By DonorSearch

If you help run an organization that depends on charitable donations, you should take the time to better understand your donors. Each of your donors is unique and different, so the way you treat them should be as well. 

Many nonprofits and other fundraising professionals depend on prospect research, a research method used to identify potential major and mid-tier donors. One of the reasons organizations conduct prospect research is to find out a donor’s affinity to give, a metric that measures the philanthropic tendencies a prospect has for your cause. Hand in hand with affinity to give are propensity to give and capacity to give. Together, these three metrics can help you identify potential major donors.

Affinity and propensity to give are huge factors in how likely an individual who has the capacity to give is to donate to your organization, and it can be gauged through a number of other data points. 

If you’re trying to increase fundraising (especially among your mid-range and major gift segments) or improve your marketing efforts, it’s smart to review these three factors with your team and really hone in on the basics. In this guide, we’ll look at what these factors are and how to use them in your prospect research:

  1. What is Giving Affinity, Giving Propensity, and Giving Capacity?
  2. Leverage Giving Affinity, Propensity, and Capacity for Prospect Research

Prospect research can seem daunting, especially if you have a fairly large community of donors and are unsure of where to start. But with the right tools and solutions, determining a donor’s affinity, propensity, and capacity to give can be easy for your team. Let’s get started!

Find out more about giving affinity, giving propensity and giving capacity.

What is Giving Affinity, Giving Propensity, and Giving Capacity?

As you know, understanding a donor’s giving affinity is important because it gives your fundraising team a clue into how likely that donor is to give to your organization specifically. 

Nonprofits spend the time to gauge a donor’s giving affinity in order to identify prospective major donors and new donors and to tailor their engagement and solicitation strategies accordingly. 

Some consider a donor’s affinity to give to be the most crucial ingredient when searching for prospects. Without some sort of emotional connection or positive, demonstrable relationship with your mission it can be difficult to justify spending the time to develop a highly personalized cultivation and solicitation strategy. While a donor’s affinity for your specific mission is incredibly important, so is their natural likelihood to give in general and their ability to give, also known as giving propensity and giving capacity.

Let’s take a more detailed look at what these terms really mean and how they work together:

Giving affinity is a good measurement of how connected someone is to your cause.

The affinity to give

Simply put, the word “affinity” means spontaneously or naturally liking something. So, when nonprofit professionals and fundraising experts describe a donor’s affinity to give, what exactly are they talking about? 

A donor’s affinity to give refers to the strength of their natural connection to a cause. The inclination to support a cause can be emotional, social, or political in nature.

The greater a donor’s giving affinity for your mission, the more they’ll care about your nonprofit, and the more likely they’ll make a generous contribution to your cause. Think of it this way: even if a donor has millions of dollars, there’s a very slim chance that they’ll become a major donor for your nonprofit if they simply aren’t interested in charity or philanthropy. 

To find out a donor’s affinity to give, there are a couple of key indicators that your nonprofit’s prospect research team can look out for. The biggest indicators of a donor’s affinity to give are philanthropic markers. 

Here are some philanthropic markers to look for to help measure the giving affinity of your donors and prospects:

  • Past charitable giving  to similar missions. One of the biggest indicators of a donor’s giving affinity is a their giving history. Take note if they have contributed to your nonprofit before or if they have contributed to other nonprofits whose missions align with or relate to yours. That’s a proven interest in supporting nonprofit work, and it’s the most concrete way to judge an affinity to give. Based on data from a charitable giving database, individuals who make gifts of $10,000 to $25,000 to a nonprofit are 10 times more likely to make a donation to another charitable organization than the average person.
  • Personal relationships to your cause. A donor’s affinity to give can also be evaluated by their relationship to your cause. Prospects who personally relate to your cause or know others who relate to your cause will probably be more likely to give a major gift because they’ll be more naturally drawn to it. For example, if your nonprofit provides educational opportunities to eligible kids, those who previously participated in the program are most likely to be prospects because they’d have a high giving affinity.
  • Similar nonprofit involvement as a board member or trustee. If you learn that a donor is involved with another nonprofit and plays an important role there, it makes sense that they are more philanthropic-minded than most. Their affinity to give to your cause will be greatest if the other nonprofit’s mission is related to or aligns with your yours.

Philanthropic markers are some of the more important traits for your development team to focus on, whether you’re performing prospect research manually or with software solutions.

Giving propensity is a good measurement of how likely someone is to give to any cause.

The propensity to give

Similar to a donor’s giving affinity, which generally refers to how emotionally connected a donor is to your mission, giving propensity specifically describes how often that donor chooses to donate.

Giving affinity tends to focus on past giving to similar missions whereas giving propensity focuses on the natural instinct a donor has to give in general.

For example, your prospect research tools can screen each of your donors for their entire history of past giving to generate a conclusion on the giving propensity of each one. If a donor has a higher giving propensity, this might be a good sign that they’ll be interested in creating a planned gift or giving to you through a donor-advised fund.

Propensity to give is particularly helpful when it comes to planned gifts, which are the second biggest source of revenue for a nonprofit, after major gifts. If a donor has a high giving propensity, it’s likely that they’ll consider developing a planned gift with you.

Giving capacity is someone's financial ability to give to a cause.

The capacity to give

A donor’s giving capacity describes how much a donor can afford to donate. To identify this metric, nonprofits use their prospect research tools to screen for wealth indicators

Wealth indicators signal to nonprofits that a donor has the funds and the actual ability to potentially become a major donor. When you decide to wealth screen your donors, you’ll be looking at these traits:

  • Past giving amounts
  • Real estate ownership
  • Stock ownership
  • Business affiliations

When evaluating a donor’s giving capacity, it’s smart to use your prospect research tools to check for business affiliation as well. This is a great opportunity to see if any past donors are eligible for a matching gift program. Matching gift programs are a rising strategy in the nonprofit world, and they’re a fairly easy way to tap into the ever-growing trends of corporate social responsibility. Look into a matching gifts database to determine which of your donors can participate.

Learn how to use giving affinity, propensity, and capacity for prospect research.

Leverage Giving Affinity, Propensity, and Capacity for Prospect Research

Prospect research is a technique used by fundraisers, development teams, and nonprofit organizations to learn more about their donors’ personal backgrounds, past giving histories, wealth indicators, and philanthropic motivations to evaluate a prospect’s ability to give (capacity) and warmth (affinity) toward an organization. It is essential for identifying high-impact donors within an organization’s current donor pool and in the larger community. This includes major donors, planned donors, donor-advised funds, and other high-impact supporters.

If you’re trying to find more high-impact donors to potentially make generous contributions to your nonprofit and bring you closer to your fundraising goal, prospect research is your best bet. Using your organization’s existing donor pool and the larger surrounding community, your fundraising team can use prospect research to identify any individuals with both the ability and affinity to give. 

Understanding if your potential donors would simply be interested in donating to you in the first place will save your nonprofit untold time and energy that can instead be put into marketing and appealing to those who are more likely prospects. To properly assess giving affinity, propensity, and capacity through prospect research, your nonprofit needs to invest in capable fundraising tools.

Find out what prospect research tools can do to help you determine your donors' giving affinity, propensity, and capacity.

How can prospect research tools help?

Look for prospect research software that includes capabilities specifically designed to help you measure giving affinity. propensity, and capacity. With the right suite of tools, your nonprofit can compile and access full, robust profiles on all your donors. These are a few key features and functions to look out for:

  • Access to a large philanthropic database in order to find other charitable connections to foundations, organizations, or individuals. This will reveal a person’s past giving history.
  • Integrated search tool within your comprehensive philanthropic database for your team to look up detailed profiles on prospects and donors. The profile should include wealth and philanthropic information that can clue you into how likely they’ll be to give.
  • A screening tool that will perform advanced donor analytics to help you identify and prioritize prospects. Make sure your tool uses an RFM score (recency-frequency-monetary value) to screen your donors so you know that the results are as meaningful and actionable as possible. This metric helps identify a donor’s giving pattern.
  • Prospect generator to easily access pre-identified lists of prospects based on any number of factors your team enters, with the prospects identified via both traditional wealth markers (for example past giving amount, business affiliations, etc) and philanthropic markers.

Once your team is equipped with the right prospect research tools, what do you do with the data you’ve accumulated? Donors with a high affinity and propensity to give have a particularly good chance of becoming major donors, so don’t waste this opportunity!

After conducting prospect research and focusing your efforts on a batch of potential donors, segment them into separate groups based on their affinity to give. For the best results, make sure to invest in an automated marketing tool with segmentation functionality and can send automated targeted communications to each different potential group. For example, for donors with a higher giving affinity, your team should send highly personalized one-on-one messages to them in order to start building a relationship and determining if a major donation is possible in the future.

The perfect major donor will have high giving propensity, high giving capacity, and high giving affinity.

When your team starts to conduct prospect research, focusing on only one factor won’t get you very far. The perfect prospective major donor will have:

  1. Giving propensity to indicate whether they care about philanthropy in general.
  2. Giving capability to indicate whether they have the means to make a donation.
  3. Giving affinity to indicate that they will care about your cause.

If you want to effectively raise your fundraising results and increase donations, invest in sturdy and reliable prospect research tools which can screen your donors holistically, not just for their wealth indicators. Not considering one of these factors can easily cause your prospect research to fall short. Be strategic and get those major donations!


Now that you know how to identify potential major donors through giving affinity, propensity, and capability, you can move forward with your prospect research more confidently. If you’re interested to learn more, check out these additional resources:

Affinity to Give, Propensity to Give, & Capacity to Give