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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Member Benefit: Job Posting at Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is hiring a Prospect Research Manager.

To view details and apply, go to:

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What’s up in Wyoming: prospect management strategy sessions

A few years ago we undertook a new prospect management project in our shop: to conduct a hand-crafted analysis of each of our fundraisers’ portfolios in hopes, as is always our ultimate goal, to increase our fundraising efficiency. At Wyoming we have the benefit of a low fundraiser-to-researcher ratio, so we have the luxury of being able to build strong relationships with our front line and having time to sit down with them individually to talk strategy.

And thus our “Portfolio Strategy Sessions” were born. To clarify, we use the term “portfolio” for the list of donor prospects with whom the fundraiser is assigned with actively managing the relationship and cultivating for philanthropic support. We began with an assessment worksheet and a prescribed process for culling through portfolio information and what things to identify to fine tune it. We agreed, with our fundraising staff, to meet twice annually for the strategy sessions.

For those of you who like the nitty grits, here’s what we addressed:

  • Total portfolio number – too big or too small?
  • Last contact date – what percentage of the fundraiser’s portfolio has been contacted in the last 6 months?
  • Capacity of prospects – do all assigned prospects have the capacity to give at the level we classify as a major gift? Are there potential prospects that have been identified with higher capacities that can replace ones with lower capacity?
  • Affinity – do they have good scores from our affinity modeling? Or recent positive contact reports, giving history, etc.?
  • Stewardship prospects – do they comprise less than 30% of the fundraiser’s assignments?
  • Where prospects are in the cultivation cycle – Has the fundraiser cultivated enough relationships to meet their proposal submission metrics?

While we haven’t conducted any formal analysis of return on investment for our labors on this project, we’ve already noticed quite a few positive outcomes. The most striking of which, for me, was realizing how many of the nuances of our prospect management program hadn’t been retained by our fundraisers in their initial trainings. Over time, we are slowly modifying our onboarding process with new fundraisers to identify how to make the memorization of prospect management policies more digestible. We’re adding optional, and sometimes compulsory, prospect management refresher trainings. More and more all of the time, we find ourselves speaking the same language as our fundraisers.

After our first few sessions, I was chatting with one of our fundraising directors who was explaining to me her personal process for tracking her asks throughout the fiscal year. It was superbly simple goal setting with structured follow through that sparked an idea: a new type of strategy session to add to our repertoire. We didn’t have a formal process for goal setting for our fundraisers in place – something that likely puts us behind many of our peers. We’d had subjective success with our first initiative so I pitched the idea to leadership and watched with small degree of trepidation as the fish not only took the bait, but sucked it down hook and all. (Don’t worry, my boss *probably* wouldn’t mind being metaphorically compared to a fish?). And suddenly we were on the hook ? they wanted to have the first of our new “pipeline strategy sessions” in two months.

At UW, our pipeline refers to our tracking of all proposals that fundraisers are planning to submit or have submitted and are waiting on a response from the donor. Our plan here was to develop a process that balanced several needs:

  • prompt our fundraisers to set goals
  • provide an opportunity to develop strategy for next steps with existing proposals
  • ping fundraisers on proposals they had projected already making the ask but hadn’t actually done it yet
  • create a process that was reproducible with the fundraisers and their development assistants so they wouldn’t require assistance from research each time they wanted to set goals and analyze their asks
  • produce a process that could go from idea to implementation in less than 8 weeks

In keeping with the success of our portfolio strategy sessions, we reproduced the process of creating a standard procedure and a worksheet to guide us through the meeting. For these, we decided our role was to serve as guides on a journey the fundraisers were taking to be more organized and proactive with their proposals, rather than using researcher time to develop statistics or scour for new prospects. By using prospect management reports that fundraisers already have access to pull on their own and providing some instructions on how to work through them with their development assistants, we created a process that fundraisers could recreate on their own whenever they wished. We still created bi-annual meetings to sit with them to work through it for accountability, but these involve no preparation on the part of our prospect development staff.

Here’s what we look at in pipeline strategy sessions:

  • Proposals with “expired” ask dates – ones that occurred before the meeting but the fundraiser has not indicated that the ask had indeed been made
  • Prospects in their portfolio who were coded in our moves management process as ones who were being asked this fiscal year – these codes are set by the fundraisers, so we encourage them to submit a proposal for all of these prospects. A defined and written goal is harder to ignore than one that was never formally stated.
  • Travel planning – we charge the development assistants with putting all individuals on a map who the gift officers are planning to ask, that way they can use it to visualize their travel. Ultimately we hope this will lead to more efficient use of travel funds ? perhaps by consolidating multiple trips to the same region into a single one.

These sessions were met with a lot of positive feedback from our fundraisers. We’re very fortunate here to work with a team of true professionals who loved the idea of adding more accountability and structure to their work. In the Cowboy State we highly value our personal freedoms, so I was surprised at such a widespread satisfaction with increased structure.

Perhaps even the most over-loaded prospect development shops might have time to create such process for their fundraisers, where they can be engaged in prospect management with minimal time output from the prospect development staff?

While we haven’t yet delved into a serious ROI for either of these strategy sessions, I do have one tiny data bit to share with those of you who love numbers. After completing two pipeline strategy sessions over the course of 6 months our proposal pipeline we had increased the number of proposals on our pipeline by 30% from the year prior. But numbers aside, I think any time we take the opportunity to build stronger relationships with our fundraisers and demonstrate for them how useful the insights of prospect development can be, we get a win for our organizations and for our field. And for those of you who attended our CPRA conference this spring, we got lots of great resources and tips from Bond Lammey to start or improve optimization processes in our shops. The UW team took some furious notes and are already starting our creative juices flowing for how we can optimize our own portfolio and pipeline strategy sessions for our second year.

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Fundraising Database Administrator – DMNS Job Posting – Member Benefit

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) is seeking a Fundraising Database Administrator to join its institution. For more information and to apply, submit your cover letter and resume by 5:00 PM MST on May 22, 2016 to: Resumes will not be accepted after this time.

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