Prospect Research – Amazingly Informative or Just Too Creepy?

Is prospect research creepy? We offer prospect research screenings to our clients.  We think it is a good way to assess the potential of a nonprofit’s current donor base. But, when we describe the process to a committee, invariably, someone asks something like, “is prospect research to creepy for us to use?” I’m never quite sure if they are implying that it might be okay for others, but not for their social services agency/synagogue/school or they are simply opposed to the idea of collecting this kind of data. Either way, the response is the same, “We are looking at a collection of public data, not their bank accounts and financial planning documents. We are not trying to pry, we are trying to gather information to improve the relationships.

The committee discussion might also include questions like, “are we really going to talk about The Schwartz’ wealth?” or “are we okay with researching our fellow board member’s net worth?”  Empathy is high when talking about finances.  If you want to raise more money for your nonprofit, you have to understand your donors.

Or, “Why don’t we limit our research to our top 50 donors? It will be less intrusive. Your top 50 donors are a good start, but you already know they have capacity and willingness to give.  A full prospect research screening can help you discover hidden gems like the people who are giving $25 annually but, if properly motivated, could give $2,500 or more. It can also help you take stock of total lifetime giving which may change the way you look at your donors. And again, you are trying to help your connection with donors. e.g. This can help you notice that Mr. & Mrs. Woods have been giving $50 for the past 12 years with no contact beyond the mailings and emails.  Now you know that they give $1,000 to other 6 other organizations each year.  Maybe they would be interested in learning how they can make a larger impact on your organization – which they have chosen to voluntarily support through the years.

Of course, this is just one piece of a creating a prospective donor strategy.  Past giving history to the organization, the strength of their connection and how they have been treated by your nonprofit in the past are also essential factors that should be considered.

This is all to say, don’t be afraid of prospect research.  Be afraid of losing money by ignoring the possibilities of using it.


Want to learn more about Prospect Research?

Getting to Know Your Donors: Using & Understanding Prospect Research by David A. Mersky

Prospect Research: A Rundown of the Basics in 5 Steps by Susan Tedesco of DonorSearch

Identifying the Second Round of Capital Campaign Prospects