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Kelly Segal Consulting

Prospecting: A Productive Expansion Method, or Why “Donor Reviews” Need To End


As far back in my career as I can remember, I’ve sat in meetings with other professionals and/or volunteers, talking about how we might meet the annual campaign goal for that particular year. Lists of contributors to previous campaigns were produced, as were prospect lists compiled by a research department, tips from other professionals, and/or recommendations from leadership.

Years ago, and in some organizations still today, this process was called a donor review. Sidenote: donor review is another phrase that needs to be retired.

Three reasons why donor reviews are not a good practice:

  • They are conversations centered around the donor and aspects (often irrelevant aspects) of donor’s life, rather than a discussion of whether the organization fits into the donor’s philanthropic priorities; or how the organization can more effectively steward the individual to strengthen his/her/their relationship to the organization’s mission and vision.
  • They usually devolve into the worst kind of gossip
  • The practice is infamous, and is a big (and good!) reason why people run the other way when they find out you work, or are volunteer leadership, in Development, Advancement, or Alumni Relations.

If you are a volunteer on a Development or Advancement Committee, and you are having what feels like inappropriate conversations about others– trust me, in another meeting, they are having the same conversation about you.

Instead do prospecting

Prospecting, or thinking about individuals whose philanthropic priorities match the work of your organization is an important, responsible exercise. Inroads need to be made, networks need to expand. Growth doesn’t happen on its own.  

  • Focus only on philanthropic priorities: does the prospect’s charitable priorities–where they’ve invested their time and money–match the mission and vision of your organization?
  • If you sense the conversation heading down a less than helpful road, ask yourself if you would be comfortable being discussed in a similar manner. If the answer is “no,” be the volunteer or professional to steer the discussion in a more productive direction. This steering can also be called leadership.
  • If discussing a growth plan for a current investor in the organization, place the responsibility on the organization and its stewardship practices. Remember, no one should be giving or giving more to your cause–this is totally wrongheaded. The discussion needs to be about ways the organization can inspire, or strengthen ties, not a judgement about where or how much an individual should give.

Listening to/being part of these conversations for years led to professional, even spiritual burnout. This did not feel like “doing good.” I am fortunate now to work with organizations to help alter this practice– if only for a relatively few overall. It is my hope for this field where we are working to strengthen communities, to stay above board, and do just that.


Let’s do good, but let’s do it better.