Prospecting allows you to develop the most fundamental component of successful fundraising: a broad pool of prospective donors.

Donor acquisition continues challenging nonprofits, so a robust prospecting strategy — which helps you find likely prospects for your organization — is paramount to success. Prospect research uncovers current and prospective donor backgrounds, philanthropic histories, wealth markers, and charitable motivations. This method allows fundraisers, development teams, and nonprofits to evaluate a prospect’s capacity to give (how much money they have) and their affinity for an organization (desire to give to that specific cause).

Oftentimes, prospect research helps organizations discover major gift donors. For most fundraising campaigns, the majority of funds comes from a small number of donors who give generously, so finding major gift donors is crucial to fundraising success for nonprofits of all sizes.

Applying Prospect Research

A fundraiser’s time is limited. With prospect research, nonprofits gain valuable insights for more accurately choosing which donors to direct their focus.

Prospect research allows you to:

The specific benefits of prospect research vary according to nonprofit type. For instance, hospitals can use prospect screenings to find major gift donors and create a successful Grateful Patient program.

Prospecting Uncovers Valuable Data

Data resulting from prospect research allows fundraisers to make better decisions and includes the following:

Prospect research puts the power of data into the hands of nonprofits. This data can directly aid fundraising and help other nonprofit efforts, such as strengthening donor relations. Whatever you use prospect research for, it is more data at your organization’s disposal, and knowledge is power when crafting personalized communications donors receive well.

Ways To conduct prospect research

Hire a Prospect Research Consultant

An effective prospect research consultant will leverage all available resources to gather your desired donor data. Consultants might also help train your staff to conduct prospect research, develop better prospect strategies, and support your prospect communications.

Use a Prospect Screening Company

Screening companies, sometimes called prospect research companies, will screen prospects for you, saving researchers time from sifting through databases and organizing the data. Screening companies provide the donor information you want in readily accessible and downloadable formats. This allows you to analyze many donors simultaneously, as screening results can be returned the next day or within the week, allowing your researchers and fundraisers to focus on other important tasks.

DIY Donor Research

You may also choose to conduct your prospect research independently when you have a staff researcher or team of researchers who can search databases, organize information, and make it accessible to your fundraising team. There are online databases and other information sources to sift through, so equip your researchers with the proper tools.

At CCS Fundraising, we have developed a 3-stage process to develop new prospects and expand your donor pipeline, called “Donor IQs” (Identification, Qualification, and Segmentation). Should your nonprofit choose to conduct donor research independently, we recommend the following steps:

1. Identifying Prospects

Prospects can be grouped into 3 buckets to prioritize to qualify and segment them appropriately.

2. Qualifying Prospects (The 3 As)

Ask yourself the following questions when attempting to determine the quality of a potential prospect.

To answer these questions, think about the following in terms of your prospects.

Prospects with all 3 factors—ability, affinity, and access—are the most likely to make a gift to your organization at the leadership level.

Some people do not qualify as promising prospects at this point in their lives. For example, young or new CEOs are still early in their careers and probably cannot be major donors. Additionally, when people are philanthropically overcommitted, they may not prioritize your organization in their choices. Lastly, celebrities may seem like a good choice, but they are approached by various organizations and are often unlikely to choose yours.

3. Segmenting and Tracking Donors

Segmenting and tracking prospects are the foundation for managing the donor base. When done well, these processes drive positive results by refreshing the prospect pool, focusing efforts on the right prospects, controlling the process, and building excitement around the organization.

Building a Donor Pipeline

The first step in tracking prospects is building the donor pipeline. The pipeline will serve as your tool for generating the donor lists for cultivation. We recommend including the following data points in the pipeline:

Other information may be useful, such as residence and contact information, organizational giving history, pledge payment status, charitable affiliations, and other major gifts. Of course, the additional information should be tailored to your specific organization or sector.

The donors in the pipeline should be segmented into these main buckets:

Make Your Donor Pipeline Work for you

The pipeline is your best way to manage a large prospect pool. It is a fluid, ever-changing document that is constantly added to and updated. When used well, it can be a powerful tool for understanding your donors and helping staff engage them meaningfully.

Managing prospects can be exciting as you reconnect with lapsed donors, engage existing donors on a higher level, or find new donors with an affinity for your organization’s mission. Simply put, well-researched donors allow you to focus on likely donors rather than spending valuable time on those not ready to give.

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