What You Need to Learn During a Qualification Conversation

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Once you have identified donors as major gift prospects, your team needs to review the list and move some donors into qualification. Qualification is a critical activity where, during a single conversation, the staff member or volunteer should attempt to answer a set of questions that will determine whether to move the prospect into cultivation as a major gift prospect.

While the interaction with the donor is brief (less than 30 minutes) the effort to make contact with the donor can be significant. Move through your identified list in chunks—approximately 15-20 donors at a time. Commit to a diligent sequence of outreach attempts, spaced apart by a few days. For example:

  • Day 1: Phone call, no message
  • Day 3: Phone call, message
  • Day 6: Phone call, no message, and email
  • Day 10: Final phone call, message, and email

Keep in mind that a great contact rate would be about 1 in 5 and a great outcome of those conversations would be to qualify 1 in 3. That means moving 1 in 15 into cultivation is a best-case scenario. This is a game of numbers!

In this article, we’ll talk about the questions you are trying to answer when, and if, you do reach the prospect. Through the conversation, you want to confirm that they demonstrate capacity, linkage, interest, and inclination.


Capacity: Does this person have the means to make a major or planned gift?

Hopefully you have some sense of the answer to this question based on wealth screening, other research, or a peer connection to the prospect. The best way to confirm capacity is by being aware of context clues in your warm-up conversation.

A description or photos of a trip to Antarctica, news of their partner selling a successful business, a wall of paintings that looks like an art gallery—all of these are examples that would provide the indications you need. Obviously, this suggests that using video or being in-person for these conversations is ideal, but many cues are available by phone as well.

Linkage: How is this person connected to our organization?

The answer to this question helps you craft your strategy, as it identifies who would need to be involved to grow the relationship. It’s also important to assess the strength of their connection and their overall feelings about the organization here. The best major gift prospects typically feel very good about the organization and are closely connected, or are poised to become closely connected.

Interest: How do the prospect’s interests map onto our programs and priorities?

Donors make their best gifts when their life interests intersect with the organization’s mission. This is the part of the conversation where you try to get to know the prospect and invite their questions about your organization. You’ll be able to tell a lot about them based on the questions they pose.

Inclination: With the right cultivation, is the prospect likely to make a near-term major gift?

Even though a prospect may check all the boxes above, it's possible that they may not be inclined to make a major gift to your organization right now.  “Near term” might be as long as 12-18 months from now, but hopefully not too much longer than that.

A deliberate approach to qualification ensures you are thoughtfully narrowing the universe of possible prospects to those who are most likely to make a major gift. 


Katelyn Martin

Katelyn Martin is a Senior Consultant at Campbell & Company, with a primary focus in arts & culture philanthropy. She works to identify opportunities to leverage strategic use of data and communications.