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If your organization is trying to plan for some major growth, you’ve likely already put quite a bit of thought into how you’ll acquire the financial support for that growth.

Prospect research and development are easily the most important components of any capital campaign.

Attracting and securing financial support for major projects and even day-to-day costs is a continuous process, which is why both maintaining strong relationships with your major donors and keeping your prospect research data perpetually updated is so crucial to the operations of a medium- to large-sized nonprofit organization.

Any successful capital campaign arguably begins in its prospect list.

Follow these steps when planning your next major project to ensure that your prospect list will withstand the pressures of campaigning:

  1. Tailor your prospect list to the campaign.
  2. Always grow your prospect list.
  3. Ensure your donor data is up to date.
  4. Include corporate donors on your prospect list.
  5. Continue your prospect research throughout the campaign.

Before launching your next campaign, read on for fresh insights on the value of thorough prospect list development and links to the tools to help get you there.

Tailor your prospect list to the capital campaign.

1. Tailor your prospect list to the campaign.

Every successful major nonprofit knows that each of its donors is completely different.

This means that varying levels of donor interest in your current campaign are simply a reality that you’ll have to plan ahead to face.

Your prospect list is where you make those crucial plans. 

Not every donor will be interested in every capital campaign, so it’s crucial that you be able to build an optimized prospect list for every new project you undertake. Ideally, your prospect development strategies already feature an integral way of segmenting and organizing prospects along a number of metrics, in addition to recording any significant individualized information.

Keep this in mind as you begin to formulate your initial campaign plans. Next, strongly consider conducting a feasibility study for your campaign in its early stage. Feasibility studies can be incredibly useful for organizations because they accomplish several important tasks at once:

  • Gauging realistic budgets and logistic parameters
  • Measuring initial donor interest in your campaign
  • Aligning your campaign with existing prospect segments
  • Identifying key fundraising strategies for your campaign
  • Laying a core framework for your entire campaign
  • Building a strong, early sense of teamwork for the campaign

Professional feasibility studies are the ultimate tool to help your campaign take shape. Designing your campaign with smart guidance from the start ensures that 1) you’ll have pre-identified segments of interested prospects, and 2) you’ll save time and resources on your entire prospect development process.

Your tailored prospect list and the specifics of your capital campaign are intimately related.

Don’t finalize any major plans until you’ve identified the campaign’s core prospects and received their verbal support.

 

Always grow your prospect list whenever possible.

2. Always grow your prospect list.

Continually growing and refreshing your prospect list ensures that you’ll be able to quickly and tailor a specific plan for whatever your next campaign may entail.

If your organization doesn’t have any staff members dedicated to major gift management, there a few simple strategies you can employ to make your entire prospect research process more efficient. Even if you do have dedicated prospect development personnel, these tips are actionable across your entire organization:

  • Always provide your organization with comprehensive resources. Access to philanthropic and wealth databases are key to a refined and effective prospect research strategy. DonorSearch’s databases are among the largest and fastest-growing in the field.
  • Focus on political contribution histories. This metric can be an invaluable tool in the prospect research process because political donors are proven to financially support their beliefs and preferred causes. Check out this list of political contributions search tools from Double the Donation for ideas to get started.
  • Expand your network. Ask key figures in your organization, like board members, existing major donors, and top volunteers, to invite their own connections to get involved. Since prospects are more willing to donate to nonprofits with which they already have a personal connection, this can be a great technique.
  • Use prospect generator software to find new leads quickly. These tools can automatically identify new prospects whose interests align with those of your organization and the specific goals of your upcoming campaign. Prospect list generators can save you time and start the research process on a strong note.

Always research your software options when it comes to prospect resources and development tools. DonorSearch’s suite of solutions could be invaluable to your next capital campaign. A quick search in a prospect generator, for instance, can reveal the major donors of other organizations similar to your own:

DonorSearch's prospect generator tool can help you quickly create and refine core prospect lists.

Also, think about other ways to grow your prospect list that are more specific to your type of organization.

Universities, for instance, almost always have strong alumni outreach systems in place, while hospitals and other healthcare organizations might focus on grateful patients to expand their prospect development. Take advantage of your organization’s unique position in the nonprofit world, whatever that may be, to identify new segments of prospects.

 

Continually ensure that your donor data is up to date to create effective prospect lists.

3. Ensure your donor data is up-to-date.

Maintaining accurate information about mid-level and major donors is a great standard practice for organizations to sustain strong relationships with their supporters.

Keeping up to date donor data is even more important, though, when it can play a crucial role in your prospect development strategies for your next capital campaign.

The kind of information that you should collect and record will vary by the individual donor, but some core data points might be:

  • Full giving history
  • Wealth indicators
  • Employment information
  • Participation in other organizations
  • Professional and personal connections

Consciously maintaining personable relationships with your important donors will allow you to keep your records updated, which in turn can act as a central prospect research resource for your campaigns. Access to a donor’s full, updated philanthropic history can alone be an invaluable tool in gauging interest and building your prospect list:

Our philanthropic database is a great resource to begin building a prospect list.

By knowing your important supporters on a personal level and keeping their information organized, you’ll be able to quickly sort through and identify any ready-made prospects for your capital campaign.

This might mean being able to quickly recognize when your campaign’s goals would be of immediate interest to a past major donor, or it could mean knowing when a previously mid-level donor’s new career development has increased their giving potential.

Maintaining accurate donor data is an effective way to automatically simplify the process of building your prospect list and leverage existing connections into new major donations.

 

Include your corporate prospects and partners on your list.

4. Include corporate donors on your prospect list.

Your prospect list can easily include more than generous individuals with whom you’ve developed or plan to develop personal relationships!

Corporations and local businesses can be great prospects for your capital campaign because, like your nonprofit, they have vested interests in promoting the growth and healthy development of their communities.

Large corporations are much more likely to make various kinds of major gifts to nonprofits.  Consider the field of healthcare fundraising, for example. Corporations support hospitals in a number of ways that may be great options to remember as your approach your corporate prospects for a capital campaign:

  • Major gifts or contributions
  • Official partnerships
  • Major fundraising event sponsorships
  • Challenge grants to match fundraising goals

Businesses of all sizes particularly prefer to support nonprofit organizations through matching grant policies. Maybe a company will match your fundraising revenues up to a certain amount, or maybe it already has a matching gifts program in place to match the donations made by its employees.

There are a number of services out there to help you maximize your matching gift revenues and automate the entire process, like this tool from 360MatchPro:

Services like 360MatchPro can automate your matching gift donations and identify potential corporate donors for your prospect list.

In terms of building your prospect list for major campaigns, though, the information provided by matching gift tools can be invaluable.

Matching gifts programs are an excellent indicator of a corporation’s likelihood to engage in even greater major gift or philanthropic relationships with nonprofits. Use the employment and matching gift eligibility information of all your donors to identify new, major corporate prospects.

 

Continue your prospect research throughout the campaign for a strong prospect list.

5. Continue your prospect research throughout the campaign.

The final core step in developing an effective prospect list must occur after you’ve finished planning your capital campaign and officially launched its public phase.

Think of the prospect research and development process as a science experiment. You can plan out your methods and outline the kinds of data you’re hoping to collect, but what if something surprising happens during your first trial? A good experiment is flexible, so you take any surprises into account, refining your process with each subsequent trial.

The same concept must apply to capital campaign prospect research!

Keep your process adaptable and responsive to any surprises or developments that occur once you begin to formally approach prospects on your list. Any number of developments might cause you to refine your prospect list, including:

  • The discovery of new prospects who approach you
  • Increased giving potential in existing prospects
  • New insights from your prospect data
  • The loss of a major existing prospect
  • Campaign goal or budget adjustments

It’s crucial that you research prospect leads as they appear.

This will allow your prospect list to remain updated and as useful as possible during the entire length of your campaign. 

Your organization already knows that major campaign work can be extremely difficult. Continually refining and updating your prospect list and research, a relatively simple task, can make your entire capital campaign process run much more smoothly.


By following these 5 core steps for building and optimizing your prospect list, you can ensure that your prospect research, development, and strategy will remain extremely relevant and useful to the campaign at hand. 

Check out these additional resources for more background or guidance on elements of capital campaigns and prospect development:

Ready to see prospect research in action?

5 Steps to Build a Prospect List for Your Capital Campaign