Searching for new donors

4 Things Nonprofits Needs to Know About Prospect Research

A pack of crayons can be so exciting to a child, as the plethora of colors opens up a world of possibilities. Likewise, your nonprofit’s donor constituency consists of a variety of different individuals who each have a different background and relationship with your organization.

Nonprofits should try to focus their fundraising efforts on those donors who have the capacity to make generous donations. It can be challenging to know where to get started, which is why many nonprofits invest in a fundraising technique called prospect research.

In this article, we’ll discuss the answers to four questions about prospect research:

  1. What Is Prospect Research?
  2. How Can Nonprofits Conduct Prospect Research?
  3. Why Should Your Organization Invest in Prospect Research?
  4. What Types of Organizations Use Prospect Research?

Let’s jump right into the first question!

 #1: What Is Prospect Research?

Prospect research is the process of researching existing or potential donors who have the capacity to give to your organization. Fundraisers, development teams, and nonprofits all use prospect research to stay abreast of who to focus their efforts on.

Prospect research can unearth of variety of information including:

  • Personal backgrounds
  • Basic contact information
  • Philanthropic motivations
  • Past giving histories

Another key component of prospect research is wealth screening. While the two services often get confused, wealth screening is a type of prospect research that looks at a supporter’s giving capacity to determine if the individual would be willing to give more.

Some indicators of a prospect that’s willing and able to give more include:

  • Past giving history to your organization and other nonprofits
  • Political giving
  • Real estate ownership
  • Business affiliations

Combined with your other prospect research, you’ll gain better insight into your supporters as well as learn if these donors could become major or planned contributors. Best of all, conducting wealth screening is a strategy that every type of organization can use, and it fits any budget. Many of the tools used to find wealth indicators offer free resources for organizations!

Additionally, your CRM can track this information, so you can access more information in one place to make more individualized fundraising appeals to donors who have a higher affinity for your organization or capacity to give.

The bottom line: Prospect research is a strategy that any nonprofit can use to learn more about current donors and prospects. The information can be used to help organizations create a tailored cultivation or solicitation plan.

#2: How Can Nonprofits Conduct Prospect Research?

There are several ways to conduct prospect research, and your preferred method should depend on both the number of prospects you wish to research as well as your budget:

Prospect Research Company

These companies can take your list of donors, screen them against a variety of public and proprietary databases, and provide you with detailed philanthropic and wealth information. A prospect research company can screen prospects daily, weekly, or monthly, according to your schedule.

Additionally, if you were to partner with one of these companies, they will look at various aspects of prospect research, such as a donor’s:

  • Past giving habits
  • Philanthropic involvement
  • Contributions to other nonprofits

With detailed insights on your donor, this information can help you discover potential major donors. It’s all the prospect information you need to find major gift prospects in less time so you can allocate more of your resources to other fundraising efforts.

Prospect Research Consultant

Working with a consultant is another option for your nonprofit. Much like a prospect research company, consultants can do extensive research on individual major gift prospects using public databases.

What sets a consultant apart from a prospect research company is that they can help you take the information they’ve obtained and develop effective solicitation and engagement strategies. Not only will you get key insights into your organization, but you’ll also receive expert advice to help you reach out to these potential major donors.

There are so many different types of consultants, and many professionals can perform more than just prospect research. That’s why it’s important to find a consultant that fits your organization.

Look for a consultant that has experience working with similar organizations and references that you can contact. Talking with consultants’ past clients will give you a feel for how they approach prospect research. If you’re happy with a consultant’s results, you should see if they offer other services and look into bringing them on to assist you with other aspects of your fundraising strategy.

Hiring the perfect consultant takes a lot of work. If you want some guidance on how to start your search, Averill has a comprehensive fundraising consultant guide that can help!


The last option your organization has is to complete prospect research in-house. This approach will save you the most money, but it’s best to conduct prospect research yourself when you have a prospect researcher on your staff. This person, or team of researchers, will know how to efficiently gather and organize information from a plethora of databases.

If your nonprofit can’t afford a prospect researcher, then there’s always a more makeshift approach to prospect research that a current staff member or team of staff could learn to conduct. This process involves online research using sites like Foundation Center, Guidestar, and Bloomberg to learn about your donor’s philanthropic involvement.

As you consider the best approach for your nonprofit, be aware that there are advantages and disadvantages to each option. Weigh the pros and cons to determine the way that will best fit your needs and budget.

The bottom line: While there are several ways organizations can conduct prospect research, the best approach is to use an expert—whether it’s a consultant or an in-house researcher.

#3: Why Should Your Organization Invest in Prospect Research?

Identify major gift prospects

You choose the company you keep, and, as a nonprofit in need of funds, you want that company to include as many major gift prospects as possible. Major gift prospects have the capacities to give transformational gifts that allow you to surpass fundraising goals and better fulfill your mission.

Indicators of high quality major gift prospects include:

  • Past charitable giving to your organization
  • Past charitable giving to other nonprofits
  • Nonprofit involvement as a foundation trustee or director
  • Political giving
  • Real estate ownership

Prospect research will uncover this data, so you can find new major gift prospects fast. When you store the information in your CRM, you have a wealth of prospect data from which to craft individualized ask strategies to the prospects who are most worth your time.

Moreover, new major gift prospects don’t always come from new donors. In fact, most major gift donors begin as annual donors, which is why it is important to screen your loyal, even if minimal, financial supporters.

Learn more about your volunteers

Volunteers are the people who give their time and energy to bring your mission to the masses. Without them, your nonprofit would struggle to find the manpower to make an impactful difference.

A benefit of volunteers is that many of them are eligible to apply for volunteer grants. Prospect research reveals employer information, which you can use to discover which of your volunteers work for companies that offer these types of grants. Of course, store this information in your CRM in order to capitalize on this form of corporate giving each time that an eligible constituent volunteers.

Make the most out of your organization’s events

Party planners hate when they don’t know how many people are coming. How much pizza should they order? Is a larger room necessary? Does the clown have enough balloons?

Take your events seriously and plan ahead. You want to know who is coming to your events so that prospect research can swoop in for the big assist. Prospect research allows you to screen your attendees, so you know who to provide special perks to and direct your major gift officers to converse with, at an event. In a case study put together by IMPACTism, a nonprofit advocacy group, the worst use of nonprofit time was when staff could spent their time at fundraising events talking to all the wrong people, when plenty of major gift donors are standing out in the open.

The bottom line: Investing in prospect research is worth the time and money because you’re able to get deeper insights into your donors and volunteers. Plus, you’ll be able to find major donors faster with these strategies.

#4: What Types of Nonprofits Use Prospect Research?

The truth is that every nonprofit can benefit from using prospect research, but the process and its results may be different for every type of organization.

That’s why we’ve created a list of the organizations and the types of supporters that they can conduct prospect research on:

  • Schools: K-12 schools and universities can conduct prospect research on parents, alumni, students, and faculty. This research can help schools determine which supporters have the potential to become major donors. In addition, the information can be used to plan your next fundraising event.
  • Healthcare Organizations: Hospitals can use prospect research to gain a more complete picture of their patients. In fact, many prospect research services allow hospitals to send in newly admitted patients to complete daily screenings. Healthcare organizations can use the information to determine how much to ask donors.
  • Greek Organizations: Fraternities and sororities can use prospect research to learn valuable information about alumni. Bulk screenings are the perfect service of many Greek organizations.
  • Faith-Based Organizations: Churches, mosques, synagogues, and other places of worship can conduct research on new attendees at services as well as long-term congregants to determine who can contribute major gifts. Faith-based organizations can also use prospect research to plan and devise other fundraising initiatives.
  • Arts and Cultural Nonprofits: Organizations that focus on the arts can screen ticket purchasers, event attendees, membership holders, and consistent supporters to learn which donors have the potential to give more.

As you can see, there are plenty of organizations that can benefit from prospect research. Even if we didn’t list your type of organization, gaining deeper insights into your supports can offer a ton of valuable advantages.

Just be sure to evaluate your organization and the kind of information you want to gain from your supporters to determine if prospect research is right for your nonprofit.

The bottom line: Prospect research is a strategy that can be used by virtually every type of organization. The trick is figuring out what information is going to be the most applicable for your organization’s needs.

With prospect research, you can improve the capabilities of your CRM and lead better directed and more individualized fundraising campaigns.

Want more fundraising advice? Check out these additional resources:

  1. Ultimate Guide to CRMsOnce you’ve performed your prospect research, you’ll need a place to store all the data you’ve gained on your donors. Nonprofit CRMs are the perfect place to store your information and track the progress of your fundraising initiatives.
  2. Full List of Fundraising IdeasWith more information on your prospects, you can boost your fundraising efforts and tailor your initiatives to best suit your prospective donors. Get our complete list of fundraising ideas—perfect for any cause.
  3. Donation Request LettersLearn how to write the perfect donation letter to ask for gifts using the information you gained via prospect research.

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Giving Tuesday is Over, Now What?

2014’s Giving Tuesday is now behind us, so what’s next? Here are some pointers on what to focus on while wrapping up 2014 on a high note!

  • Start Planning for 2015’s Giving Tuesday December 1st, 2015 to be exact. After thanking your Giving Tuesday donors, make a list of areas where you exceeded expectations and areas where you need to improve. Don’t lament too much on solidifying 2015’s strategy 100% (social media changes too much), but do spend some time reflecting on 2014’s Giving Tuesday to better prepare your nonprofit for the next year. There is always room for improvement! Check out what other nonprofits did and see what you could incorporate next year or build upon. A simple running tab of “Giving Tuesday Ideas 2015” can suffice, but make this an organizational priority for a few hours.
  • Focus on End-of-Year Giving Okay, we’re repeating ourselves, but that’s because it’s super important: be clear in your call to action. It’s the end of the year, and it’s our favorite time to give back! Take advantage of this. Ask your donors for last-minute donations. Don’t forget to mention that this is their last chance to make a tax-deductible gift for 2014. Ensure all e-mails are scheduled properly with a clear call to action on how to make a donation. Also, it is a good idea to update your website to reflect your end-of-year campaign. Make sure social media follows suit, too.Tip: ‘Tis the season to take time off. If your nonprofit is small and employees will be enjoying some much-deserved vacation days, make sure all e-mails have proper forwarding information. If possible, try to keep at least one person in the office (aside from closed business days) or responding to email to keep your nonprofit running smoothly.
  • Check for missed opportunities. Run some reports to see if you can track down anyone who made a big gift in 2013, but missed 2014. Reach out to them and ask for their support! The number one reason why people don’t give is because they aren’t asked to give. Ask!
  • Gather data. Gather and clean up as much data as you can for 2014, so that it’s smooth sailing into 2015.
  • Send holiday cards and thank you notes. This should be a year round effort, but it’s especially important that Executive Directors recognize and personally thank major donors and sponsors.

No matter how you end your year, the more you do now, the better positioned your organization will be to take on 2015. Happy planning!

Last Minute Tips for Giving Tuesday

With less than two weeks to go until 2014’s Giving Tuesday, it’s our goal to make sure your nonprofit is prepared to reap the benefits. Follow these last-minute tips to ensure that your 2014 Giving Tuesday campaign goes off without a hitch!




  • Make sure you have a solid plan in place.

In an ideal world, your nonprofit would have started developing a strategy for Giving Tuesday months ago, but this isn’t a perfect world and life happens. First things first, don’t panic. You can STILL reap the benefits! If you don’t have a plan in place, get to it today (seriously – right now!), but keep it simple. You can always build on it next year.

  • Get your team on board.

Since Giving Tuesday is a socially charged movement, make sure that you stay engaged with fans. Schedule team members to monitor your social media accounts throughout the day. Prior to Giving Tuesday (especially since it falls in the midst of holiday season), ensure your staff members can access all social media accounts and understand their game plan. Make sure e-mails are scheduled with clear directions on how to donate to your cause. Because Giving Tuesday is only a one-day event, there’s not too much room for error. Put the extra effort in ensuring all information is correct.

  • Follow through with promises.

If you planned ahead and have sponsors and/or matching gift campaigns running parallel with your Giving Tuesday, it is vital your nonprofit follows through with all promises made on your end of the sponsorship agreement. If you agreed to give them visibility on social on Giving Tuesday, first and foremost, make sure this happens.

  • Have a clear call to action.

Make it ridiculously easy for your donors to give and share information about your Giving Tuesday campaign. The purpose of Giving Tuesday is to raise awareness about generosity and giving back to the community, so people will be fired up and ready to give, but your nonprofit needs to make giving accessible with a clear call to action. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to create some messages your donors can post to their social accounts with all the info on how to give to your nonprofit. Make it as simple and easy as possible.

  • Be creative and have fun.

10,000 nonprofits across the world participate in Giving Tuesday. How do you make your nonprofit stand out? Take a chance. Don’t be afraid to be bold, fun, and energetic in your asks.

  • Be thankful.

Don’t forget to say thank you.

#GivingTuesday: How to Entice Corporate Donors

Many nonprofits focus their #GivingTuesday plans on individual donors. While this approach is often fairly easy to implement, you can get more bang for your buck if you also target the corporate donor. The key with corporate donors is that they often want something in return (Horrors!). Understanding what will motivate them – especially small local companies – can make your #GivingTuesday plan a winner for everyone.

Online Kudos = Free Publicity

As you begin to plan your #GivingTuesday strategy, consider approaching the corporate donor by presenting it as a corporate sponsorship opportunity. Create a dedicated web page for this year’s #GivingTuesday efforts and include the logos of corporate donors who have committed to giving to your cause. Start with the low-hanging fruit: last year’s corporate donors. Let them know that you will give them free online exposure on your website and through social media if they agree to donate again. Then, compile a list of other community businesses and send them a letter or an email letting them know about your sponsorship offer. Hot tip! Companies love to see their logos at work. Encourage larger donations by listing only the names of businesses that give under a certain amount. For companies giving over a certain threshold, add their logos to your site and posts.

Dedicated Exposure

One way to put the spotlight on corporate sponsors is to give them a block of time during #GivingTuesday that is all about them. Agree to a matching donation program where all donations within a certain time will be matched by that company (don’t forget about corporate matching gift programs!) Then, notify your social network followers and, if possible, quickly update your website to move the company’s logo to the top of the page during that time slot. Hot tip! Suggest that the company encourage community interaction by giving away prizes that must be picked up at their business.

Media Buzzzzzzz

Garnering media attention, both before and after #GivingTuesday, is one of the things that companies want most. Issue press releases before the event including the names of the corporate donors who have committed to giving. After the big day, focus news stories on actual data, such as total donated or the specific projects your nonprofit will now be able to implement. Hot tip! Emphasize the names of the corporate sponsors as one of the reasons that these projects are possible.

Don’t Forget Small Businesses

While it’s tempting to go after big donors, don’t forget about smaller companies. They often forego traditional sponsorships because of the cost. However, #GivingTuesday is the perfect opportunity to engage these small businesses at giving levels they can afford. It gives them a big advertising return which is something they crave.

#GivingTuesday can be a boom or bust project for any nonprofit. The key is to plan your strategy, put yourself out there to make it happen, then learn from the experience to improve your results for next year. Good luck!

Gretchen Barry is director of marketing and communications for NonProfitEasy. You can reach her at [email protected].

#GivingTuesday Success With Black Friday Strategies

#GivingTuesday is without a doubt one of the best things to happen to nonprofit fundraising, and this year’s event is scheduled for December 2. While the movement is still young, the results are undeniable. In fact, over $19.2 million in donations were made on #GivingTuesday in 2013. With that amount of money at stake, it’s imperative that nonprofits start planning as soon as possible. By utilizing many of the same strategies that traditional retailers employ for Black Friday, nonprofits can generate buzz, excitement and results.

Publicize a Specific Need
Human beings work best when they have a specific goal to work toward and donating money is no exception. Identify one major fundraising goal that you wish to accomplish on that day, whether it’s a piece of equipment or funding an activity. Advertise that goal heavily so that #GivingTuesday donors know what their donation will help your organization achieve. This gives donors additional motivation to help you reach your goal.

Take Advantage of the Deal Seeking Atmosphere
Consumers have been trained to seek out deals following Thanksgiving, and nonprofits can benefit from this mentality to gain more donations. Along with your #GivingTuesday campaigns, advertise how donors can take advantage of corporate matching programs. Including this information well in advance gives donors time to look up corporate workplace policies to determine if they are eligible.

Create a Media Buzz
#GivingTuesday is only in its third official year. That means that many people, including news outlets, haven’t heard about it. Your local news outlets are always looking for stories, so pitch several ideas to them about your #GivingTuesday efforts. You can help generate buzz by holding special giveaways or contests only on that day. You may even want to do several television or radio interviews throughout the day to update the public on how far you are from your goals.

Develop Your Social Media Strategy
One of the most powerful marketing campaign tools that you have is social media. Start by contacting your existing Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers and asking them for help getting the word out. These social ambassadors will take much of the work off your hands. Assign a staff person, or a volunteer, to be in charge of posting updates regularly in advance of #GivingTuesday. Additionally, write a series of 10 or so posts that you will use throughout the actual day itself.

Count It Down
People tend to act when they think that time is running out. Consider creating a countdown clock to generate excitement and a sense of urgency. This greatly enhances donor engagement and serves as a powerful reminder for them as well.

The bottom line is that you don’t need to stress about it. There are lots of tips that can help you get your #GivingTuesday program in gear. Start somewhere, then next year you can build upon what you’ve learned. Good luck!