The 5 Critical Stages of Your Fundraising Pipeline

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In our last post, we explored the elements that make up an effective fundraising process.

We also introduced the concept of a pipeline as a way of visualizing and tracking your progress towards a specific fundraising goal.

In this piece, we’ll examine the stages of a fundraising pipeline, and the role they play in supporting the fundraising effort. By grasping the purpose of each stage, you’ll be better able to visualize and plan the layout of your own project’s pipeline.

1. Prospect Identification (Research)

This initial stage of the pipeline is where a fundraising team’s information and intelligence will be pooled prior to any outreach, with the goal of putting together the largest possible list of prospects with any realistic chance of donating.

If we think of the fundraising pipeline as a donor “journey,” then this stage is where provisioning and planning for the entire trip begins.

Fundraisers will use database tools (such as Fundtracker) to pull together lists of the most likely prospects from public information, review correspondence and emails for hints of interest or engagement, and search for giving patterns among their contacts.

By comparing the size of the donation target with the giving capacity of each prospect, we can determine the scale of the prospect pool that we need to build.

2. Qualification / Prioritization

Again, this stage is focused on planning and preparation, before any contact with a prospect.

This stage of the fundraising process consists of establishing how to qualify prospects identified in the first stage, and prioritizing certain prospects with the most potential—essential steps that will help support later efforts to establish interest and approach the right prospects at the most opportune time.

By assessing the pool of prospects, and the time available to spend on each prospect, we can establish important aspects of qualification. These include:

  • Does the donor have the annual giving capacity you’re looking for?

  • Is there a demonstrated pattern of giving to your sector or area of focus?

  • Do they give within your geographic area?

  • Do you have any established connections with someone on their Board of Directors or other key decision makers?

The priority planning aspect will ensure that qualification efforts are applied to the most likely prospects without delay.

3. Initial contact

The important work done in the two preceding stages have prepared the fundraiser for this next stage of the pipeline, where actual initial contact with prospects begins.

Now that the fundraising team has a pool of prospects and established criteria for qualification and prioritization, it’s time to start reaching out in earnest.

This stage consists largely of gathering the right contacts and building relationships.

It’s a relatively straightforward process – calling a prospect and establishing contact with a decision maker through polite questioning and persistent contact.

Scheduling regular call-backs will help drive the progression from cold calling to qualified contact or non-prospect. Likewise, working down through the priority call list will help qualify prospects in the most effective order possible.

4. The Ask!

Once you have a fully qualified prospect, the next stage in the funding pipeline is to approach for a material ask.

This stage is where the fundraising team shifts to the all-important question: is the prospect able and willing to donate as per the parameters of this project?

The ask could take the form of a proposal, a letter of intent, or a simply verbal request. The fundraiser must deliver their message in a clear, succinct, and productive way, and most importantly, in a way that addresses the priorities of the funder.

The message needs to be compact, yet cover the all the important aspects of the project in a compelling way. Asking effectively is a whole topic in and of itself, but the most important part is to make sure that you are actually doing it, and that your process ensures you send out enough asks to reach your targets.

Once the ask is made, the journey will not stop for a prospect. Even if the ask is not successful, your relationship with them has just started. They’ll need to be cultivated and then re-engaged for a future project – into the Prospect Research stage of another pipeline.

5. Relationship Building Strategy (Post-Ask Follow-up)

Once an ask is made of a qualified prospect, a prompt follow-up process should begin. Until funds have been received, fundraisers should follow up diligently, with a firm timeline in mind.

Finally, when a prospect fails to progress along the pipeline for whatever reason, don’t give up on them -- consider them possibilities for another project at a later time.

A Successful Conclusion

Once the process has been successfully completed, you can review your progress through the pipeline, and better judge the time and effort that each stage requires. Experience will help inform how you manage each stage.  

By grasping the purpose of each section of a fundraising pipeline, you’ll be better able to use this tool to strategically advance your relationships with prospects, and close more donations.

Are you looking for help in improving or restructuring your own fundraising process?

Get in touch with us to book a consultation—we’ll discuss your fundraising objectives, and provide advice on developing processes and adopting helpful tools that will help you reach those goals.

And as ever, happy fundraising!

Team Ajah

PS. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post where we’ll explore how to visualise your fundraising pipeline to make as effective a tool as possible.