Best Practice in Pipeline Management

01. Introduction

Pipeline Management: The process of strategically managing prospects through clearly defined stages of the donor relationship.

In this chapter, we aim to increase your understanding of the principles and purpose of pipeline management and its practical applications. There is no ‘one size fits all’ model for pipeline management - every team in every organisation may vary their approach, which will be shaped around their strategic aims, existing systems and available resources.

This chapter will help you to understand what pipeline management is, its key benefits, and how it can support your work, whether you are a Prospect Researcher; a frontline fundraiser; the Head of Operations (or equivalent); a Director of Development, or part of a Data/Insight team. This chapter should prepare you to create new pipeline management processes and policies that are appropriate for your organisation, or perhaps suggest some ways to adapt your existing processes. Furthermore, we aim to empower you to feel more capable of measuring and reporting on your pipeline, which are fundamental parts of pipeline management. We hope this guidance will help you and your organisation to manage your prospect pipeline to a gold standard, and enable you to promote best practice, gain valuable insights, and ultimately boost your effectiveness and achieve greater impact.

Chapter Headings

  1. The Objectives of Pipeline Management
  2. Collaborating with Fundraisers
  3. Creating and Implementing Pipeline Management Processes
  4. Pipeline Management Reporting
  5. Pipeline Management on a Budget

Key Terminology


The word ‘Pipeline’ describes the ‘stages’ a prospect will move through on their donor journey. The prospect may move through each stage in order, but often they will enter or leave the pipeline - for example when they decline to support your organisation - at different stages. 

Pipelines allow an organisation to group prospects together and help to guide the variety of tasks/interactions that happen at each stage.


This is the person who manages a prospect and has a direct relationship with that person or organisation. They can also be referred to as Canvassers or Relationship Managers.

Pipeline stages’

The number, names and definitions of pipeline stages may vary widely across different organisations. There may also be slightly different definitions for each stage depending on the category or type of prospect (i.e., an individual major donor, a company or a grant-making trust). The important thing is that, within your organisation, everyone involved in your process knows and understands your stages and their definitions – if it makes sense for you and your team, that’s what matters!

The following are typical examples of 'stages' within a prospect pipeline:

  1. Identification / Prospect Identification / Lead
  2. Qualification / Capacity allocated / Prioritised / Research and Plan
  3. Preliminary / Initial contact / Discovery
  4. Cultivation / Engagement
  5. Active Solicitation / Asking / Solicit
  6. Stewardship / Thank and Steward
  7. Concluded / Dropped / On Hold / Withdrawn

We will provide some more detailed descriptions of these stages in the following section of the chapter.

For any further unfamiliar terminology please review the Glossary section of the Handbook.

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