Prospect Research: 6 Things to Look For in a Potential Donor

by Joe Garecht

Donor Prospect Research

Guest Post by: Adam Weinger

When you implement donor research in your fundraising strategy, you’ll learn more about your existing donors and spot potential major giving opportunities.

But what if you could find out more about potential supporters before they even donate to your nonprofit for the first time?

Well, it turns out you can! When you screen potential supporters before they’re even associated with your nonprofit, you won’t waste time on engaging prospects that will just donate once (if at all) and then disappear. And as a nonprofit professional, you know the value of saving time for your organization.

There are a few indicators to look out for to find and engage more consistent (and maybe even major) donors. Keep your eyes peeled for the following:

  1. Employers with corporate giving programs
  2. Their donation history
  3. Their volunteer history
  4. Their professional and personal connections
  5. Their personal interests
  6. Other wealth indicators

Need a quick refresher on the fundamentals of prospect research before continuing? Visit this comprehensive guide!

Conducting prospect research before engaging with potential donors may open the door to possibilities that would’ve been unavailable to you otherwise. If you’re ready to jump straight into finding new loyal donors, then let’s get started!

Employers with corporate giving programs

Corporate giving programs are a commonly-missed revenue opportunity for nonprofits. If you’re not already implementing some sort of tool to locate these gaps in funding, you may be missing out on some major opportunities. It’s best to start off an engagement knowing if a prospect has access to corporate philanthropy through their employer. These donors will likely turn out to be mid-tier to major donors, because they’ll be able to generate the most value out of a match with a search tool.

For community-based nonprofits, try searching for local employers that offer giving programs, like matching gifts or volunteer grants. More often than not, companies want to give back to their communities by supporting worthy causes. 

To learn more about why these programs are so influential for nonprofits, visit Double the Donation’s corporate giving guide.

Their donation history

Even though they haven’t contributed to your organization yet, you can still measure potential donors’ willingness to give by looking at their past donations to other nonprofits. Start by looking at the giving reports of similar organizations to yours. Candidates identified through these reports are typically better qualified than most. Compare what they are offering your nonprofit with what they’re giving similar nonprofits to find a good gift range for a prospect.

If you need some assistance in the wealth screening stage of prospect research, a low-cost, comprehensive wealth screening tool can help you identify top prospects by determining their capacity to give and their affinity to give. In most cases, all you have to do is enter their name and the state in which they live. Then, you’ll be provided with a list of their past donations!

Don’t just look at the size of the gifts; rather, look at the frequency and recency of them. These donations don’t necessarily have to be large sums of money, but if an individual is consistently donating, that means they’re loyal and give to causes they deem worthy. It’s worth taking a moment to reach out to them, so you’ll be at the front of their mind next time they’re feeling generous and want to donate to a worthy cause.

Their volunteer history

A great way to cultivate donors is by engaging individuals who are already connected with your cause in other ways: for instance, your volunteers! Volunteers serve as the heart of your organization. They devote their time to making your mission possible, and they might be willing to donate if they’re financially able to. 

Start with your most devoted volunteers. Assess their willingness to give, or simply reach out to them. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask! Remember to let them know your team values their hard work and that your organization couldn’t continue working toward its mission without them.

Again, you may also want to look to other local nonprofits with similar causes. Research their board members. Don’t limit yourself to currently presiding members; look at their past members, too! If someone is passionate enough to devote their time to a mission, they might be willing to support similar causes but just aren’t aware of their opportunities.

Their professional and personal connections

Prospects’ relationships, either professional or personal, can help you start an initial engagement with them. When people they respect see the worthiness of your mission, then they might give your nonprofit a chance, too! 

Oftentimes, nonprofits will start by looking at their board members’ and major donors’ connections and will build out from there. This process is called relationship mapping and can give you insight on additional prospects that you might not have encountered otherwise. 

The relationships you should examine go beyond a prospect’s current employer. You should also take a look at the following:

  • Their colleagues
  • Their full employment history
  • Their clients
  • Their friends and family
  • Other nonprofits they support

If you’ve found a strong prospect but can’t seem to grab their attention, try engaging other people in their network who might be more willing to donate. When you uncover a personal connection within your organization, you can have that individual reach out instead of having one of your other team members to perform cold outreach. Keep fully researching all your prospects and engaging with them, and you’re bound to wind up with a few new loyal donors!

Their personal interests

A person’s interests indicate whether or not they might support your cause and goes beyond just looking at what they do in their free time. When engaging with them for the first time, you can leverage this information, so they might instantly recognize a personal connection with your nonprofit. To get a sense of who they are, look into their:

  • Hobbies and activities to learn what interests them.
  • Past donations to other nonprofits to gauge their giving tendencies.
  • Social media posts indicating their support for other nonprofits to know what causes they support.

If a prospect’s interests align with yours, they’re probably worth reaching out to, especially if they’ve given to similar causes in the past. Finding relevant interests also gives you a starting point for developing relationships with your prospects, which is a retention approach than can also be used on your current supporters!

Other Wealth Indicators

A donor who is willing to give is fantastic to have, but a significant hurdle is when they don’t have the capacity to have. That’s why you should take the time to pinpoint a few wealth indicators before reaching out to prospects. Wealth indicators aren’t always readily apparent, but with a little bit of research, uncovering this data should be a breeze!

A prospect’s giving history is likely where you should start, but there are numerous other wealth indicators you should assess. Consider their:

Real estate investment. The amount of money someone invests in real estate can help estimate their net worth while also signaling how they like to spend their money. 

Stock ownership. Stock ownership in publicly held companies can provide powerful insight into a prospective donor’s wealth. Determine stock holdings through online portals like the one provided by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Business affiliations. This ties back to identifying prospects’ professional connections. An individual’s business affiliations may indicate their net worth and their giving potential, and you can leverage these relationships when engaging with them for the first time.

Education. Education is not a blatantly obvious wealth indicator, but when you combine it with other insightful markers, like their current job position, you can get a more accurate estimate of a donor’s capacity to give.

These wealth markers aren’t surefire proof of your prospective donors’ wealth, but they can give you a pretty good idea of it. Use your best judgment and take philanthropic indicators (like giving history and personal interests) into account when formulating your outreach strategy.

Acquiring new donors can be a frustrating task, but when you take the time to conduct some additional research, you set your organization up for successful asks (and possibly for long-term, major donors)! One set of characteristics alone is by no means the only indicator of a donor’s giving capacity and affinity. Rather, they intertwine to give you a good sense of who a prospect is and how to cultivate them into donors.

If you’re ready to stop wasting time on potential donors who won’t stick around for very long, then start looking for these philanthropic and wealth indicators. Implementing prospect research into your fundraising strategy will save your team time that can be spent on engaging promising prospects who won’t let your nonprofit down!

About the Author

Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via email or on LinkedIn.

Photo Ceedit: Nguyen Hung Vu

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