Skip to main content

6 Essentials for Effective Prospect Portfolio Management

Nonprofit development is a complicated undertaking. Between sourcing and researching new prospects and funders, conducting initial and ongoing outreach, regularly re-qualifying prospects, and developing solicitation strategies, your major gift officers have a lot on their plates!

What unifies all these separate tasks? Effective relationship management.

While the Type A personalities among us might be naturals at staying organized, juggling complex relationships, and keeping track of continuous touchpoints, it’s all still undoubtedly challenging. These are thankfully learnable skills—you just need the right resources and strategies on your side.

Development professionals at nonprofits of all sizes should create and rely on prospect portfolios to stay organized and achieve their goals. What are prospect portfolios? How do you use them to drive impact for your organization? Let’s take a closer look.


What is prospect portfolio management?

Prospect portfolio management is the process through which a nonprofit’s development staff keeps track of and manages its relationships with donors and prospects at various giving levels. Organized portfolios ensure that all donors and prospects can be properly prioritized and assigned to gift officers who will own and manage the relationships.

Effective portfolio management brings a few important benefits:

  • A more organized, less cluttered moves management process for your team
  • Consistency for donors and prospects
  • Clearer views of the state of relationships, the progress of solicitations, and other key details about individuals
  • An improved ability to sort and organize donors by their priority and likelihood to give

Together, these benefits translate to more efficient and effective fundraising. And by taking a similar approach to organizing and assigning your relationships with grantmakers, you can drastically improve your efforts to manage relationships with funders, too.

Review our guide to prospect portfolio management for a deeper dive into these development tools and why they matter.


6 Essential Considerations for Successful Portfolio Management

Let’s say you’re tasked with improving your nonprofit’s prospect portfolio management process or implementing one for the first time. Consider these essential elements of an effective approach:

  1. Appropriate Portfolio Size
  2. Clearly Defined Policies
  3. Ongoing Research
  4. Up-to-Date Metrics
  5. Consistent Donor Qualification
  6. Partnerships and Communication


1. Appropriate Portfolio Size

Gift officers use prospect portfolios to organize and manage their stewardship priorities. Still, careful thought needs to go into exactly how many prospects are sorted into each portfolio.

You’ll start with your organization’s list of all prospects at various giving levels. They should then be divided into individual portfolios based on a number of potential factors:

  • Team capacity. The size of your development team will naturally limit the number of individual portfolios that can be created and feasibly managed.
  • Time constraints. How much time is your development staff able to devote to stewardship? Are their roles focused solely on fundraising, or do they wear many hats?
  • Organizational and individual priorities. Is the organization focused on securing more planned gifts? Is one gift officer tasked specifically with stewarding more mid-level donors? These considerations can impact how prospects are divvied up among fundraisers.

It’s recommended that portfolios range in size from 25-200 prospects, depending on the factors above. It’s important to recognize that while smaller teams may need to take on larger portfolios, it doesn’t mean they’ll have time to stay in touch with all those prospects. Finding an efficient, sustainable balance without overloading your team is key to success.


2. Clearly Defined Policies

Concrete guidelines are important for keeping the entire prospect management process organized and efficient, especially in organizations with larger development teams. For example, as part of your portfolio management process, you should define:

  • Data input protocols to ensure consistency
  • Qualification schedules or cadences (more on qualification below)
  • Qualification and disqualification criteria for particular portfolios
  • Protocols for adding new prospects to portfolios as they’re discovered
  • Protocols for moving prospects between portfolios as your team learns more about them
  • Gift crediting policies that encourage fundraisers to collaborate on relationship-building

Clearing up gray areas around exactly how your portfolios are to be used and managed will allow your team to better focus on outreach, stewardship, and laying out a compelling case for support rather than getting bogged down in logistics.


3. Ongoing Research

Once you establish prospect portfolios and policies for using them effectively, how do you source new prospects for gift officers to engage and steward? Through ongoing prospect research.

Researchers (whether dedicated in-house staff, development staff who handle a variety of tasks, or outsourced professionals) should regularly screen and rate your nonprofit’s new donors to identify those qualified for particular portfolios. Wealth screening is an easy first step, followed by deeper research into prospect connections and affinities. By the time a prospect is sorted into a gift officer’s portfolio, it should be clear that that individual warrants personalized attention.


4. Up-to-Date Metrics

Along with using prospect research and wealth screening insights to initially source prospects, make sure to keep this information up to date over time. Review your current prospect research approach and protocols to ensure you’re actively collecting and updating information like:

  • Employer and job title
  • Address and contact info
  • Duration of relationship with organization
  • Number of gifts given
  • Current lifetime value
  • Capacity (via wealth screening or in-house scoring)
  • Date and value of last gift
  • Date and value of largest gift

These metrics will cover your bases when creating donor profiles for prospect portfolio management, but there are many others you can include. Sources for this information include your own engagement data from interactions with prospects, external research and wealth screening services, and anecdotal takeaways from conversations.

The key point, however, is that successful long-term portfolio management is built on updated, well-organized, and truly useful data.


5. Consistent Donor Qualification

Ongoing screening and research provide you with a steady pipeline of prospects to add to portfolios, but what about maintaining and updating your portfolios once they’re full? Your gift officers will need to consistently revisit prospects to ensure they’re still interested and able to give a gift of the intended size and type.

This process is called donor qualification and should be an ongoing activity conducted by gift officers. This ensures that portfolios are made up of prospects who are truly able and interested in giving in a particular way at any given time, improving fundraising efficiency and prospect experiences.


6. Partnerships and Communication

Fostering and tracking donor relationships can get complicated, with multiple teams and various tools at your organization all playing different roles over time. Open lines of communication and effective use of technology are essential for driving development results with prospect portfolios.

Consider the full lifecycle of this example prospect relationship:

  • The donor is acquired through consistent lower-level giving.
  • They are then identified by researchers using wealth screening tools as a prospect for mid-level or major giving.
  • The donor is sorted into a mid-level giving stewardship cadence and begins giving larger gifts as their relationship with the organization grows.
  • The donor’s strong affinity then makes them a qualified major prospect.
  • After building a relationship with a gift officer, the organization determines that the prospect is likely to be more interested in making a planned gift.
  • The prospect is introduced to a gift officer tasked with stewarding planned gifts.
  • They later meet with the planned gift officer and an organizational leader to formalize a bequest to the organization.

Think of everyone at the nonprofit who had a hand in developing this relationship: frontline fundraisers, researchers, fundraisers focused on mid-level stewardship, a major gift officer, a planned gift officer, a developmental director, and an organizational leader. Wealth screening tools, various prospecting data sources, and a central database all play pivotal roles along the way, as well.

Create open lines of communication between teams and educate your organization on how prospect relationships are to be identified, elevated, and collaborated on. Regularly reinforce this understanding and check that technology is being used correctly. Making these standard parts of your overall portfolio management process will go a long way to support your efforts.

As with any complex undertaking, taking an organized approach plays a huge role in your ultimate success. Prospect portfolios are how nonprofits stay organized when tackling the complexities of major gift fundraising, moves management, and donor stewardship.

It’s always worthwhile to revisit your current development protocols and systems to check for gaps, redundancies, internal silos, and other efficiency blockers.


This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Aaron Dahlstrom is the Vice President of Digital Marketing at Graham-Pelton. Creative and considerate, Aaron plans and executes Graham-Pelton’s presence across all digital mediums, ensuring that those who invest their time engaging with the firm experience the timely thought leadership and bold approach audiences have come to appreciate.

Profile Photo of Aaron Dahlstrom