Prospect engagement is the center of your universe

Have you ever struggled to make a clear and compelling statement that closes the gap between what you do to advance your field and the work of its practitioners?  That chasm yawns wide for many organizations that are involved in research, policy-making, advocacy, training, or career development in any number of fields.

Recently a CEO of a national association that serves the music field approached me with a challenge. He felt most people were motivated to support making music and did not value the products and services the association provided. What could they do to engage prospects and increase the value of the company’s work advancing the field?

A little context for prospect engagement.

The starting point, the secret sauce, the glue that holds the universe together, is Engagement. A wonderful word encountered all the time, yet its very frequency of invocation has diluted its understanding.

For our purposes let’s agree that prospect engagement is not

  1. people performing acts an organization needs them to do
  2. people advocating for, fundraising on behalf of, attending events, or investing in an organization.

Those are lovely by-products of prospect engagement, but here in this exposé of thought processes, we’re using the definition of Engagement as a conversational relationship wherein both parties give and take.

Heidi Hancock

About the Author

Heidi Hancock is a highly astute organization builder with 20+ years designing and implementing successful growth initiatives. She’s raised more than $70 million and designed programs to grow organizations from startups to $600 million enterprises. Heidi’s work in international markets has empowered people in more than 32 countries to launch new programs, engage across cultures, and reshape their communities.

Since philanthropy, in all its glorious forms, is a voluntary activity, the first challenge is how to interest people in having that conversation. Are they intrigued by the value of your work so that they want to enter into an exchange? Once you overcome that hurdle, prospecting, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding are part of the ongoing conversation.

Start by discovering your Unique Value Proposition(s).

There are two things that stand out when it comes to building prospect engagement and motivating people to support an organization:

1)  Those closest to the organization are unfamiliar with its true Unique Value Propositions(s)


2)   Your supporters, customers, clients, donors, will not only tell you exactly what those value propositions are, but they will also tell you what motivates them, even down to the specific language that they find most compelling and to which they will respond.


So how do you go about philanthropically engaging people with your Unique Value Proposition(s)? How do you motivate them to support your organization (which is clearly NOT in the business of making the thing that brings your members together)? Through conversations.

Here’s the tactical recipe I use.

  1. Start with things you think are intriguing
  2. Have exploratory conversations ranging from formal interviews to water cooler catch-ups where you ask questions about others’ perceptions, appreciations, evaluations, and experiences. I will often work in concentric circles, starting with those closest to the organization and move outward. I also employ a range of tactics from guerilla communications to structured surveys and focus groups. Using this process, expand your list of things that are intriguing, resonant, and motivating based on data from others.
  3. Incorporate the new information, prioritize, and re-phrase it into all the communications. Since Engagement is conversational across an entire organization, be sure to keep your staff apprised of the information that is coming back and how they can use that in their own daily interactions. Share the new ideas and suggestions that turn up for internal evaluation and response.
  4. Next, confirm understanding, test reception, and check for traction. Once you select the motivating value propositions you developed with community input, it’s time to refine them. Some of the tactics I use include sharing drafts with a select few prospects, running a promotion, or asking for a specific response. Keep in mind that the refinement of the UVPs is both an internal and external process.
  5. Rinse/Repeat – Since this is not a “do it once and you’re done” process, this is your go-to approach when a new program, new initiative, new campaign, new strategic direction is under consideration. Your prospects are now telling you directly what they want, what they appreciate, and what your organization’s value is to them. This feedback loop is invaluable because new options that are worth exploring and developing are regularly brought forward.

You are advancing a dynamic organization, not one that is static! It is constantly evolving – developing new programs, adapting to the changing environment, and maintaining relevancy to its member base. A regularly renewing, cyclical process of prospect engagement based in your organization’s continually developing Unique Value Propositions, will create and strengthen a responsive, interactive, community-service organization of lasting worth.

My inquisitive CEO took back the ongoing process for prospect engagement to his association. Staff, members and supporters used that prospect engagement process to continually involve supporters in the work that is special and unique to the organization. Once they got rolling, my curious CEO had a new challenge…

Coming up next

The CEO asks for the secret ingredients for building a robust, national base of supporters from a single headquarters location.


For big-time prospect engagement tactics check out Major League Major Gifts.

Major League Major Gifts
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