent information once the session is over.

At one session I led for a church campaign, talk turned to a lead donor prospect.  The husband was an elder, the wife a longtime volunteer so a large gift was almost a foregone conclusion.  Fortunately, the wife’s good friend was at the rating session and painted a different picture.  The couple had had some negative experiences with the church.  They’d grown so unhappy that they considered leaving and no one knew it.  Information from the rating session became an opportunity for leadership to reengage the couple in the life of the church.

Prospect rating sessions, combined with wealth screen and robust data analysis, are critical to the success of any campaign or major gift initiative.  If we don’t trust the process, or don’t take the time to understand the results, we handicap ourselves and our ability to impact our communities with philanthropic support.

For more information on qualifying major donors and determining ask amounts, read Identifying Your Next Million Dollar Gift (link to and The Ask: Are You Aiming Too High or Too Low (link to

Jim Bush, Vice President of Client Relationships

Follow Jim Bush @Jimmythebush and @WinklerGroup.

The Winkler Group is a full-service fundraising firm headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, with an office in Orlando, Florida.  The Winkler Group specializes in capital campaigns, planning studies, and strategic development planning.

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