This guest post was authored by Carol Belair. She is a consultant for Target Analytics at Blackbaud. You may reach her at carol.belair [at] blackbaud [dot] com.

OK, so your organization has a systemized way to manage identifying, qualifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding your prospects and donors. Congratulations! You are doing something several of the nonprofits I work with on a daily basis are not doing.

If you are one of the organizations that does not have a software platform to help you manage prospects, then I highly suggest exploring this option. It will make your life easier so that you can manage the steps and actions necessary in raising money from your major, planned, and maybe even mid-level gift prospects.

If you do have a prospect management system, then you may be one of many nonprofits out there for whom the dust is collecting on your investment. With either scenario, there are many ways to get started, so please check out my colleague David Lamb’s white paper, The Basics of Prospect Management.

What I’m finding with many organizations that have these systems is that one of the missing elements is thoughtful and consistent data collection. The other missing element is providing metrics on your fundraising process and results.

Without accurate and consistent data entry, you can't measure accurate results. So, the key to success is to ensure that all of your gift officers and related staff are entering in their contact reports (also known as "actions" in the Raiser’s Edge CRM software) in a consistent manner.

If your organization has already made an investment in and is implementing a prospect management system, here are some steps that will help alleviate any anxiety, stress, or resistance your gift officers may be experiencing with respect to consistent and relevant data entry:

  • Offer to have training sessions on how to utilize the system, and keep this training concise, leaving out as much technical jargon as possible. The idea is for gift officers to see this as a useful tool and not a technically difficult software application. One of core competencies of gift officers is the ability to build and maintain meaningful relationships with prospects and donors, not provide information to a system that appears cumbersome to utilize.
  • Give them options to enter information into your prospect management system while on the road (such as a smart phone, tablet, or laptop), as this provides convenience and ensures that data is entered in a fresh and timely manner.
  • Create an easy-to-follow cheat sheet showing the simple steps it will take to create a proposal, fields that must be populated, and drop-down menu options where applicable. If available, consider providing this cheat sheet in an electronic format that contains only the essential steps.
  • Do not create stages or drop-down menus that you haven’t taken the time to explain or that seem so detailed that they become burdensome to the process itself. No one should be scratching their head trying to figure out what is meant by specific terms within your program.
  • Stress how helpful a tool like this is to your nonprofit, in that it will help each gift officer as well as management know "who’s on first" with your prospect pipeline and the overall organizational revenue stream.
  • If you are not already having prospect management or portfolio meetings, I suggest having them on a regular (such as monthly) basis, keeping them to the point and productive. Effective data collection and management can be instrumental in discovering both opportunities and challenges for each gift officer.

Now that you have consistent and relevant data at your disposal, the next step is measurement. Check back soon for some suggested metrics that you can use to evaluate your individual gift offers as well as the whole organization.