The Backburner List: A Major Gift Fundraiser’s Top Secret Strategy

One of the biggest challenges for major gift fundraisers is prioritizing their assigned prospects, and understanding the role of a Backburner List.

It’s a matter of organizing your portfolio.

How do you sift through many names to find the right people to build relationships with?

With over 100-150 donors to manage, how do you make sure to focus on the right prospects at the right time?

Are you operating with maximum productivity, spending your time at its highest and best use?

And yet, you don’t want to overlook a prospect simply due to lack of time and/or the prospect isn’t responding or available.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of only seeing your “favorite” people – the easy prospects who are always game for a call or visit. But this may not be the best strategy.

What Can Go Wrong?

A lot. While you are chatting up your most available prospects, you might overlook that more elusive donor. You know them – the ones who are hard to get a meeting with, the ones who take weeks to call you back, the ones with whom no one at your organization has a relationship.

But that prospect may just be worth your time. They have capacity and a solid giving history to your organization. They do have potential, and you don’t want to forget about them. What is a major gift fundraiser to do?

Your Top Secret Strategy.

Every day, you need to evaluate your list of prospects and set priorities. Who will you be focusing on? Which donors need to be on your Priority Prospect List?

First, your goal is to identify them, which is more work than you might think.

Then you need an organizing scheme that allows you to segment your portfolio. Create your top ten and then your next group, etc.

What Should You Do with Elusive Prospects?  Create a Backburner List.

Your Backburner List includes prospects who are not a priority right now. For example, they may not be ready to discuss a gift – yet. These donors are simply “simmering” on the back burner while you focus on the prospects who are warm or hot.

Who Goes on the Backburner List?

  • People you don’t want to forget about – they are promising, but their timing is off. They’ll need attention later, but not now.
  • People who may merit a closer look. One day you will be able to have more discovery conversations with them, so you can find out how interested they really are.
  • People who may have given recently and who (of course) need continued touches and attention.

Why Have a Backburner List:

1. Lowers Stress.

Trying to pay concentrated attention to a large number of donors is simply impossible. You are spread too thin. You will end up feeling stressed because you’re not “covering” your portfolio of donors well enough.

2. Organizes Your Prospects.

The Backburner List allows you to organize your prospects. Everyone needs a workable prospect management system that guides you to set your priorities.

3. Bless and Release.

How wonderful! You can even bless and release prospects who are not responsive, who are rude or unpleasant, or are simply not interested in a closer relationship. You can put some of them on the Backburner so you don’t forget them later.

4. Makes You More Productive.

Yes! Let’s make everyone on the team more productive. You have a system that helps you focus on the right prospects. You’re not spreading yourself too thin. Instead you’re concentrating where you see the highest gift potential for right now.

Remember, it’s all a judgement game. We are not saying “ignore half of your portfolio.” Instead, we recommend a system that lets you sift through everyone on your list so you can set priorities efficiently.

Bottom Line: Create a Backburner List and you’ll lower your stress level, sleep better at night, and raise more money!

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you. 

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or launching a major gifts program – we can help. We’re with our clients every step of the way, inspiring their teams and board, building confidence, driving action and measuring success. Send an email to coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a strategy or consulting call with us.