Tag Archives: Prospect Research

Feeling Frantic About Fundraising? 5 Suggestions to Help

Feeling Frantic About Fundraising? Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

You are not alone. As we begin to see a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, we have to consider what we need to accomplish in this year.

The time is ticking away.

  • Am I doing enough?
  • Will I be able to retain my new donors?
  • Will my LYBUNTS return?
  • Will I go back on the road to talk to donors?
  • Will other organizations be doing it if I am not?
  • Should I feel relieved or guilty about the strength of my nonprofit right now?
  • Do we need to hire staff to help us handle our new donor base?
  • Will these donors continue to support us so that we can afford new staff?
  • Is everyone feeling frantic about fundraising?

We know we have so much to do, and it feels like it all must be done today. Because it didn’t get done last week when it really should have been done.

Breathe. Or meditate. Or do whatever has calmed you down over the past year. And consider:

Where do we go from here? 5 Suggestions to stop feeling frantic about fundraising

  1. Assess your donors. Look at your donor retention levels for First Time Donors vs. Multi-year Donors vs. Monthly Donors. How do you match up to benchmark statistics? (email me if you want our benchmarks.)          
  2. Assess your donor pool without events. Many nonprofit events are smaller or not happening again this year. Now is the time to use those event hours towards your relationships with individual donors. And see if you can raise more money. In other words, events are often very costly and time consuming to produce so think of the resources you can dedicate to another initiative. (Please note: Events can be great community builders and friend-raisers but rarely offer the ROI of individual donors).
  3. Assess your staff. Do you have the right staff for the future? Do they have the bandwidth to handle your new donors in addition to the job they already do? Is it time to invest in your organization’s human resources?
  4. Assess your systems. Do you have a CRM that works for your nonprofit? Do you have recent prospect research? Do you send acknowledgements out within 24-48 hours?
  5. Assess your strategic plan. A strategic plan in one year might not look the same in 3 years later. Especially around the pandemic. Does the work look the same for your nonprofit? Are your board, volunteer, and staff priorities different? Would your SWOT analysis remain true?

Yes, we are big into assessments. We see it as taking a breath and looking internally before you charge forward into this post-pandemic world. Of course, if you would like us to help with your assessments email me.

And, hopefully, you can stop feeling frantic about fundraising and start feeling confident about moving forward.

Is it Worth Investing in Electronic Prospect Research Screening for Your Nonprofit?

Prospect ResearchWhen researching a prospective donor for an initial gift, or possibly an upgraded gift, many nonprofits stop and question, “Is it worth investing in electronic prospect research screening? Is it the path to the pot of gold? Or, is it too general to be helpful to your nonprofit (i.e. does it matter if they gave their medical school or a local women’s shelter if you are a religious organization?)”

Here are the Pros and Cons of Electronic Prospect Research Screening

The Pros:

  • Research is super fun for data geeks and sociologists alike. That’s because good donor research output will give you a snapshot of publicly available data that includes:
    • Previous giving history- how much have they given to others
    • Political giving –a strong indicator of their philanthropic mindset
    • Real estate estimates (they own how many houses????)
    • Business data (they are the CEO of what public company?)
    • SEC information including shares and market values of public transactions
    • Boards they may sit on
  • Previous giving history can help you adjust your expectations. Rarely, do donors jump from $1,000 to $100,000.
  • It can help you understand where passions lie. If they have donated to a local Food Insecurity Initiative, a local hospital and a local private K-12 school, they are probably like to give locally to organizations that build relationships or where they already have connections.
  • Understanding their political giving will help you deepen the picture of who they are and what they value. Do they donate to more Republican or Democrat causes? Town-focused, State-wide or National? Small amounts to individuals or large amounts to PACs?

The Cons:

  • All that data can be a rabbit hole that sucks hours of your day. And that’s just for one interesting person. Sometimes too much data is just too much.
  • Anecdotal information is not included. Anyone being considered for a major gift would, ideally, already be associated with your nonprofit. That means someone should know their connection point, recent conversations, and how they feel about your organization.
  • It is just data and doesn’t let you know if it is a personal gift. If they gave to a children’s hospital because they helped a family member, or they donate to the women’s shelter because their sister is on the board, that is a very different type of gift than general support because they think it is a good cause.
  • Common names skew results. Someone must go through each prospect and realize if it is the right Larry Smith or David Weinstein. One can probably give $1,000,000 and the other $1,000. That is a very different ask.
  • Just because they have the capacity and have given to your nonprofit, that doesn’t mean they want to give more. Of course, your job is to convince them otherwise, but be patient. 10 years of $50 gifts are still valuable to your nonprofit. And consecutive years of giving demonstrate loyalty the might lead to a bequest or other planned gift.

Is it worth investing in Electronic Prospect Research Screening?

In my opinion, yes. It will save you hours on Google getting basic information and some services (like DonorSearch) provide you with an impressive amount of detail about your prospects. But, like so many things in life, paying someone else to do the screening is in actuality buying you time to other aspects of fundraising and development.  Prospect research is not the end-all, be-all solution we would like it to be. But, it is an important step towards knowing your donors.

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

Prospect Research: A Rundown of the Basics in 5 Steps

by Sarah Tedesco of DonorsearchSarah Tedesco

Modern nonprofit fundraising is all about multi-channel marketing because organizations cannot rely on one or two strategies to sustain their needs. Rather, most nonprofits find success by combining a variety of offline and online strategies such as:

  • Direct mail
  • Email
  • Phone calls
  • Newsletters
  • Social media
  • Events

The end result is a well-rounded and diverse approach to successful fundraising. While this approach means more donors and greater access, it also means more donor data to study and take advantage of. That’s why prospect research is more valuable now than ever before.

We’re going to focus on hitting the basics:

  1. The Definition of Prospect Research
  2. Prospect Screening Data Types
  3. Ways to Perform Prospect Research
  4. Prospects You Should Screen
  5. The Benefits of Prospect Research

Read on to decide if prospect research is right for you (spoiler alert: it probably is!).

The Definition of Prospect Research

1. The Definition of Prospect Research

Are you looking to make more informed asks based on donor preference? With prospect research, you can!

Just as it sounds, a prospect screening is a fundraising technique that helps nonprofits and other fundraising organizations educate themselves about their donors’ philanthropic history and wealth indicators.

By focusing on philanthropic history and wealth indicators, you learn the most important predictive traits about a donor, which are the following:

  • Affinity. It’s a measure of how dedicated a prospect is to your organization and philanthropy. If person doesn’t have a strong affinity for your cause, you’ll have a hard time convincing them to make a donation.
  • Capacity. Once you have someone with the interest, you’ll need to qualify them and figure out where they fall in the donor pyramid. Knowledge of their capacity to make a donation can help you evaluate how to handle cultivation and solicitation.

The bottom line: These two facets are unequivocally important in your search. Major gifts are the cream of the crop, and as such, these donors are hard to come by. Prospect research will point you in the right direction.

For more advice on major giving, check out this comprehensive resource.

Prospect Screening Data Types

2. Prospect Screening Data Types

In order to determine a donor’s combination of affinity and capacity, effective prospect screenings pull two kinds of data:

  • Philanthropic indicators
  • Wealth markers

Although there is a wide breadth of data types that fall into those two main categories, you should start by aiming for the following lists for each.

Philanthropic Indicators

  1. Previous Donations to Your NonprofitPrevious donations to your nonprofit are the strongest indicators of future giving.A prospect who has historically given $5k – $10k to a nonprofit is 5 times more likely to donate than the average prospect is, according to our statistics.
  2. Past Giving to Other OrganizationsIn terms of predictive capacity, past giving to other organizations is second only to previous donations to your nonprofit.While someone who has a philanthropic history elsewhere isn’t going to be as likely to give again as someone who has already donated to you, they’re still far more likely to give than the average person.Plus, as the size of the past gift increases, the likelihood of the donor giving again increases. For example, a donor who has given more than $100,000 to a nonprofit is over 30 times more likely to donate elsewhere than the average prospect is.
  3. Nonprofit InvolvementNonprofit support doesn’t stop at donating! There are plenty of ways that interested parties can get involved with nonprofit work from serving on a board to volunteering at annual events.Involvement demonstrates dedication to nonprofit work. It also indicates that the prospect understands the value in what you’re asking for.Giving donors a first-hand experience of the difference donations can be especially key when you’re looking to identify planned gift donors.

Wealth Markers

  1. Real Estate OwnershipAlthough it’s a wealth marker, and is classified as such, real estate ownership actually doubles as a philanthropic marker because those who own $2+ million are 17 times more likely to donate than the average prospect is. By using free sites like Zillow and the county tax assessor, your team should be able to estimate property value.Keep in mind, you’ll only be able to count on the real estate that you’re aware of. You might not know of all of your prospect’s properties.
  2. SEC TransactionsOwnership in publicly traded companies is searchable through the SEC’s website. Those records of SEC transactions will provide perspective on a person’s financial status.As with real estate though, it’s important to remember that you’re only seeing ownership of publicly traded companies.Stock ownership has predictive value nonetheless. It just needs to be considered alongside the various other factors listed here.
  3. Political GivingDonors who have given $2,500+ to political campaigns are 14 times more likely to donate than the average prospect is. Why?For starters, political giving is a window into a donor’s wealth and what amount they’re willing to give.Additionally, the sheer fact that someone has donated to a political campaign demonstrates that they’re willing to give when they feel a connection to a cause. If they’re as connected to your cause as they were to the candidates they’ve given to, you’ll be in good shape!In their guide, Double the Donation highlights property ownership, political giving, and past giving as part of the section on research you should perform on your donors.

The bottom line: If you want to understand affinity, look to philanthropic markers. If you want to understand capacity, look to wealth markers. If you want excel in fundraising, look to both.

Ways to Perform Prospect Research

3. Ways to Perform Prospect Research

Thanks to the multichannel approach, new prospects make it onto your donor list through a variety of avenues, from mobile giving to volunteer registration.

There are four main approaches to prospect research that you can consider:

Prospect Screening Companies

  • In-House Prospect Screening
  • DIY Screening
  • Consultants

Let’s explore each one on its own. Screening companies have the capacity to take pressure off of your team, freeing time to focus on other fundraising elements.

Any nonprofit can seek the services of a screening company, but they’re especially prudent for organizations looking to:

  • Identify major gift prospects.
  • Sift through a large number of donor records.
  • Handle a recurring cycle of new prospects.

Screening companies have the capacity to research thousands of donors and present you with the results in a detailed and organized fashion.

In-House Prospect Screening

Organizations with massive prospect research efforts will often have their own team of researchers.

In this case, the prospect research program can be fairly robust. Often, nonprofits with such extensive resources will rely on both the help of the research team and outside sources like screening companies.

DIY Screening

When your budget is tight or if you’re new to prospect research, you’ll probably start off with a “do it yourself” approach.

With DIY prospect research, focus on a small sampling of prospects and spend time internet sleuthing through sites like LinkedIn, Zillow, and Google.


If you need to perform the occasional screening, but don’t foresee your nonprofit researching full-time, a fundraising consulting firm, like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates, might be the right fit.

They’ll take the lead with your efforts and can be especially helpful if your team is looking for guidance.

The bottom line: Whether you decide to combine efforts or choose one method, it’s crucial to weigh your options ahead of time and ensure you’re maximizing your return on investment.

Prospects You Should Screen

4. Prospects You Should Screen

Once you know how you’re proceeding with prospect research, it’ll be time to choose who exactly you’re researching.

It’s tempting to say, “Everyone!” and move forward from there. However, your efforts will yield better results if you’re strategic about who you investigate.

To start, we recommended these three segments of donors:

  • Event-Specific
  • High Loyalty
  • Largest Gift Size

Each warrants special attention as far as research is concerned. Let’s discuss why that is.


Planning the perfect event is stressful enough without the added pressure of raising money, but the right approach to event-related research can alleviate stress.

There are three times you can perform an event-related screening:

  1. Before deciding on a guest list. Not every event is right for every supporter. Use a screening to whittle down your guest list to those who will get the most from the fundraiser and be most likely to RSVP and donate.
  2. After receiving your RSVPs. Once you know who’s coming, it’s crunch time. Your team won’t be able to visit with every donor during the event, so you should put a plan in place for who you absolutely need to connect with. Prospect research will help you prioritize your guest list.
  3. Following the event. After the event concludes, it’ll be time for following up. Your research can help you segment your attendees and guide your follow-ups.

Choose the timing that makes the most sense for your organization. If you’re aiming to make the biggest splash at the event itself, consider options one or two. If you’re thinking of the long-term relationships you can build following the event, consider three.

High Loyalty

When deciding who to screen, beginning with the prospects who are most loyal to your cause is a great place to start. That way, as you rate and rank your prospects, you’ll know every candidate’s affinity for your organization, which should always be your starting point.

Narrow the list down through an analysis of giving recency, or how long ago this prospect gave their last gift, and frequency, how often they donate.

Largest Gift Size

Since past giving is the greatest indicator of future giving, it’s perfectly logical that you’d want to begin your efforts with the past donors who have contributed the most.

You’ll be segmenting according to historical gift size, which is a good bet for launching a major gift program.

Use the following questions to direct your choice:

  1. What data is already in your database?
  2. Are you looking to round out your profiles on existing donors or to discover new prospects? Both?
  3. Is the research going to be supporting a specific fundraising type?

Your answers should help you decide which segmentation option is best.

The bottom line: Make your prospect research methods more manageable by segmenting prospects and screening accordingly.

The Benefits of Prospect Research

5. The Benefits of Prospect Research

As a final point, let’s highlight a selection of the benefits prospect research provides.

The top benefits of prospect research are as follows:

Locating New Prospects

With the help of prospect research you can identify high-quality candidates from outside your network. Not only will the research assist you in finding new donors, but it will also inform how you go about cultivating them, in turn helping your donor acquisition rate.

Rounding Out Donor Profiles

Part of your research will involve studying your existing donor pool and filling in any gaps you might have in your existing data. In the long run, this will drastically improve your team’s ability to personalize cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship.

Assisting Ongoing Activities

What’s great about prospect research is that it’s valuable across a range of fundraising activities.

It’s great if your organization regularly has new influxes of prospects. Or think about what research could do to boost existing campaigns, such as a capital campaign. The quiet phase of a capital campaign could definitely benefit from prospect research, seeing as it will make you aware of who to reach out to for donations.

According to the DonorSearch guide, “Here [during the quiet phase], you’ll focus on the top major gift leads. This phase can take upwards of a year. 50-70% of your funds will be raised during this phase, so it’s absolutely crucial.”

Finding Major Gift Prospects

As you know, no list of prospect research benefits is complete without acknowledging the significant relationship between prospect research and major gifts.

Screenings will both identify major gift prospects and point to key details that can inform cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship.

Studying Donor Giving Patterns

In order to fully understand donor behavior, you need to study their giving patterns. Prospect research is an optimal way of doing so. There are definitely more benefits than the ones listed here, but as we said in the beginning, there’s no way to cover all of prospect research in one article!

The bottom line: If possible, you should incorporate prospect research into your fundraising. The benefits speak for themselves.

We made it! We covered all the basics. Now that you’ve wrapped your head around what prospect research is and what it involves, it’s time to find a way to implement it at your organization.

A greater understanding of your donors is just around the corner!

Click here to learn more about DonorSearch and how they can help your nonprofit.

Click here to email Mersky, Jaffe & Associates about how they can use DonorSearch and prospect research to improve your fundraising capabilities.







4 Ways to Recognize Major Gift Prospects in Your Donor Pool

Sarah TedescoA guest post by Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy.

Let’s open here with a quote from a recent post on this very blog.

In speaking about increasing the likelihood that a prospect will say yes to your ask, Abigail Harmon writes, “You can certainly improve your chances of success by making the right ask at the right time in the right way for the right amount.”

And, she couldn’t be more right!

Look, we all know that there are no guarantees in fundraising. But we also know that preparedness and proper execution of time-tested fundraising strategies can go a long way towards helping your odds with major gift prospects.

When it comes to major gifts, one of the best tools in a development office’s toolkit is prospect research.

Specifically, your nonprofit can leverage prospect research to highlight key traits about a giving candidate. And, those traits will help indicate whether a prospect is more or less likely to donate a major gift.

This article is going to explore four of those traits. That list includes:

  1. Past Charitable Giving
  2. Nonprofit Involvement
  3. Political Giving
  4. Real Estate Ownership

Let’s walk through the benefits of understanding each detail.

Past Charitable Giving

Past Charitable GivingWealth is obviously an incredibly important factor in determining someone’s ability to give a major gift, but it is not necessarily the deciding factor.

In fact, you could very easily have a prospect on your hands who has the money to donate a substantial gift but lacks the drive to do so.

With that possibility in mind, the importance of considering past charitable giving comes into focus.

We can examine charitable giving according to two tiers:

Tier 1: Giving to your organization

When researching major gift prospects according to the first tier, analyze their RFM scores.

  • Recency: When was their last gift made?
  • Frequency: Over time, how often have they donated?
  • Monetary contribution: How much money have they donated?

Rank major gift prospects according to their RFM scores and have your major gift officers map out their plans accordingly.

Tier 2: Giving to other organizations

This tier is second only to past giving to your organization in terms of its predictive abilities. Donors who fall into this tier and fit the right wealth profile are often ideal candidates for major giving.

Especially in terms of major gift level donations, the predictive merit is backed easily by data:

  • Individuals who have contributed a gift over $100,000 are 32 times more likely to make a charitable donation to another organization.
  • Individuals who have contributed a gift of $50,000 – $100,000 are 25 times more likely to make a charitable donation to another organization.
  • Individuals who have contributed a gift of $10,000 – $25,000 are 10 times more likely to make a charitable donation to another organization.
  • Individuals who have contributed a gift of $5,000 – $10,000 are 5 times more likely to make a charitable donation to another organization.

If you can use your screenings to find candidates who meet at the intersection of a strong history of charitable giving and a demonstrated ability and willingness to make large donations, your major gift program will be in a great place.

Nonprofit Involvement

Nonprofit InvolvementWhen looking for major gift prospects, you’ll want to zero in on those who have a proven interest in philanthropic work, even outside directly donating. That’s where nonprofit involvement comes in.

Nonprofit involvement is a relatively broad category, but in terms of major gifts, you’ll be looking for donors who have:

  • Served on the board of another nonprofit.
  • Volunteered extensively with another organization.
  • Worked for a nonprofit.

Essentially, you’ll be looking for candidates who clearly have a vested interest in nonprofit work and understand the significance of a major gift.

Take, for example, the first trait on that list, “served on the board of another nonprofit.”

Passionate board members are deeply connected to service.

They give both financial support and thoughtful counsel to the organizations they serve. That is the kind of major gift prospect you want on your list!

These people have firsthand experience. Plus, once you get them on board, they’re likely to have valuable ties to other top prospects in the community.

Political Giving

Political GivingThe predictive power of political giving is twofold. It serves as both a wealth and philanthropic indicator.

Wealth wise, if someone has given large political gifts in the past, it’s likely that they’re capable of giving gifts of equal or greater size to nonprofits and other fundraising organizations.

Philanthropy-wise, political giving speaks to a prospect’s willingness to be moved to action.

Political donors see a campaign or cause that they support and take fiscal action to demonstrate such support.

Just as with past giving, the evidence is in the data:

  • Individuals who have given at least $2,500 to federal political campaigns are 14 times more likely to make a charitable donation to another organization.
  • Individuals who have given at least $500 to federal political campaigns are 5 times more likely to make a charitable donation to another organization.

If your marketing and messaging can encourage the kind of impassioned advocacy at the root of political giving, your program will be in good shape.

Real Estate Ownership

Real Estate OwnershipOf the four items on this list, real estate ownership is most directly related to wealth analysis.

From a practical standpoint, if your major gift officer can compile an accurate estimate of a prospect’s real estate holdings, you should be able to make a prediction of their giving capacity.

First, you’ll want to use outside research to ascertain the average percentage of a person’s wealth that real estate accounts for. Then, you’ll use that percentage and the total dollar amount of the prospect’s real estate holdings to calculate estimated total wealth.

While real estate can clearly signify wealth, we’ve found that, much like political giving, real estate ownership correlates to an increased likelihood that someone will give philanthropically.

For instance, owning real estate ranging from $750,000 to $1,000,000 doubles the likelihood that a person will make a philanthropic donation.

The philanthropic correlation only gets stronger the greater a prospect’s real estate holdings are in value.

Ensure that your team capitalizes on this dual benefit and uses the predictive capacities of real estate ownership to the fullest.


There’s no one data point that will tell you everything you need to know about a prospect. No magic button you can press and reveal all your major donors.

However, if you have a solid sense for what donor details statistically indicate an increased likelihood of giving, you’ll be headed in the right direction.

On average, 88% of the dollars that a nonprofit raises come from 12% of that nonprofit’s donors. That 12%? Your major donors.

If you want to see your fundraising totals climb, you should look into expanding your efforts. And focusing on the identification stage is a good place to start! Lean on prospect research in those early stages.


Getting to Know Your Donors: Using & Understanding Prospect Research

Major Gifts – Beyond the Solicitation Series – Part 7

David Mersky sqDonations initiate relationships, and these relationships benefit by knowing important details. With information publicly available more than ever before, understanding prospect research is becoming an increasingly significant tool for nonprofit organizations to increase their fundraising capabilities.

Sophisticated analysis can help you identify who has the capacity, as well as the inclination to give to your organization. It is possible to identify an organization’s best prospective new donors, as well as better understand how to approach each one of your existing donors to request an increased donation.

Some organizational leaders shy away from prospect research because they believe that it is too intrusive.  However, professional prospect researchers—those who abide by the code of ethics of the Association for Prospect Researchers for Advancement (APRA), for example—use only publicly available information accessible to anyone.  Advancement researchers must balance an individual’s right to privacy with the needs of their institutions to collect, analyze, record, maintain, use, and disseminate information.  The key difference is that professionals do it efficiently and economically.

Additionally, understanding prospect research helps:

  • start and develop relationships;
  • identify prospective donors who share your organization’s values;
  • uncover “hidden” donors;
  • increase gifts from existing donors;
  • plan the approach and engagement strategies;
  • determine each donor’s capacity to give as well as a potential gift amount;
  • determine the “ask” amount;
  • formulate ask strategies;
  • segment donors by likelihood of giving, capacity to give, and type (annual, major, planned) of gift;
  • identify potential board members and organization champions;
  • build guest lifts for events;
  • efficiently use fundraising/development resources; and
  • reduce fundraising costs.

The most important predictor of a donor’s likelihood to give is past philanthropy. Statistically, it is the best predictor of future behavior. For example, there is a strong correlation between political giving, as reported by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and charitable giving: a donor who has made multiple political gifts totaling $15,000 or more has almost certainly made at least a five-figure gift to a nonprofit organization.

Additionally, understanding prospect research can uncover shared interests and engagement strategies, and help you find hidden connections between your donors and your organization’s leaders.

This knowledge can also help formulate an ask strategy. For example, a prospect may have a relatively low income, but large amounts of real estate. By discretely introducing real estate into the conversation and providing examples of real estate gifts, that donor can be persuaded to make a larger gift than one based on income alone.

The other aspect of prospect research to consider is the old 80-20 rule: 80% of your gifts will come from 20% of your prospects. (Some development officers say the ratio is closer to 90-10.) By identifying the 20% of your prospects who are most likely to make significant gifts to your organization, you can focus your efforts and maximize your fundraising/development efficiency.

NEXT MONTH: Moves Management—What is Moves Management?
LAST MONTH: Identifying Your Best Prospects—They are Closer than You Think

Challenge – A Creative Use for Prospect Research

Last week I wrote, “Can Prospect Research Be Wrong?” about hospitals that are using prospect research in very creative but, potentially uncomfortable way, i.e., sending patient lists to a prospect research company for overnight screening. The challenge this week is – How could you use access to shortened turn-around time on prospect research to improve your fundraising results, in a way that will not cause any donors to question your ethics?

As always – feel free to comment or email me to let me know what you come up with!

Can Prospect Research Be Wrong?

Recently as I was wandering the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Massachusetts Annual Philanthropy Day Conference in Boston, I stopped to speak with a prospect research company with whom I have worked on behalf of various clients. We have found them to have valuable research results, in part, because they spend the time to digitize thousands of print-only donor lists from colleges, nonprofit galas and other similar brochures and booklets. Their company is growing, so I can assume we are not the only ones who take advantage of their excellent service.

What is the newest way in which research is being used? Quick turnaround of potential donors lists. Some hospitals are sending their daily patient lists—being mindful of HIPPA restrictions—to the research company to know what potential donor is currently under their roof. The research company sends a list by 8 or 9 each morning – before the patients are discharged.

At first, I was not sure how this information was being used but I found a bit more insight  when I realized that I am not the only one who is focused on this topic this week.   In a New York Times article by Ron Lieber I read over the weekend, which did research through the fundraising software company Blackbaud, stated:

In a presentation posted on the Web titled “Grateful Patient Basics,” the company urges fund-raisers to “take advantage of the captive audience” by sending hospital admissions lists to the development office for a wealth screening within hours of when the patients are admitted. No, they will not turn up at your bedside the next morning with a capital campaign solicitation. But solicitousness is a possible result, including more visits from hospital staff and a special effort to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

You can read the entire article for yourself by clicking here, but the more I thought about it, even though the use of the information is permitted within the current regulatory environment, the more I didn’t like it.  The New York Times article confirmed that I am not alone.

I love prospect research as much as the next development professional – maybe even a bit more because I can geek out on the knowledge. I love that someone thought of a creative way to use research. I just don’t love that a place, in which vulnerability is at the core of a person’s experience, would use that relationship to profit.

Am I right? Am I wrong? I would love to hear your thoughts.

How Clean Is Your Data?

Files Tower imageIf you are like most nonprofits, your Director of Development has turned over every 1 ½ years.  Among the chaos that this turnover leaves at the organization is mayhem in your development tracking systems.  Each new Director comes with lots of energy to incorporate their favorite tracking method, follow-up processes and software package.  But, where does that leave the organization?  Often, with a mess of documents in different places, on different machines and with an admin staff that dreads each new hire.

What types of documents am I talking about?  A server filled with:

  • Prospect rating lists
  • Pledge probability forecast
  • Names and amounts with the official total
  • The publishable list of names in each giving category
  • List of names of those who have given since the last campaign newsletter update
  • The gift pyramid
  • Fundraising software (e.g. Raiser’s Edge, eTapestry, Donor Perfect, etc..)
  • Solicitor prospect lists
  • To do list for each solicitor including who is managing the solicitor
  • Next Steps

And this doesn’t even include the list of Thank You notes to be sent by the Executive Director (in this case a Head of School), thank you notes to be sent by the Development Committee Chairs, and the thank you notes to be sent by the Director of Institutional Advancement or Development.

The Solution?
As with most problems, the solution will be different depending on the amount of money vs. time you can throw at the problem.  You can hire companies to clean up your files.  You can try to hire responsible temps to do it.  No matter what, you will spend a portion of your ramp up time at the organization eliminating redundancies and consolidating documents.

Keep in mind a few things:

  • You will have to get your hands dirty. No matter who is sifting through the information, someone will have to make that final decision as to whether to keep the data active.  And that person should be you.  The positive side to this is that you will learn a lot about the organization and its donors through this process.
  • Don’t erase anything too quickly. Burn CDs or create long-term storage files on the server for extraneous files – just in case you mistake donor lunch preferences for take-out menus.
  • Don’t fix what doesn’t need fixing. You may have worked with what you consider the easiest, most effective fundraising software in the past, but that doesn’t mean it is better than the software that the organization currently uses.  Give the current systems a full chance – you may learn something new and avoid a lot of internal conflict.  You may just have to consolidate, organize and re-file into something that works for many years to come.
  • Anticipate resistance. If you are the third director of advancement in the administrative assistant’s tenure there may not be a lot of enthusiasm for “a new way” to manage data.  Tread lightly and be able to explain why the changes are necessary.  This will ensure you don’t change for the sake of change.

While this article started with a reference to the high turnover rate of development professionals, it should be said that cleansing your data and taking ownership of the process can help create higher job satisfaction.  And this may even translate into a longer stay, and one less organization that you will have to clean up.

Everyone In The Office Is On the Development Team

Delivery man in development imageThis may be breaking news to your accounting staff, human resources, receptionists or even the cleaning crew, but they are all on the development team. Any time someone who works for your organization answers the phone, interacts with a donor or volunteer or prepares a space for an important meeting with a funder, they are part of your agency’s development effort. And if they are well-versed, and passionately articulate, about the mission, organizational achievements or even the capabilities of staff colleagues, he or she is representing the enterprise and, more importantly, advancing the development effort.

A conversation that the person who sits at the front desk has with the Fed Ex deliveryman could easily lead to a $25 donation this year – and who knows what in the future.

Is your staff training ensuring everyone speaks the same message?

The Company Pitch
Each and every employee should know:

      • * the elevator pitch (the organization-sanctioned 30 second speech that describes the mission, vision and values of the organization), and

* how to transition a relationship to someone who can manage a prospects/donor’s interest in the organization.

Every member of the staff should understand the development process—the path through which every prospect ideally travels to become a donor:

      • * identification;
      • * prospect research;
      • * cultivation;
      • * solicitation; and

* stewardship of the relationship.

Staff Training
An investment in staff training allows you to provide your staff with the necessary skills to represent the organization in the best possible light. And, it also tells your staff how much you value them—how important they are to the success of the enterprise and the important work that you do.

You cannot control everything that is said about the organization in the community, but by helping your staff develop into the best possible advocates for your organization, they will feel good about the work that they do every day. Then, more people with whom your staff comes in contact every day will come to appreciate your agency and the valuable contributions you make to the community. Remember, whether someone offers you an in-kind contribution, a discount for products or services, or a direct donation, everyone has the potential to be a donor. Help your staff understand that and feel good about engaging. Recognize your staff for what their efforts enable you to achieve—as you would recognize any member of the development team for their good work. You will be rewarded in countless ways.