By DonorSearch

[Guest Post] How to Utilize Social Insights for Prospect Research

DonorSearch always aims to provide the best content available regarding prospect research and the broader nonprofit space. As such, we welcome guest contributors occasionally to mix things up here at our blog and provide new perspectives. Today, we’re happy to share a post by Solina Powell of EverTrue.

How to Utilize Social Insights for Prospect Research

While some workplaces frown upon employees spending their time on sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, those working in prospect research should be encouraged to invest their time in these platforms. Social media has become an increasingly valuable tool for gathering insights on donors. As donors shift their lives online, small actions such as “liking” a post on Facebook or updating a LinkedIn job title can say a lot about a person’s affinity and capacity. Equipped with social insights, your organization can build stronger relationships with constituents and foster more philanthropic giving. Spend some time collecting social data to help tell a story about your prospects. Here are some key strategies to harness the power of social media for more dynamic prospect research.

LinkedIn: Connect and Contact

Are your fundraisers tired of bounced emails or wasted paper mailings? Is your donor database littered with old AOL emails, home addresses, and job titles? LinkedIn is a great solution. While it is unlikely constituents will update your nonprofit with every career change throughout their lives, chances are they’re updating these personal details on LinkedIn. For any prospect researcher, LinkedIn should be key to maintaining comprehensive donor information on employment, location, contact details, causes they care about, and more. =&0=&

Facebook: Build Deeper Friendships

Leveraging the wealth of information on Facebook will help you develop a more in-depth picture of a donor or potential donor. As your organization posts updates, pictures, and videos to its Facebook page, you should take note of who is engaging with that content. Studies show that there is a positive correlation between social engagement and giving participation, so the more socially engaged a prospect, the more likely they are to give. Who is “liking” or commenting on your content? What content are they engaging most with? Facebook is a valuable tool to help assess a prospect’s relationship with your organization, ultimately allowing your fundraising office to develop more targeted strategies. =&0=&
  • Uncover new and/or engaged prospects by identifying those giving your content a “thumbs up.”
  • Prioritize engaged prospects and learn what events, causes, or initiatives they value to help your fundraisers make more informed asks.
  • Millennials make up the largest proportion (22%) of the 1.44 billion active monthly user Facebook population. Thus, Facebook is a helpful avenue through which to gauge their affinity to your nonprofit by analyzing what they “like” and what they don’t.
Prospect researchers are tasked with the challenging responsibility of understanding people whom they initially know little or nothing about. By adding social data into your suite of tools (while abiding by the APRA Social Media Ethics Statement, of course), you’ll be able to craft better stories about prospects and set up your fundraisers for success.    This is a guest contribution by Solina Powell of EverTrue, a Boston-based company empowering 300+ nonprofits with social donor management software. Check out the


By DonorSearch

2 Questions About Planned Giving and Ethics

I know what you might be wondering…is this going to be a wordy, complex discussion of a very legal-heavy topic? The answer is no! We will be covering that topic that has yet to be named, but this post aims to explain some of those complexities in a manner that is digestible for a layman. There are academic papers for the intricacies of planned giving ethics. This post is for people who are newly and/or casually involved with planned giving and need an introduction to ethical questions associated with such programs. Remember, simply because we’re discussing ethics, that does not mean that ethical ambiguity is some gray storm cloud hanging over planned giving. You’ll rarely have any ethical questions when running your program. It is just good to be aware of what you could encounter, even if it remains entirely hypothetical in your situation. Before moving on to the two questions that will be guiding this discussion, let’s define terms.

Definition of Planned Giving

Planned giving can be defined as the act of allocating funds and/or assets to be donations at a later date — most often at death. Commonly granted through wills or trusts, planned gifts can be strictly cash, property, life insurance policies, and much more. Read additional details about planned giving’s definition here!

Definition of Ethics

This definition could quickly devolve into a close reading of an immense term, so we’re going to defer to our good friend, Merriam-Webster, this time.
— rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad — an area of study that deals with ideas about what is good and bad behavior; a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong — a belief that something is very important
For our purposes, we’ll be zeroing in on that first point. Hypothetically, if you were to encounter an ethical dilemma when acquiring a planned gift, you are likely to instinctively be able to recognize that something is off. Don’t dismiss your gut feeling. Respectfully pursue what you’re questioning and handle the situation accordingly, depending on what you uncover. There’s legal, illegal, and questionable. Questionable counts for something. Don’t ignore it. Much of what makes charity so enticing is that it feels good. It is nice to know that your actions are helping the world in some way. Whether you collect recyclables during a can drive or buy a table at a fundraising dinner, your work is making a difference. Good deeds are good all around. Planned gifts don’t deserve to be muddled by moral ambiguity. Ready to start the questions?

#1: Are there any ethical issues surrounding the planned giving tax breaks?


By DonorSearch

15 Planned Giving Best Practices

As you venture into the world of planned giving, there’s a lot to consider. Defining what your program will look like starts with your launch. During the early phases of your program and the ongoing process of running it, you’ll be looking for ways to optimize your efforts. Look no further than this page.

Let these 15 planned giving best practices lead the way.

#1: Build a Strong Team

Like with any fundraising program, you’ll need a strong team. If your organization can afford to do so, it is recommended that you hire a planned gifts officer. Even if you cannot hire someone solely for the role, at least have a member of your development staff take the lead. In the early stages in particular, you’ll need one person to guide your efforts, and a complete team to make those planned giving dreams a reality.

#2: Form an Advisory Committee

An advisory committee, like your in-house team will be working to make the most of your program. The committee should be composed of people with outside knowledge that would be particularly helpful with a planned giving program. Organizations running planned giving programs have to be able to handle the financial and legal questions and implications associated with the gifts. Put together an advisory committee with lawyers, financial planners, realtors, and other people who would bring much needed expertise.

#3: Brand Your Program

Branding your program is good for the donors and good for your organization. The donors get added perks that come with exclusive giving clubs. And, your organization has an incentive for supporters to make their planned giving plans known. When your nonprofit knows about those donors, your staff can better correspond with and assist them. Offer special communications and opportunities for members and name the program. The term legacy is commonly used in conjunction with these programs, like the Legacy Giving Club, for example. Planned giving needs to be presented as the premiere donation option that it is.

#4: Learn How to Identify Prospects

Your program will be much more effective, much sooner if your team goes out of its way to solicit planned gifts from top candidates. Just like you would approach certain supporters for major giving over others, you can do the same for planned giving. Planned giving donors are identifiable by a collection of traits. The two most important of which are loyalty and age. Head over to our identifying prospects article to learn about the many factors that go into determining a prospect’s likelihood of leaving a planned gift.

#5: Include Age in Your Donor Database

Although by definition, planned giving is simply making an arrangement for a future gift in the present, planned gifts are usually allocated after the death of the donor, per that donor’s wishes as detailed in a will or trust. With that in mind, most younger donors are not thinking about their wills or their legacies. Donors who are setting up their wills will be the most receptive to any planned giving promotions.

#6: Go to Your Board for Early Involvement

Donors will want to participate in a thriving program. They’ll be far less interested in being the first members of your planned giving club. To get the program growing and thriving, go to your board members first. Your board members will likely have many of the identifiable traits of planned giving prospects. Plus, as a part of your organization, they’ll better understand the program. While your team is still solidifying its planned giving strategy and finessing the best approach, beginning with board members is a way to ease into the process.

#7: Begin with Bequests

Planned giving can get complicated when you start to delve into the various forms of donating, like charitable remainder trusts and charitable gift annuities. Soften your entrance into the world by starting with the simplest form of planned giving, bequests. Bequests are straightforward gifts left in wills. Once you’ve mastered the art of handling bequests, from marketing for them to receiving them, move on to more complex types of gift. Especially if you’re a smaller nonprofit on a tighter budget, bequests are the best point of planned giving entry.

#8: Communicate Consistently

Find ways to work planned giving into the conversation. If this is a new fundraising method for your organization, it is also likely relatively unknown to your donor population. Help get them up to speed with consistent communication about the topic and your program. Once a donor has announced his or her planned giving intentions and joined your branded club, that donor should continue to receive communications. Those communications will just be of a different nature. Planned giving donors should receive less educational content and more acknowledgement and update-based communications.

#9: Incorporate Planned Giving Into Pre-existing Promotions

Developing marketing materials for your new planned giving program from scratch can feel daunting. Start by incorporating planned giving promotions into your pre-existing marketing materials. You’ll still have to build out the copy that you’re going to use, but you surely already have communications outlets that you can insert planned giving into. For instance, include a blurb about planned giving in your email newsletters and add planned giving to the “ways to give” page on your website. With those in place, you’ll want to develop planned giving-specific materials, like a brochure and an informational page on your website.

#10: Find Quirky Ways to Market

If you want your program to stand out, you’ll need to find inventive, and sometimes quirky, ways to promote the planned giving options. This best practice can mean a variety of things. You could try adding a “did you know” box at the bottom of a direct mail letter. Or, you could add verbiage about planned giving in your staff’s email signatures. This all comes down to finding creative ways to diversify how your network is discovering planned giving.

#11: Offer Educational Opportunities

If it takes research and training to get your staff prepared to run a planned giving program, your supporters are going to need similar educational opportunities as well


By DonorSearch

How do you Start a Planned Giving Program?

Building anything from the ground up takes serious effort and endurance. There is no way to snap your fingers and make things happen. You need the proper tools, materials, and know-how to take an idea from the abstract to reality. This is true of real life construction, and it is true of program development. Your planned giving program will be beneficial. It can be a huge success. You just need to begin with the right building plan.

The five steps below will help guide you through your planned giving program’s start.

Start strong and stay strong.


They tell you that you need to walk before you run. Those same people caution you to look before you leap. What do these expressions have to do with planned giving? They apply to how you should approach starting your planned giving program. If your organization is looking to succeed with planned giving (which it should of course be doing), it needs to prepare for the launch with research and dedication to fully understanding the topic. How your nonprofit goes about making itself acquainted with prospect research will vary depending on how you see your program playing out. Ask yourself and your team:
  • What do we already know about planned giving?
  • What kind of planned gifts are we going to be after?
  • How much is in our budget for this program?
  • Can we bring on a planned gifts officer?
  • Will the board approve of all of these decisions?
  • What policies do we need to put in place to handle any influx of planned gifts?


By DonorSearch

What are the Planned Giving Benefits?

What direction are you steering your nonprofit? Successful nonprofits adjust based on the past, actively work in the present, and strategize for the future. All in a day’s work. Clearly, those three components are much easier to talk about than to execute. If your organization wants to do more than talk, it has to steer its efforts towards programs that account for all three of those past, present, and future efforts. Launching a planned giving program is one such direction your nonprofit can take. A planned gift is a gift that is decided on in the present and given in the future. Supporters who donate planned gifts often allocate them in wills or trusts. Organizations running planned giving programs seek out past donors, make arrangements in the present, and receive the donations in the future. They promote a cycle of giving. And the giving cycle is fruitful for all involved.

Planned Giving Benefits for Nonprofits

Even if you feel that starting a planned giving program is intimidating, it will be worth the work. Let me use these three benefits to explain why.

Benefit #1: Forces a Future Focus

A planned gift is a future gift. A donor will not consider donating a planned gift if your nonprofit does not have a long and healthy future ahead of itself. Even just thinking about implementing a planned giving program puts nonprofits in a position where they need to step up and figure out their futures. Taking stock of your organization’s current growth direction should always be welcome. It takes great effort and strategic use of resources to run a successful nonprofit. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the present. Nonprofits are juggling so many things at once that forecasting what is to come does not always attract much attention. Launching a planned giving program will give your organization no choice. Your fundraisers that will be soliciting planned gifts have to be able to answer questions about the future of the organization if supporters ask them.

Benefit #2: Planned Gifts are Often Some of the Largest Gifts a Nonprofit Will Receive all Year

Who does not love a major gift? One major gift can change the entire course of a nonprofit’s service initiative. They are highly sought after for a reason. The only downside to major gifts is that they are scarce. We all know a variation on the famous statistic, 90% of a nonprofit’s funds come from 10% of its donors. That statistic tells us two key trends:
  • Major gifts can make or break a nonprofit’s fundraising.
  • Nonprofits would see considerable increases in their funding if they could just find more major gifts donors
Want to know a not-so-secret secret? Planned gifts can match major gifts in size, and they are more universally accessible. Donors who allocate planned gifts do not have to be wealthy. Seeking planned gifts opens your nonprofit up to new large donation possibilities.

Benefit #3: Loyal Donors Can Contribute More Than They Could Have in Their Lifetimes

Planned giving benefit #3 is related to something mentioned in the above point. Wealth is not a limiting factor for planned gifts. There are donors across the country who want to give major-gift-sized donations, but do not have the flexibility in their budgets to do so. Planned giving works around that. Take a donor who has given a series of small gifts for years. The donor comes to events that you host, volunteers to make calls during phonathons, and is always actively praising your nonprofit on social media. That same donor can allocate a gift in her will that leaves her money to your organization when she no longer needs it. In many ways, planned giving is a major gifts equalizer.

Planned Giving Benefits for Donors


By DonorSearch

What is Common Planned Giving Terminology?

Planned giving is an easy enough term to grasp. A donor makes an arrangement for a future gift in the present, most often in a will. Planned and giving are both words we regularly hear, so we can automatically deduce a meaning behind the combination. If you are still a bit foggy about the definition of planned giving, check out our article that will answer all of your planned giving questions. Once you get past the fundraising method’s basics though, that’s where the language gets a bit more complicated. Whenever contracts and wills and trusts are involved, legal terminology enters the equation, too. Fundraisers don’t have to be legal experts to explain planned giving to their supporters, but they do need to have some familiarity with a selection of the more popular and complex terms associated with planned giving. That’s where this article comes in.

Here you’ll find 10 popular planned giving terms and their definitions.

We’ve deconstructed each word or phrase and explained it in plain English. We hope this list will clarify a few things for you.

Term #1: Beneficiary and Secondary Beneficiary

A beneficiary is the person or organization that is legally appointed to receive the benefits/funds as deemed by a will or contract. Just as it sounds, the second beneficiary will receive the benefits after the primary beneficiary passes away. In the case of certain arrangements, an individual can establish a charitable organization as a secondary beneficiary in his or her will. That way, once that donor’s primary beneficiary passes away and no longer needs the funds, the money is then gifted to a previously determined organization.

Term #2: Bequest Intention

Donors do not have to notify you of a bequest. They can simply write your organization into their wills and you’ll receive their gifts after their deaths. That system of unannounced planned giving is a looming reason why nonprofits claim that planned gift prospects are hard to identify. If even the people already committed to leaving a planned gift are not notifying your organization, how are you supposed to find more prospects? Well, many donors do make their plans known, through bequest intentions. This term refers to a donor’s decision to tell the nonprofit that he or she is planning on leaving a future gift. Knowledge of a bequest is huge for a nonprofit. It can help the organization better cater stewardship of the individual donor. These donors should receive the same level of care and attention as a major gifts donor would. However, it is important to remember that a bequest intention is not a legally binding contract. These donors are not obligated to follow through with these gifts. The bequest intention is not a guarantee.

Term #3: Charitable Bequest


By DonorSearch

[Guest Post] Starting off on the Right Foot: How to Find Great Grant Opportunities for Your Nonprofit

DonorSearch’s blog mostly focuses on prospect research, but we sometimes like to explore other topics in the nonprofit sector. Guest written by Megan Hill, CEO and Founder of Professional Grant Writer, this article shares valuable insights into prospect research for grant writing. 

Starting off on the Right Foot: How to Find Great Grant Opportunities for Your Nonprofit

Grant writing can be an overwhelming undertaking, even if you’re a seasoned grant seeker. One of the most important steps in the process is simply identifying which grantmakers are a good fit for your nonprofit. Each grantmaker – whether a governmental agency or a family foundation – has their own worldview that informs their approach to making grants. Some focus on the environment, with specific goals of preserving endangered species, or cleaning up after oil spills. Others run homeless shelters, fund after school programs, or provide medical services to underserved communities. So, one of the first steps, before you even write a grant, is simply matching your nonprofit’s programs, activities, and goals with certain grantmakers. And the way to do this is through extensive grant prospect research. Most grant prospect research takes place on the Internet. Many grant writers use subscription-based databases like The Foundation Directory Online from the Foundation Center – this is the single most comprehensive database of foundations and corporations and allows a user to search more than 140,000 entries by location, size, subject area, and more. By carefully adjusting these search terms, you’ll find a strong list of potential prospects. From there, these prospects need to be whittled down into the strongest matches. You can do that by clicking on each entry and reading more about the grantmaker. You can also find contact information, grant application guidelines and deadline information, 990s, board information, and see whether they have a website to learn more. It’s important to read through all of this information carefully and thoroughly. It can take a lot of time, but that time investment will pay dividends if you identify the best funders to approach. Writing a grant is time consuming, too, so the more heavy lifting you do at the prospect research phase, the more time you’ll save later on by not sending applications to funders that don’t align with your work. Be on the lookout for information on the funder’s worldview. They may have detailed guidelines buried in their 990, for example, or written out in detail on their website. You can—and should—contact the grantmaker to learn more about what they’re funding and get questions answered before you apply. And by reading up on past grantees, you can gain insight into what they’ve funded in the past and how much money they typically give per grant. All of this informs your approach, and without this careful research, you’re flying blind when it comes to writing the grant. Megan Hill is the CEO and Founder of Professional Grant Writer. She has written grants as both an in-house grant writer and a consultant. A writer by trade, Megan draws on her passion for service and nonprofit work with her skills as a writer. Find Megan on Twitter — @ProGrantWriter.   

By DonorSearch

What is Wealth Screening?

This post was written by Ryan Woroniecki, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at DonorSearch.

When those in fundraising think of wealth screening they think of prospect research and vice versa. The two methods of learning about giving candidates are often mistaken for interchangeable terms. Well, they’re not.

Prospect research is an umbrella term that encompasses the entire field of investigating potential donors to better understand their giving tendencies. Wealth screening is under that umbrella and helps to predict those often mysterious and elusive donor giving tendencies


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[Guest Post] How to Utilize Social Insights for Prospect Research
2 Questions About Planned Giving and Ethics
Planned Giving: The Job Description
15 Planned Giving Best Practices
7 Top Planned Giving Marketing Strategies
How do you Start a Planned Giving Program?
What are the Planned Giving Benefits?
What is Common Planned Giving Terminology?
[Guest Post] Starting off on the Right Foot: How to Find Great Grant Opportunities for Your Nonprofit
What is Wealth Screening?