Season 3, Episode 34
In this episode, Amy Eisenstein, joined by special guest Sarah Plimpton, the director of client happiness at Capital Campaign Pro, dives deep into an effective strategy for keeping your capital campaign prospects organized during the quiet phase. Discover the ABCD method, a straightforward approach to categorizing and managing your prospect pipeline. From the initial discovery phase to making the ask, learn how to strategically navigate each step, ensuring a steady stream of prospective donors for your campaign leaders.
Tune in to explore the benefits of the ABCD method, gain insights into distinguishing between different prospect categories, and understand how this approach can be a game-changer for both campaign leaders and volunteers. Whether you’re a seasoned development director or new to the world of capital campaigns, this episode provides actionable tips and real-world examples to enhance your campaign planning and execution.
If you are looking for a simple, effective method to organize your pipeline of prospects in the quiet phase of your campaign, today’s episode is for you.
Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein. I am here. Instead of with my partner in crime, Andrea Kihlstedt, today I have a very special guest. She is our Director of Client Happiness, our Chief Happiness Officer, Sarah Plimpton. And I’m so excited because Sarah is going to talk to us about her strategy for helping clients stay organized in terms of their prospects and having an effective simple pipeline for getting them through the pipeline and into the quiet phase of your campaign.
So welcome, Sarah.
Hi, Amy. Thanks for having me.
Of course. I am so excited to have you here. So you deal with all of our clients. We have weekly calls. You get to hear all of their dilemmas and strategies and challenges and work through them every single week, and you hear some common themes.
Feeding a Pipeline of Prospective Donors to Your Campaign
One of the themes that you hear about is really staying organized in the quiet phase and making sure that there is a steady stream, a steady pipeline of prospective donors for campaign leaders to meet with.
So why don’t you talk about how that works and how development directors should think about organizing their prospects in a campaign?
Yeah, it’s such a rich topic, Amy. I’m glad to be here. I’m glad to talk about it.
So I think we always talk to clients about how campaigns happen in phases. There are the seven phases of a campaign, and in each phase you’re sort of doing different things, but all towards the same bigger purpose.
But there’s a real shift when you come out of the feasibility study phase and hit the quiet phase and the campaign planning and quiet phase where you’ve been iterating and testing and getting your plans in order, and then you hit the quiet phase and it’s really go time. And there’s often a moment during that transition where organizations will look around and say:
“Oh my gosh, there are so many people. We have so many names on our prospect list. And we know who some of our top prospects are, but there’s so many names beyond that. Where do we start? How do we start? How do we begin to tackle this mountain of names?”
And it can be really paralyzing, I think.
Yeah, I love that idea that it’s a mountain of names because I’m sure it feels like that for sure.
Yeah, and I felt that way when I was in the trenches. There were definitely moments in campaigns that I’ve worked on where there’s so many things you could do, but just because you could do them with certain prospects and donors doesn’t mean you should do them.
So how do you figure out what to do and how to structure your time as it relates to your prospect list?
The A, B, C, D Method of Managing Your Donor Pipeline
One of the things that we talk about frequently with clients is this prospect pipeline strategy for breaking down your prospect pipeline and actually categorizing it. So the method I use is very simple. It’s ABCD method, and each of those letters stands for a different place in the pipeline that your prospects might be.
I love that. Anything that can be simple is going to be helpful. So let’s hear it. A, B, C, D.
‘D’ is for the “Discover” or “Develop” Group
I’m going to start actually with the D, because the D is sort of where it begins. D stands for discover or develop.
So these are individuals who as an organization, we might be interested in them, we might know there’s a good reason they should be giving to us, but we don’t know them. We don’t have a relationship with them yet. They are a couple steps out from being ready to talk to us about a campaign. We’ve got a bunch of things we need to do with them.
So the D stands for, as I said, discovery or develop. And the thing these people need who are categorized as Ds are we need to figure out what’s the entry point, who’s going to open the door, who’s going to get us a little bit closer to these people?
Yeah, I love that. That’s who everybody’s looking for, the people that are out there. So they’re sort of furthest out in the pipeline, right?
We still really need to do quite a bit of discovery, but I love that. D could also stand for door, right? Who’s going to open the door for them?
Yeah. There’s all kinds of different letters or words rather, that you could tack to these letters. It would be interesting to hear clients come up with creative words for all the letters. So that’s D.
‘C’ is for the “Cultivate” Group
The next group is the C group. Okay. The C group, C stands for cultivate. These are the people where the door has been opened; we just need to strengthen the relationship. It would be weird with someone in this group to talk to them about the campaign because they don’t really have a relationship with our organization yet. We’re just kind of starting to get to know them.
So that’s C, cultivate. Okay.
‘B’ is for the “Brief” Group
The B group are the people for whom or with whom rather we do have a relationship. It would be natural and normal and feel seamless to bring up with them the campaign.
So the B here stands for brief. We need to brief them on the campaign because they know us, they know our organization, we have a good relationship, but they don’t really know much about the campaign. We need to excavate the campaign with them before they could move to the A list, which is ask.
I love that.
‘A’ is for the “Ask” Group
The A list are the people who are ready to be asked. They have been briefed on the campaign. We’ve got a strong relationship with them. They’re ready to be asked.
So essentially what you want to do is look at your prospect list and start to tag people based on where they are roughly. And all of a sudden you can then sort and say:
“Here are all our As. Here are all our Bs. Here are all our Cs, and here are all the Ds.”
Yeah. Let’s get a little teeny bit more granular.
How To Distinguish Between the Different Groups of Donors
I like to think of that, and I think you’ve painted a picture perfectly, but of concentric circles. So when you’re in the center, you’re closest to the organization, you’re ready to be asked. Those are your As, and those are probably your board members, maybe some of your closest committee members.
So let’s distinguish a little bit from BS and Cs, I think. So who might Bs be versus Cs? And think about maybe loyal donors, occasional donors. How are you distinguishing between Bs and Cs?
I think it’s interesting. You actually could probably come out of a feasibility study and have some board members who are B, who just need a little more time with strategic exposure to campaign specific cultivation and messaging before they could be asked.
So your board members might not all be As coming out of the facility study. But to your question, the distinction in my mind between a B and a C really comes down to would it feel natural to sit down with this person and have a targeted conversation with them about the campaign? And if the answer is no, they’re a C.
They’re a C, yes.
If the answer is yes, there’re a B.
Great. I love that.
The Benefits of Using this A, B, C, D Approach in a Campaign
All right, talk a little bit more about how you use this with clients. Any hidden benefits of tracking prospects this way? Give us a little more.
I think once you’ve done the A, B, C, D pass at your list, you can also then go in and do another column. I always think in spreadsheets, so another simple column to put down, where might this person be on the gift range chart? And then you can sort a couple different ways and look at, “All right, we’ve…” Hopefully it’s:
“Wow, we’ve got a lot of people at the top of our gift pyramid who are As and Bs. We are in a great position.”
That’s the ideal position. Or maybe you sort that list and learn:
“All of our top people are Cs. We’ve got some work to do here.”
So that’s one way to get a little more granular with it.
Using this Model With Campaign Volunteers
I think another way to use this is with volunteers who are obviously… Most volunteers are not immersed 24/7 in fundraising and in campaigns or your campaign, certainly. And many of them come to this work with a learning curve that we’re charging them to go out and ask peers, ask friends for gifts to the campaign. And that’s not going to happen necessarily in one step. It’s often multiple steps.
So I think for volunteers, helping them get familiar with the ABCD system makes it more tangible for them in a way that is more actionable, more sort of calms nerves.
In a way that I think is really helpful.
Yes, it’s like the traditional moves management idea, where you’re moving somebody who’s unfamiliar potentially with your organization to familiarity, to more of a comfort level, to ready to be asked. I think that’s such a smart way of thinking about it, and I love how you describe figuring out how ready you are to ask people.
I think that the good news is that in the feasibility study, especially the way we do feasibility studies here at Capital Campaign Pro, where the leaders of the organization are conducting the interviews and in the room with prospects, I actually think that’s an opportunity to move everybody one step up the alphabet.
So whether you have somebody who needed the door open, but then eventually agreed to an interview in the feasibility study process, they might be closer to a C, even moving towards B. And anybody who was a C that participates in the feasibility study might now be considered to be. And so really using the feasibility study is an opportunity to move people up is such a key engagement tool in early campaign planning. So I love that.
Investing in the A, B, C, D System During a Capital Campaign
What else I ask you that you wanted to share about share this ABCD method?
Well, I think for folks who might be intrigued by this idea and want to put it to practice or put it to use, thoughts on how to do that, I would say first and foremost, keep it simple. Don’t feel you need to go out and start with 500 names, categorizing 500 names at once. Start with your top 25 and look at where they might sit in your pipeline.
I think also this system is only going to work for you if you invest in the system. So it’s an iterative process. It’s not a one and done. You have to commit to thinking about A, B, C, D and updating it because hopefully you’re moving people through those phases and the list is changing all the time.
So I think one thing that I used to try to be deliberate about in my frontline days was taking time to really tend to the list. We think about action on the list like:
“Okay, I’m picking up the phone to call this person and ask for that or write this email to that person.”
That’s all well and good and important, but if you don’t also take time to tend this system, and by that I mean updating who is now a B, who needs to actually linger at the B level still. Even though we’ve taken some steps here, the signals we’re getting are just hold here.
So taking time to tend the system will make the system more actionable for you when you’re ready to pick up the phone and make the outreach. I think also it bears noting that we’re dealing with people here, we’re trying to put people in boxes, which is a fool’s errand in many ways. People are unboxable.
So I think it’s also important to have a little sort of, flexibility here might be the word. That sometimes people are going to go from a D to an A in a hot second, and sometimes people are going to be stuck at the C level for a long time, and that’s okay. I mean, this doesn’t really happen in a linear fashion.
Using Your Feasibility Study to Move Donors Through Your Pipeline
I think that’s a good point, and people need to really be flexible and adaptable so that they can understand that. I really liked your point about how big of a list and how overwhelmed you are to start with.
When you come out of a feasibility study, you’ve probably just come up with a list of, I don’t know, 40 or 50 names. You’ve probably interviewed 25 or 35 people. So clearly starting with those people and trying to figure out where do they fall on the A, B, C, D scale.
Hopefully, in fact, none of the people on your feasibility study who agreed to list, who agreed to an interview are Ds anymore, I would say. They’ve moved up to C at least, maybe B.
At least. So if you start just with the 30 people on average that you interviewed in your feasibility study, you’ve got a whole bunch of probably high C, low Bs in there, and maybe a handful of As.
And so you’re really… I mean, I would start with that list and then between campaign committees members potentially that didn’t get interviewed and the rest of your board, you’ve got a good list of 40, 50, 60 people to start with. So that probably will take you the first few months of the quiet phase to get through moving them up to the A level.
So I don’t think it has to be as overwhelming as people make it. There are processes throughout the campaign planning phases as you mentioned, that specifically narrow your list for you. And as you go through these processes and planning, you will whittle your list and then there will be opportunities to say:
“Okay, we got through that initial list. Let’s look at the next grouping of donors.”
It’s a Great Tool for Forecasting and Managing Expectations
It’s also a great tool for forecasting and helping to manage expectations, which I think is such a big part of campaigns, like constantly managing people’s expectations in all directions. But one way that I think it’s a tool for forecasting and managing expectations is you can see, you’re literally making your pipeline visible to yourself. So you can see:
“All right, our top prospects at this moment in the campaign are all a couple steps away. So let’s not freak out campaign committee when we don’t close a couple really big gifts in the next three months because this is what our pipeline is showing us.”
You can kind of forecast out so people don’t freak out if things maybe feel a little bit slow at a certain point in your campaign.
Examples of the A, B, C, D System in Action
Yes, I think there are ups and downs and it’s an opportunity to say:
“What are we going to do during that slow period to get these prospects ready? What is our action plan?”
So do you have any examples of where you use this with a client and it worked really well?
I try to use it with all of my clients, but of course they’re not my campaigns, so I can’t come in and force people to use this system. But I think back to the point we were talking about earlier, I think clients that have used this with their volunteers have really… The benefits with volunteers are enormous because all of a sudden, they start to get it in a different way, and I think they start to feel empowered in a different way because they can see the piece that they’re working on right now and how it connects future pieces.
So I think that that’s a really powerful way that I’ve seen clients take this model and use it for good.
Yeah, I love that. Anything that you can do to empower and embolden and bring volunteers along to understand the prospect pipeline is a winner in my book.
Using the A, B, C, D Method Requires a Bit of Flexibility
Sarah, what’s one final piece of advice or tip that you want to leave listeners with for implementing this ABCD model?
I think I would reemphasize the fact that it is on every campaign I’ve worked on. I don’t know… For as many prospects and donors that have come through the pipeline in this sort of logical DCBA process, there are five that come through in sort of a zigzag weird way, and that’s normal. That’s okay. Sometimes people really do need three or four “steps” that are all under the tent of briefing, for example, right?
If you use this method, don’t be confined to each letter equals just one step.
Yes. I think that’s an excellent tip. Excellent. Well, Sarah, our lovely chief happiness officer, our brilliant chief happiness officer, thank you so much for sharing this model. I think it’s a game changer, honestly, for our clients here at Capital Campaign Pro and for our listeners now who get to implement it with their volunteers and teams.
So thank you so much for joining us and imparting your wisdom, and we’ll see you next time.