Why Bill Gates Is Not a Prospect for Your Campaign
FS Advisor: July 19, 2005
By Robert Hoak
Every year, development directors of nonprofits wait with bated breath for the arrival of the Forbes 400 List of the Richest People in America, the fundraiser’s guide to where the big money is. Right?
You have a great project. Bill Gates gives away a lot of money. You should have Bill at the top of your prospect list. He would be a great prospect, right? Wrong!
Unless your organization is immunizing against Hepatitis B in Andhra Pradesh or administering a library with a cutting-edge technology project in Seattle, you most likely are not a prospect for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Not recognizing the difference between legitimate prospects and dream suspects for a campaign is one of the most common mistakes that volunteers or board members make. Don’t discourage them from dreaming big. Rather, encourage them to concentrate their efforts on the prospects with the greatest potential return. Fish where the fish are!
So who and where are these prospects? More often than not their names are already in your database. They are the donors who support your events year after year or they are the friends and colleagues of your board members.
When evaluating your major-gift suspect list, remember these three major considerations:
1. What is the prospect’s affinity to the organization?
Has she/he given in the past? Where does your organization stand in the prospect’s list of philanthropic priorities? Has he/she or a family member ever been a volunteer? Has the prospect ever given to a similar cause?
2. What is the prospect’s ability to give?
Is your financial assessment of the prospect’s giving ability based on factual information? Has he/she made large gifts to your organization or other nonprofits in the past? Does he/she have any of the common wealth indicators? House? Car? Lifestyle? Career success? Inheritance? Children’s schooling? Vacation property? Clubs?
3. Do you have access to this person, either through an influential member of your board or current major donor?
Have you ever invited the prospect to an event? Did she/he attend? Does anyone on the board have a personal or professional relationship with him/her? Where does or did the prospect go to school? Where do the children, if any, attend school? Has the prospect ever responded to a personal letter from your chief executive?
Setting up parameters for suggested major-gift prospects will make it easier for you to weed out wish suspects and form a list of real prospects.
1. Be upfront, and emphasize that the best prospects are the volunteers’ contacts. Access is so important, so they need to think about individuals they can introduce you to.
2. Focus their attention by providing a list of current and lapsed donors for their review.
3. Create separate prospect and suspect lists. Keeping two lists will allow you to include their suggestions, while you focus attention on the best names. Research both prospects and suspects.
4. Volunteers will suggest all the major corporate and philanthropic foundations as good prospects. Try to anticipate the major foundations and know which list your type of organization as their area of focus.
One final thought. Bringing new money to the table is key to a fundraiser’s success. Once you have developed a suspect list, create a structured sequence of cultivation steps over a 12 to 18 month timetable that introduces the organization, inspires the prospect to become involved and make a small contribution, and lays the groundwork for a substantial gift request. If you cast a net wide enough, every now and then, you may catch a Bill Gates.
Robert Hoak is the senior managing director at Changing Our World Inc., a New York City-based consultancy for nonprofit organizations. He can be reached at email@example.com. This article reprinted with permission of onPhilanthropy (http://www.onphilanthropy.com) Copyright Changing Our World 1999-2005.