I Am Not A Prospect

It’s time for a change of terminology in the fundraising world.

I am not a “prospect”.

Don’t get me wrong. I could very well be a potential supporter of your organization. Maybe even an ardent one. Heck, I may eventually someday become a financial supporter. But, please don’t call me a prospect.

In fact, it would be best if you didn’t even use the word privately. Simply avoiding a term doesn’t change the way you think about it; you need to change your thinking as well. To me, the word “prospect” minimizes my potential contribution to your organization by narrowing it to a single concern. It implies a one-dimensional relationship that, at its worst, just involves the “prospect” of a donation.

I realize that you may work in the fundraising arm of your organization and, from your point-of-view, that prospective donation might be your most important concern. But, to be honest, it’s not mine. And I’m the person you want to engage. Each time I read the term “prospect” in non-profit-related literature, I wince a little… and feel somewhat objectified. I am more than my wallet. Much more.

I’m a friend, a contact, a resource, a community member, a peer, a client, a constituent… and perhaps many other things. I’m someone who values what your organization brings to our community.

It’s relationships that really matter here, if you truly want my support. Don’t let your need for funding – however dire that need might be – get in the way of building that relationship with me. Establish an honest relationship with me and money may well follow. Think of it more as a partnership and perhaps a lot more than money will follow. As I said, I have more than just my wallet to offer. Without that relationship, you’ll never know if I’m your next board member, your future most valuable volunteer, or someone who knows the person that you’ve been trying to reach.

You’ll probably also never know if I’m your next major donor or benefactor. On behalf of all of your future and prospective supporters, please realize that our future together, whatever it might be, needs to be based on a relationship of mutual respect and shared values. Not the prospect of a donation.

Leo A. Notenboom is a former non-profit board member, a managing trustee of a private foundation, and long-time computer geek and internet entrepreneur. He is most assuredly not a “prospect”. His online business card is http://leonotenboom.com


8 Responses to I Am Not A Prospect

  1. Lindsay Nason says:

    Yes, thank you Leo! I have always preferred the term “partner”… “future partner,” “potential partnership.” “Prospect” has always felt too distant and cold to me. “Prospect” kind of lets development officers off the hook, ‘Well, it’s okay that he didn’t donate because he was only a prospect,’ but if they are a “partner” that I didn’t land, that sounds totally different.

    As a development officer, I want more than your prospective donation; I want you to talk about us, tell your friends about us on Facebook, engage with other supporters, etc. because you believe in what we are doing and you know that we appreciate your support and the relationship that we have with you. I want you to get just as excited and passionate about the work that we are doing… “prospect” just doesn’t cover that relationship.

    Maybe I’m splitting hairs here… I mean, it’s really all jargon at the end of the day. But when I use “partner” instead of “prospect,” my view of the relationship becomes totally different.

  2. Leo says:

    I considered “partner” as I wrote this post, but set it aside as – to me – feeling too contrived or politically correct. If I’m working in, volunteering for, or somehow actively contributing time into a project of some sort, absolutely – partner’s the right term. But if I’m just someone whom you want to establish a relationship with, someone who as you say, might not only donate but perhaps more importantly evangelize for you, “partner” feels like overstepping. Could just be me, but I support many organizations with both time and money, but of those for only a select few do I consider myself a partner.

    If I had to pick a single word it would be supporter. But in reality this line from the post came from this very quandary: “I’m a friend, a contact, a resource, a community member, a peer, a client, a constituent… and perhaps many other things. I’m someone who values what your organization brings to our community.”

    To quote an old vocabulary building product “People judge you by the words you use” – don’t let the choice of terminology adversely impact your ability to build relationships – whether the words are just in your head or spoken out loud.

    Thanks Lindsey for your insight.


  3. Greg Bulmash says:

    Worth noting is that you both use the word “prospective” in reference to the possibility of a future relationship. You’re still prospecting in a way because you’re still using prospect-based words.

    “Potential” means much the same as “prospective” when placed before words like “donor” or “contributor.” But it has a different sense. “Prospect” brings to mind mining and drilling. “Potential” brings to mind abilities and possibilities.

    If you’re going to remove “prospect” from your vocabulary, don’t do it halfway.

  4. sandy clark says:

    Great post Leo,
    I think you go way beyond trying to address what the “right word” is to be politically correct into what is the philosophy and value we are placing in developing relationships outside of internal staff. How we value donors, partners and volunteers is where we need to place considerable attention to determine intent. If it’s just for their wallet then we are missing out on what could be a great resource to advance our mission.

  5. Leo says:

    Greg: you are correct sir. :-)

    Shows how easy it is for depreciated terminology to creep in, and how important it is to really think about how you’re thinking about your … potential … supporters..

    Potential is a more powerful word. Thank you.

  6. Leo says:

    Sandy: I think part of my point is that just as how you think about your supporters should drive the terminology you use, being lax about your terminology can also affect how you think – in a negative and perhaps stereotypical way.

  7. […] Most of the individuals that regularly read my blog are not individuals that I see on a daily basis. I had a great conversation with a friend of mine who also happens to be a donor. He also happens to be one of those individuals that knows me personally, professionally, and as a blogger. You can read his guest post earlier this month, “I Am Not A Prospect.” […]

  8. […] heard from a great guest author Leo Notenboom earlier this month. He made some really bold statements about the way we talk about potential and existing donors. […]

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