It’s Getting Better All The Time

Author: Meg Kinney

I have a natural tendency to be at least a little dissatisfied with my work. There’s always some improvement I could have made, some newer, better technique just over the horizon. Over my five years as a prospect researcher, this tendency has manifested itself most in how I approach lists of prospects for D.O.s. These are longish spreadsheets, usually pulled based on a few criteria from the D.O.–alumni in a certain town, prospects with certain wealth ratings, whatever. Over the years, how I and my fellow researchers present these lists (since we try to help D.O.s focus on top prospects instead of just sending a big undifferentiated list) has changed pretty dramatically, and there is more in store. Our changing approach presents a good case study of how innovation can add up over time.

Ideally, before sending a list of prospects we’d go through each one manually, weeding out people who don’t seem like great prospects and calling attention to the best ones. For larger lists, though, and given our time constraints, this isn’t possible. We rely on a standardized(ish) approach to help D.O.s prioritize prospects on the list instead. When I started here, the approach was to narrow a list by certain minimum criteria (like taking out prospects with no prior giving or with low capacity) and then guide D.O.s towards the better prospects in this narrow pool by highlighting (literally, in the Excel spreadsheet) positive indicators. We might go through the giving column and highlight those who’d given a lot to the D.O.’s unit, the affinity column and highlight those with high affinity, etc. Since the lists we send tend to have a lot of columns, this was fairly cumbersome to look through, and it wasn’t easy for the D.O.s to get a quick sense of who had a lot of good indicators compared to others on the list.

Shortly after I started, I came up with a macro that would count the highlights. Effectively, this was a way to create a heuristic score for each list. What qualifies as a “positive indicator” can vary from list to list–the standards would be much higher on a list of top donors vs. a list of Education alumni in the Midwest, for example. The highlight macro is a little complicated, and I’ve started just using formulas to assign points for certain criteria and then sum them up into a score, but it was a way to build on past practices rather than overthrowing them.

Then, I started sending select lists with pivot tables as a way to give D.O.s more power to filter things themselves (by the scores I’d created or otherwise). I had gotten feedback that some D.O.s like to have more control over who they see on a list, so this was a way to allow them that while also presenting helpful summary information that can be particularly useful for larger lists.

Throughout the time I’ve been here but especially in the last two years, we’ve done research and various descriptive analytics projects that have helped us better understand which factors are important to finding a good prospect. What does a major gift prospect look like before they give? What makes a good grateful patient prospect? We’ve been able to incorporate this into our scores and filters to better guide D.O.s to good prospects when sending lists.

More recently, the sophistication in the data points we use to score or filter a list has increased as well. I’ve started learning SQL so that I can pull data that’s not included in our preexisting reports, and be more flexible on what I include. For example, on a list for young alumni I can include an indicator of whether or not they played a sport or participated in a student activity, which we don’t typically include on other lists.

The future of prospect lists for us holds a couple more big changes. My organization has started using Cognos for reporting purposes now, and I’m learning to build reports with it. In the future, I hope to build more nuanced self-service list-building reports that will allow people to filter for capacity, affinity, giving, etc. as they see fit (but guided by our knowledge of what factors are most helpful in looking for good prospects). We also now have a data analyst who is capable of creating much more complex and mathematically sound scores, so in the future we’ll have more scores to help narrow and filter lists. Check out his blog if you’re technically-minded. Right now he is working on a big project that will (theoretically) be able to score each prospect in the database against each allocation in the database, so that he won’t have to create a score for giving likelihood to this or that unit or type of allocation, he can just add up or average a prospect’s score for all the allocations that fit that unit/allocation type. Imagine the kind of on-the-fly list scoring we could do!

I look forward to finding ever-better ways to deliver research and vet prospects for D.O.s. The volume of our prospect pool and the demands on our time mean that we’ll never be able to hand-pick prospects for every list someone requests, and I think this pressure has and will continue to spur innovation in our work.

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Women in Philanthropy: WISE at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education

Author: Colleen Reese

The Fall 2017 Apra Colorado conference featured two amazing speakers who really got us thinking with information about their research and projects on the topic of Women in Philanthropy. If you missed the conference, you can learn a little more from the blog of our keynote speaker, Preeti Gill: Diversity Driven Data. We also got to learn about Colorado State University’s initiative for women in philanthropy. Turns out Apra Colorado and CSU aren’t the only Coloradans with an eye on women’s philanthropy.

In 2009, the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education created a giving circle focused on their female donors, which they called Women Investing in the School of Education (WISE). Members of WISE commit at least $1000 per year for three consecutive years and then meet each year to determine which projects they would like to support using their pooled funds. Thirty WISE members (with total giving now over $250,000) hear proposals from the School’s faculty, often working with graduate students, and then vote on where to allocate their group donations. One great benefit of the WISE program is engaging donors directly with the innermost workings of the School’s faculty and students. Lorrie Shepard, Dean Emerita of CU Boulder’s School of Education says, “WISE members value the opportunity to connect with the faculty and others who care about the same issues.” Among many noteworthy impacts, WISE donations have helped benefit educational research for under-privileged students, prepare future teachers to be better educators, and support statewide outreach in art education.

The WISE program came from a burgeoning fundraising program – the School of Education got its first full-time fundraiser in 2005 ? and the Dean’s desire to seek more engagement from the School’s nearly 80% female alumni base. Inspired by a similar program that was successfully launched at Fontbonne University in Missouri, the School of Education at CU Boulder created their own focus on women in philanthropy. Eight years after its inspired beginnings, Assistant Dean for Development Ann Scott feels the group has become true insiders and devotees of the School of Education. WISE members have grown in their philanthropy, many giving beyond $1000 a year and a number have given major gifts and created scholarships; however, the group has stayed true to its foundations of collaborative giving.

This successful women-focused program truly engages its supporters in learning about and supporting the issues and mission of the School of Education and give us all a fantastic example of how women are impacting philanthropy in Colorado.

Information in this article was obtained through a 2012 WISE brochure and personal interviews with Ann Scott, Assistant Dean for Advancement at CU Boulder’s School of Education, and Margot Neufeld, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Parent Giving and Boulder Advancement Programs.

Have a story to share? Contact Colleen to talk shop or write a blog post:

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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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Planned Giving Prospecting

There’s a planned giving prospect convention we’ve all heard: your planned giving prospects are people who give loyally to your organization every year. They may not give much, but they always give. Eeeeevery year. And it makes sense that it’s not much, right? Planned giving prospects were fiscally conservative and responsible in their lifetimes so they’ve built up a pile of resources to benevolently pass on. We can probably all find examples in our database to support it.

But is it true? Like, “statistically meaningful” true?

The head of our planned giving program recently told me that, anecdotally, he’s been feeling like this conventional wisdom isn’t really spot on. He’ll call upon a loyal donor to talk about how they can make their yearly contribution last forever through their estate. More often than not, they think he’s crazy – the pitch doesn’t resonate. If not loyal donors, then who? Infrequent donors? Non-donors? Well, we can find anectodal evidence for that too. You’ve read those stories… Remember the one about the $125 million gift to LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco? They’d never even had contact with the donor, let alone a consistent giving history when $125 million drops from the heavens. (

My organization is really interested in planned giving this fiscal year. We’ve been making preparations for over two years to ramp up our program. We’ve put quite a bit of work and resources into it and gotten some good results. But, the thirst for more refined prospecting and identifying the lowest hanging fruit continues. I’ve started some research on what everyone else in our wonderful field is doing and am seeing a ton of diversity…

Blue Avocado says that most legacy gifts don’t come from major gift donors: I think my database doesn’t really reflect “the norm” then… then again, we only tend to ask major gift donors for legacy gifts… They are the people we have relationships with. And you don’t ask for a legacy gift without a relationship in place. (“Nice to meet you; let’s talk about your imminent demise.”) Maybe the real data point is that most legacy gifts are asked for? I think we can all agree that most legacy gifts are not $125 million that come from the blue (though, really, it doesn’t need to be “most” when it’s like that – just one of those would be great). But, clearly, it’s time for me to get a handle on my own data…

So, here’s what we’ve done so far in our efforts to increase our planned giving program:

  • We’ve evaluated planned gifts that we knew about but had never “counted”. We only began “counting” bequest commitments toward our giving totals in the last few years. But prior to the counting, we’d had quite a few people commit a gift to UW in their estate… We had copies of wills, signed letters or endowment agreements describing future allocations, contact reports describing verbal commitments, proposals in our database that were relics of previous data-entry policies… And we pulled them all together and had them prioritized and assigned to a development officer to follow up. As a result, in less than a year we’ve had two gifts close for a total of $550,000 in “new” commitments.
  • We’ve paid for data modeling scores from a vendor with planned giving models. The first time we did this was 2011. We liked it so much we did it again in 2016 to get refreshed scores. We use this data in everything related to our prospects. It is the core of our prospecting.
  • Two years ago our awesome call center students began calling people with high planned giving modeling scores to ask them if they wanted to learn more about planned giving. The program has refined in a few calling sessions and has identified hundreds of prospects who want to learn more and resulted in several documented gift commitments.
  • We evaluated and upped our fundraisers’ metrics for planned giving. All of our fundraisers have a responsibility to submit and close planned giving proposals each fiscal year. We realized that our submitted-to-close goal ratio was much tighter than our actual output. We upped the ratio of planned gifts submitted to closed from 2:1 to 3:1. Now that fundraisers have a more realistic goal for submitting proposals, we’ve found that more of them are meeting and exceeding their goal of planned gifts closed.
  • We will be launching a thoughtfully-marketed initiative for planned giving with our athletics program supporters. Our athletics fundraisers haven’t previously spent much time in planned giving, so we have an untapped segment of our donor pool to explore.

But we’re not done yet! So what’s next??

First, I’m going to start glossing over the research that’s out there, panic at how diverse and sometimes even contradictory it is, and then write a blog to see if anyone else out there in CPRA-land is doing this too. Check.

Next, I’m going to look at our documented and realized planned gifts and start looking for data trends. Unfortunately, our sample size of planned gifts is not statistically significant; however, I used to be an archaeologist so insignificant sample sizes just feel like a pair of old familiar jeans (sorry, data analysts). While we won’t be making any recommendations for change based off this data, I still think there’s a lot of potential for valuable insight.

Once I have a better feeling of our own data and where our victories have come from before, I’ll be diving back into the research. As researchers, we all know that’s the way to go to start turning questions into insights.

Is anyone out in CPRA-land also doing this? (I really, really want to know!!!!) Have a story to share? Want to feature your amazing organization? Contact Colleen to blog about it (or if you just want to muse with me):

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Member Benefit: University of Colorado job posting

Development Research Analyst, University of Colorado. Apply here.

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Member benefit – Prospect Development Manager job posting at Children’s Hospital Colorado

Children’s Hospital Colorado is seeking a Prospect Development Manager.

To view details of this position and to apply, please visit:

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Tracking the Donor Cycle: part 1, the set up

This blog is coming on a little journey with the prospect development team at the University of Wyoming that we are just beginning to embark on. We’re going to start tracking the phases of our donors in the donor cycle through time. Right now, with the data we currently keep, we can only ever analyze where a prospect is in the cycle as a snapshot in time, but that is all about to change.

First, let’s get a little jargon-definition out of the way. By the donor cycle, I mean the process that a prospect goes through from identification to qualification to cultivation to solicitation to stewardship and back into cultivation.


Picture adapted by Karina Garcia (University of Wyoming) from Jessica Hipchen, ESP Fundraising Workshop Manual: (Slide 13).

Let’s dig in.

Identification or discovery is when a potential prospect is found but the organization hasn’t built a relationship with them yet. This is often our part, as prospect researchers or data analysts, but sometimes they come from board members, fundraisers, etc.

Qualification is establishing that this prospective donor really does have the interest and ability to give to your organization at an impactful level. At UWyo this confirmation of a potential prospect is done by a fundraising staff member reaching out to them to gauge their interest and capacity through interaction. That’s what I’ll be focusing on in this blog series, but there’s more than one way to qualify a prospective donor.

Cultivation! This is a relationship-building industry. It’s what we do. This is where a fundraiser builds a relationship with the prospective donor and gets them connected to the right people at the organization to build to a gift. As a side note, don’t forget to be building relationships with your fundraisers as a prospect development professional! But that’s a topic for another day.

Solicitation is when the donor constellations align and it’s time to ask for a gift. There isn’t necessarily one single ask. We’re not asking for a couple bucks to go buy a latte, so this can take time some time.

And finally, stewardship, which is basically the most important part but doesn’t get much attention from our corner of advancement. What’s the point in having donors if we aren’t letting them know how much we appreciate them and what an impact they are making? Plus, if we don’t want to be all ooey-gooey about it, it’s pretty well researched that retaining existing donors is cheaper than acquiring and cultivating new ones in the annual giving world (e.g. but it doesn’t take an Indiana-Jones-style leap of faith to see that this would extend into larger gifts as well, considering how much more time and resources are invested into each gift. And as the lovely graphic above shows, stewardship blends into cultivating for the next gift. And the cycle continues.

Now to zoom back out, our “snapshot” we can currently look at in the UW shop is a right-now view. So we can look at a fundraiser’s prospect list and analyze if they have enough prospects in their solicitation stage to meet their ask goals for this year. We can look at the ones in cultivation to see if they are feeding their own pipeline for next year and on. We can see if they have some in the identification stage to make sure that the front end of their pipeline hasn’t run dry. Then next meeting we can look at it again and if the ratio is still good then we’re good.

But there are some problems that have been bothering the prospect development team with our current system. Are there any prospects who have stayed in cultivation for years on end without getting an ask? When a newly identified prospect gets called sooner does it mean we are more likely to realize a gift? We really have no way to answer these questions.

But we want to answer them. So here begins the journey. We’re going to begin tracking how long each assigned prospect stays in each stage. We’re quite fortunate that our database will do the bulk of the work in that for us. But imagine the questions we can answer when we have years of data on how long prospects are in each stage! We can look at how long on average it takes to close a gift. We can start looking at portfolio penetration. So many cool ideas we hear and read about but don’t have the data to do!

So how did we get this far on our trek? We started having feelings about this about a year ago. We were driving back from a conference and were brainstorming about it. But we did nothing. In classic form, no one ever said, “man I wish we’d waited even longer to start collecting that really important data.” That was us.

Then a few months later we were driving back from a conference and it came up again. This time we spent our 2-3 hours between Denver and Laramie figuring out how easy it would be to track in our database. Yet we did nothing again.

Then a few months later – you guessed it – we were driving back from a conference and it comes up again. There’s more resolve this time. But still? we have all those wealth screenings to verify and profiles to write for the new president?

Every May we sit down as a prospect development team and set our project goals for the coming fiscal year (we run July ? June) on how we are going to turn up the dial on fundraising efficiency. Projects get pitched ? some die and some move forward? but this year tracking the stages of the cycle made the cut.

So here’s where we begin: we’ve checked all of our existing reports to make sure this won’t break any SQL and now we are entering stages on all of our assigned prospects and will be tracking them as they change. What kind of questions will we answer? How soon? We’ll be taking the blog down the path with us so keep reading to find out!

Is anyone out in CPRA-land already doing this? Have a story to share? Write a guest blog about it! Contact Colleen to pitch in:

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Member Benefit: Colorado State University Senior Analyst job posting

Colorado State University has an opening for a Senior Analyst of Prospect Research. To view details of this position and to apply, please visit:

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Member Benefit: USC Health Sciences Dept. Associate Director job posting

The University of Southern California’s Health Sciences Department has an opening for an Associate Director of Prospect Identification & Pipeline Development. To view details of this position and to apply, please visit:

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CPRA Mission: Denver Museum of Nature and Science

I am so excited to present the second feature in our “CPRA Missions” series, where we show what pride in our profession really means by highlighting the amazing causes our colleagues are dedicated to supporting.

How can you not love the Denver Museum of Nature and Science?! Anywhere you can watch real paleontologists in action is high up on my list! So please enjoy the following post by the Denver Museum’s Prospect Researcher, Garan Weilnau, and learn a little bit more about the Museum’s magic.
The mission of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is to “Be a catalyst! IgnMummyite our community’s passion for nature and science.” While missions are often lost with buzz words and jargon, DMNS really does try to live out the mission on a daily basis through its love of science and the overall, unending curiosity of everyone at the Museum, from the employees to the visitors.

DMNS is a pretty exceptional place. According to the report our Finance Department presented in April 2016, 35% of those served at the Museum are served for free with another 34% who pay a discounted rate. The Museum works hard to make sure that everyone is welcome, as well as creating an atmosphere that is exciting for the visitors who are visiting for the first time or for someone who comes regularly.

Working in prospect research, success is measured differently than the traditional methods surrounding fundraising; it’s not just as simple as total amount raised or increasing revenue year over year. In prospect research, my impact is measured in the way that development T-Rex Toothstaff now make profile requests before meeting with individuals; success is measured in the positive feedback I get when a Look Book I made was a “tremendous help”; and success is measured in hearing that names I found through analytics processes are now being cultivated for a new planned gift or larger gift to DMNS.

I have been working at the Museum now for over two years and the look of excitement whenever I tell people I work here still floors me. Nobody seems to care what I do at the Museum–they just hear that I work at DMNS and are instantly recalling memories of attending the Museum as a child, on a field trip, or just because. I also love that I come home now and tell stories about how I saw the mummies up close before they were transported to Children’s for a CAT scan, or how I went through the big bones room and held a T-Rex tooth, or even knowing where the new gnome is hidden.
If you are interested in learning more about the Denver Museum of Nature and ScGnomeience, you can check out their website here:

Also, any members who are excited to brag up their organization in an upcoming “CPRA Missions” post, please contact Colleen Reese at or 307-766-3921. (Or feel free to contact me if you find the gnomes on your next visit to the Museum–because you better believe I’m going to be looking for them!)

All photos courtesy of Garan Weilnau

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