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DLB Hicks


Setting Priorities: Getting Better Results from Your Prospect List

Portfolio management is one of the trickiest propositions when it comes to success in grant seeking.   We know that we will likely have to invite support from an number of foundations in order to be successful (and hopefully, we will hear the answer “yes” sooner rather than later).  To manage a list of prospects, t the key to success is understanding where to put your time and energy when it comes to building relationships and spending time on applications.

Priority must be given to major gifts prospects (that is donors who will make leadership commitments needed to attract other support).  You should arrange your contacts into a schedule of cultivation and solicitation to take place over the span of a few months. To ensure you are able to cover all of these sources in the shortest possible time frame, I suggest that you prioritize your prospects by assigning to each a code that signifies the level of intensity of contact. This code will be based partly upon the level of gift you will be seeking and partly upon your perceived ability to connect with the funder (see below)


Rating: High

Success Factors:

  • Has funded your agency before
  • You have a personal contact with an officer or director
  • One of your board members has a personal contact with an officer or director
  • Mission statement aligns tightly with focus of your program


Rating: Medium

Success Factors:

  • Has given to program very similar to yours
  • Assets and giving are large enough to accommodate a grant to your agency
  • Mission statement aligns tightly with focus of your program


Rating: Low

Success Factors:

  • New or small family foundation or local corporation with no established giving patterns
  • General priority match(i.e. gives to organization that fall within same genre as your agency or gives to local charities)

Using this rating system, you can organize your list into a list of “likely” prospects vs. “maybe” prospects which will help you to maintain focus.   For example, a high level gift prospect will likely be a well-established funding source with ample staff for you to connect and refine your approach. Or, this prospect may be a smaller, more low-key donor but with whom a member of your Board may have sufficient enough of a contact to open the door.  On the other hand, your donor prospect may be a family foundation who has given to agencies similar to your own. However, this foundation may be administered by a trust department of a bank where staff do not take the time to meet with prospective donors but rather collect and screen proposals.

The rating system yields an added bonus: setting and managing expectations about results.  Oftentimes, I will present a prospect list to a client using these ratings to help make it clear that for best results, we will invest more time with fewer key prospects where the chances of results will be higher and less time with a larger group of prospects where we will spend more time cultivating the donor.

Rating your prospects helps you to set and manage expectations, manage your time and, in the end, achieve better results.  Grant seeking can, indeed, be a numbers game.  Rule number one is to make the numbers work for you.