Tracking the Donor Cycle: Part 2, The Build Up

Back in September of 2016, we started a blog journey where our Apra Colorado readers got to join the University of Wyoming team as we began tracking our prospects’ temporal journeys through our fundraisers’ portfolios. With a deeply inappropriate lack of humility, I am confident that you’ve all been waiting, practically holding your breath, to hear of the progress of our journey. Need to catch up? Check part 1 here.

So how far have we made it in the last nine months? At this point, it’s been a lot of data gathering and process refinement and not so much with analysis. However, it’s hard to analyze what you don’t have much of.

We started with creating an internal process to ensure we were being consistent in our data gathering. This involved both our process for how we physically enter the data into our database as well as our process for decision-making: are we all crystal clear about when a prospect is in cultivation vs. solicitation? Will we all be flagging these correctly to reflect the relationship based on how different fundraisers may describe them?

Let’s start with the ever-thrilling topic of data entry:

Our database software has a corner called “stage” which had a logical functionality for what we were trying to track. This area allows us to change the stage on a prospect record and the database automatically records the date it was changed in a running log. This running log has always worked quietly in the background whether we cared about it or not and our philosophy on the use of the “stage” field has evolved, so there was a lot of vestigial and now-functionless data. We decided to start all stage change dates on the same date so we would have a line we could cut to know where our new data started. We have a written out procedure so “future us” will know what we were doing with this data.
So we ran with that for several months before we caught a couple of procedural issues that were preventing us from getting consistent data. Any time you are implementing a new process, it’s good to check in sometimes to know if you are capturing the data in a way that will serve to answer your questions. At this point, we were having to manually change the stage in two separate places in the database to make it match up how we wanted. Different members of our team have different workflow processes and occasionally we’d miss one spot or the other. So we worked with our fantastic IT/database team and were able to build a script that runs a nightly write job to adjust one of the fields off of the other. Now we all must enter our data in the same precise process to follow the script, but we’ve reduced the opportunity for data entry error.

We also realized that there were some daily processes we were creating that provided opportunities to update our data more proactively. Because, let’s face it: our fundraisers don’t care if the stages get updated in a timely manner. And frankly, they shouldn’t. They should be building relationships and raising money to support our institution. Caring about the data is our job as prospect development professionals. And it’s a darn important one – so the more proactive we can be the better. We began finding opportunities where we could ask about moving stages. A big proposal was just closed – should we move them to stewardship? I see you entered a personal visit contact report with this prospect in identification – should we move them to cultivation? Eventually we defined these proactive opportunities on a larger scale that captured many of the data points in our database and created a report so we can essentially use a push notification type of concept to ask if they want to change a prospect’s stage. The data points are already there – a prospect just finished paying a pledge, a personal visit contact report was entered, a new proposal was entered, etc. – so now we are capitalizing on this relationship progression information we already have and using it to create better data.

And from better data comes better opportunity to fundraise! While we love our data, we can’t forget what our real driver is. Even before our system is fully flowing and reporting how we’d like, we’re already seeing some impact. Now a fundraiser sees when one of their best prospects is finishing off their last pledge and can move them from stewardship back to cultivation or solicitation. Good data can uncover all kinds of excuses to call a donor. And an excuse to call is a fundraiser’s best friend.

The second part of our journey thus far moves us from data entry to the topic of our consistency of thinking when we are entering the data. We’ve learned from this project that everyone on our prospect development team has different ways of asking questions and thinking about how we are categorizing and defining subjective concepts like the relationship between a unique human being and their alma mater. This exploration started with small meetings where we were sharing ideas about how we do prospect management, for example: what kind of questions should we ask a fundraiser when they remove a prospect from their portfolio? These grew into a decision to expand beyond tracking just stages in the cultivation cycle to mapping out our entire process of flowing a prospect from being a random entity in our database through every stage: prospecting, qualification, assignment, cultivation, solicitation, stewardship, etc. We want to map out every “bucket” of prospects we have – every classification an entity in our database can be labeled with – and evaluate them. Sort of like a spring cleaning for our prospect management system. Are we using all of the classifications we have? Are we using them consistently? Is there any unnecessary overlap or glaring gaps? As we create discreet definitions for each label, we also are creating stories to help us understand how to translate our fundraisers’ unique relationships (and sometimes elaborately-described feelings) with these individuals into consistent qualitative data.

So what are our next steps from here?! In the fall, we’ll begin analyzing some of our stage data within the cultivation cycle. At about a year in, we figure we’ll have enough to at least start ruminating on the trends. Also, we’ll be continuing to clean up and define our big picture prospect flow chart. I personally think we already have a well-oiled prospect management machine, but I am excited to see how much more it will continue to grow.


Want to talk about prospect buckets? Fundraisers’ feelings? Have a story to share? Contact Colleen to talk shop or write a blog post:

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