Suspect vs Prospect


Suspects vs Prospects

Today, we want to talk about two critical terms in major gift fundraising: suspects and prospects. 

These terms are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings and huge implications for your fundraising efforts.

Here’s the truth: too many fundraisers are wasting their time chasing after suspects when they really should be focusing on prospects. 

Wasting time. 

Let’s take a look at the difference.

Suspects vs Prospects: What’s a Suspect? 

Now, suspects are like that mysterious stranger you see across the room. You know they have potential, but you don’t really know anything about them. 

A suspect may or may not be a potential major donor – you just don’t know. 

They may have a connection to your cause. They may even be a donor at some level But you have no evidence that they are willing or able to make a major gift. 

Most of all, even if they look promising, they have not demonstrated any significant engagement or commitment to your organization. 

They are not worth your time unless you try to qualify them through the discovery process.

Suspects may be: 

  • Someone who seems to fit the profile of your perfect major donor with a lot of potential, but you know nothing else about them.
  • Someone who appears to be a terrific prospect but will not respond to your calls or emails. 
  • Someone has demonstrated wealth capacity but is not interested in developing a deeper relationship with your organization or your cause. 
  • Someone with proven wealth capacity and affinity for your cause but will not take a second step to get more involved. 
  • Your board member’s golf buddy down the street. You know the one, when your board member says, “Go call on so and so, they can write a huge check.” (!) 

Suspects vs Prospects: What’s a Prospect? 

A prospect is someone who has clearly shown some level of interest or engagement with your organization. 

They have raised their hand so to speak, and you know that they have the potential to become a major donor. 

A prospect can be a current donor who has given smaller gifts in the past or someone who has attended events, volunteered, or expressed support for your mission. It is clear that they have a strong interest and even deep passion for your work. 

Prospects have definitely demonstrated some level of commitment or affinity for your organization, AND you have reason to believe that they may be willing and able to make a major gift.

They are worth your time. 

For example, a prospect would be: 

  • Someone who has given in the past, and who shows up enthusiastically whenever they are invited to something at your organization.
  • Someone who appears in your wealth screening report as having significant capacity – and they are willing to meet with you. 
  • Your board member’s wealthy golf buddy who comes to your event and expresses interest in learning more about your work. 
  • People of capacity, who accept an invitation to tour your organization or to a porch party, and who indicate that they want to get more involved. 

Suspects vs Prospects: What’s the real difference? 

The key difference between a suspect and a prospect is their level of engagement and interest in your organization. You can access them. They are willing to develop a relationship and get more involved with your cause. 

Suspects are like those people you meet at a party – you exchange pleasantries, but you don’t really know anything about them. 

Prospects, on the other hand, are like those friends you’ve had for years – your organization has a history with them, and you know what makes them tick. Or, you can find out what makes them tick. 

The Problem with Suspects.

Too many hard-working fundraisers slog away, beating their heads against the wall, trying to contact suspects who refuse to see them.  

These fundraising friends stay awake at night, worrying about all those people in their portfolios who will not respond. 

The Discovery Process Will Save You

When it comes to major gift fundraising, clearly, your focus should be on nurturing relationships with true prospects, not suspects. 

That means you need a systematic discovery process in order to qualify your true prospects. 

You can turn suspects into prospects through the discovery process. 

Discovery is your effort to qualify suspects to determine their capacity and inclination to give. 

This requires research, data analysis, and personal interactions to understand their philanthropic history, interests, and motivations.

Once you’ve identified and qualified your true prospects; then you can begin a thoughtful nurturing process.

You need to build relationships with them, share information about your organization’s mission and impact, and ask for their support. 

This is a long-term process that can take months or even years, but it’s critical to ensure that your prospects feel engaged, valued, and invested in your organization.

But – and here’s a big but – they have not demonstrated any significant engagement or commitment to your organization.

The distinction between suspects vs prospects will help you sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. 

Bottom line: Qualifying your prospects helps you know where to spend your most valuable resource – your TIME.

Then, and only then, can you shower attention on the right people: those with capacity, passion, and interest and who are willing to develop a relationship.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly insights with you as we cover important fundraising strategies. 

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.