Early takeaways from the 2023 State of Donor Pipeline Development Survey

Building donor pipeline

Pipeline development is the lifeblood of your fundraising organization. From a turbulent economy to limited budgets, or the rise of AI automation, fundraising is constantly changing. To build a pipeline strategy that will meet your organization’s goals, managing and nurturing your donor pipeline is essential. Our 2023 State of Donor Pipeline Development guide compiles results from over 160 anonymous fundraising professionals across the higher education, K12 and nonprofit sectors.

The results produced a clear snapshot of the current state of pipeline development. In this blog post, we’ll delve into initial overall findings and next steps to optimize pipeline development for 2024 and beyond. 

Defining the donor pipeline

The donor pipeline is the system that brings new donors to your mission and stewards them to become more generous givers. A healthy pipeline is critical to reaching your fundraising goals. 

Donor Pipeline vs. Donor Pyramid: What’s the difference?

The donor pyramid is a visual model fundraising teams often use to bucket their prospects and donors into distinguished categories, usually by their point in the donor journey or assigned value. While similar, the donor pipeline is the mechanism by which fundraising teams can track the flow of the donor journey. 

Donor pipeline development in 2023

We asked targeted questions about their current donor pipeline development strategies, channels, goals, challenges and other factors.

Job roles of respondents included:

  • Advancement and development
  • Alumni relations and annual giving
  • Philanthropy and planned giving
  • Executive and administration
  • Data and analytics

Overall findings

  • Donor pipeline building is a top priority. Nearly 70% of respondents answered that it’s one of their top three priorities.
  • “Dollars raised” is the top key performance indicator (KPI), followed by donor retention. 56% ranked dollars raised as their top KPI, while 21% put donor retention first.
  • Nearly half of respondents said their teams did not meet pipeline goals last fiscal year. 53% of respondents answered that their teams met pipeline goals. 

Fundraising staff retention struggles

Nearly one-third of respondents said a lack of personnel or turnover was their biggest pain point. 29% said the biggest challenge facing their teams was lack of staff or staff turnover.

Channels and outreach strategy

Meaningful donor engagement and stewardship is the top priority in the year ahead to improve pipeline building (19.4% of respondents). Improving the internal pipeline process including handoffs and documented guidelines is second.

Email is the top channel teams use for discovery and mid-level/leadership giving. Personalized landing pages is the least-used channel, with just 13.8% of respondents answering that they use them.  

In-person engagement, past giving level and wealth scoring are the top criteria for determining if a prospect is ready to be assigned to a portfolio. Internal and external predictive modeling and digital engagement are ranked lowest as criteria. 

Key takeaways for donor pipeline development

Prioritize your donor pipeline development strategy.

With the vast majority of fundraisers answering that donor pipeline development was a top priority and yet less than half meeting their 2022 pipeline goals, it’s clear that developing a well-planned pipeline strategy that meets your donors and prospects where they are is key to achieving success. 

Use technology as an extension of your team—and as your engine to grow pipeline.

In today’s climate of a struggling economy leading to budget cuts and staff turnover, it’s time for fundraising teams to leverage their tech stack as a part of their team. Through tools like AI and video messaging, technology lets teams do more with less, while also enabling them to reach their audiences meaningfully and at scale.

Authentic, meaningful donor engagement and stewardship is key to building a healthy pipeline. 

The results are clear: fundraising teams say engaging with their donors is their top strategy in the year ahead. But with expectations and goals set higher each year, building meaningful, authentic connections with donors must be done at scale.

Teams can leverage technology tools, donor travel, and regular email engagement to build donor relationships and reach pipeline goals.

What’s next

The full 2023 State of Donor Pipeline Development report will be published soon.

Pipeline development remains the lifeblood of your fundraising organization. With uncertain times—including a turbulent economy, limited budgets and the rise of AI—changing fundraising as we know it, it’s hard to build a pipeline strategy that will meet your organization’s goals. We’ve been in your shoes and we’re here to help. Connect with us today to get a consultation where we’ll work to understand your goals, challenges and how we can help.

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