Friday, 8 June 2012

Pipeline, Pipeline, Pipeline

When I began my fundraising career, people spoke over and over about ‘the pipeline’. I had no idea what it was but  quickly learned that pipelines can be an incredibly valuable tool for understanding prospecting, cultivation, asks, stewardship and reporting.

So, what do we mean by ‘the pipeline’?

The pipeline shows prospects being cultivated and how close they are to giving.  We can also have donors in the pipleline – it’s includes everyone who we expect to give to our organisation.

We can break the pipeline into a seven-step process  

Step One:  Identify
Step Two:  Research
Step Three:  Plan
Step Four: Cultivate
Step Five:  Ask
Step Six: Thank
Step Seven:  Stewardship

With each step there will be a number of prospects / donors affiliated – and this is the pipeline.  Usually there are many more at the identify stage than the stewardship phase.  As fundraisers we often attach a prospect strategy to each step of the pipeline – so, those at the beginning of the cultivation stages will take much longer to develop into donors than those at the ask stage.  Having this pipeline information is helpful for both short and long term income forecasting.

Using the Pipeline to Prioritise our time and effort

Since a pipeline is able give a good synopsis of the number of donors being cultivated, it is helpful for prioritising where our efforts should lie. 


If our fundraising targets for this year is likely to be met - the priority needs to be moving prospects along from the identify and research stages towards cultivation and an ask. This also can be said for the reverse order.   

We should ask ourselves the questions:

  •  How many prospects are in the pipeline
  •  Is our pipeline healthy?
  • How many prospects in the pipeline will we solicit in the next 6 months? In the next 12 months?Will our projects meet our short and long term fundraising targets?

What the Pipline is Not

  •  A cash flow projection  – it is a measurement of fundraising efforts, rather than a fixed income forecast
  • Guaranteed future donor list – not everyone at the ‘ask’ stage gives or indeed gives at the levels specified

Assigning likelihood or confidence ratings to prospects can be helpful in managing expectations from senior management or your board when reporting on your pipeline. 

All comments suggestions welcome to:

Niamh, @niamhini 

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