By donorsearch

The 1 free prospect research tool every nonprofit needs

// DonorSearch’s blog is dedicated to covering prospect research, wealth screening, and other fundraising-related topics. Yet, our readers and customers often ask if there are any free prospect research resources we recommend. So, we reached out to Chris Dawson at University Hospitals of Cleveland to share his thoughts on alternative prospect research resources. For your reading ease, we’ve divided this insightful contribution into three parts:
  1. The Library — A Top Prospect Research Tool
  2. Case in Point — The Cleveland Public Library System
  3. Don’t Forget About The Foundation Center
Click on any of the links above to skip ahead to a particular section. Enjoy!  Prospect research nowadays is getting to be more of a science than a fine art, because of all the amazing electronic resources available to researchers. Depending on the tools used, a good researcher sitting at their computer, probably in a cubical or back office somewhere, is able to pull in pretty much all the information they need to provide for their gift officers. Many of these new tools save a great amount of time, a great amount of labor, and can access a wider array of information than probably a researcher could do on their own without them. And they’re also quite expensive. Price is the name of the game in the research database world today, as research teams grapple with which product will best serve their needs. Other development shops, who may only have a single researcher or no researcher at all, may be sitting glumly on the sidelines, wondering how they’ll ever be able to get access to these tools. Certainly money can be found in the budget for periodic wealth screenings by companies like DonorSearch (and those are great tools for finding out a lot about the donors in your database), and maybe a single subscription to a research product could be justified, but is it enough in today’s highly competitive environment? However, I’m here to say do not despair. Because there are many tools that can help researchers and non-researchers alike perform some basic prospect research, and these tools are in many cases, completely free. Wait, that sounds too good to be true… after all, some products cost tens of thousands of dollars! And yes, they do. But there are also some research products, not specifically “prospect research products” that are actually free. And to access them, one only needs to return to the early, prehistoric days of prospect research.

That means returning to the library.

The Library — A Top Prospect Research Tool

Yes, there was once a day, not too terribly long ago, when it was impossible to sit at your desk in your tiny cubical (well, maybe not your tiny cubical, but mine is) and access all the research tools you need. Back in those dark ages of the 1990s and earlier, you weren’t in your office, because most of your time you were in the library, doing all the digging through microfilm and microfiche, hardbound foundation directories, and later, CD-ROMs. Fortunately, library research has gotten a lot easier (and in the case of some old hardbound newspapers and magazines, far less dusty!). And for those folks in a smaller shop, or in a development shop that just doesn’t have the budget to get the fancy and expensive research tools, a return to the library can be extremely helpful. In many cases, these resources may not be able to completely replace the amazing tools on the market, but what’s available at your local library and other local resources may be enough to give you the important information that will help you learn more about your organization’s prospects. Now some free resources are readily available on your desktop… after all, a key component of research is looking for real estate records and many county websites have that information available over the internet. And you’ll find that some of your libraries also have resources available to you online, though some will require you to come in. But even if you work in a shop that has a nice big budget (these exist, right?) and can afford all sorts of fancy tools, you should still check out your local library, and nearby college libraries. Because with your library card, you can access amazing things… and you’ll find that it’s all free.

Case in Point — The Cleveland Public Library System

Here in Cleveland, the public library system has some wonderful tools online.

For example, a searchable database of articles from the local newspaper here, all the way back to 1845. I rarely have to search back that far (though I have gone digging back to the 1800s for some family-owned companies and old-money families here in town), but I use this resource every single day, and I’ve been using it for obituaries, wedding announcements, and for finding other biographical information. To say it’s invaluable is an understatement, especially when I’m dealing with older prospects who held their CEO jobs in the pre-internet days. Even with younger prospects, I still find information about:
  • What they may be doing for an occupation
  • Education background
  • Family history
  • Charitable giving
But there are also databases to access other newspapers across the country. And it’s free. I just need a library card. How hard is that? I’ve also found a number of business databases online that help me perform a good bit of corporate research, including some business research products that I know DO cost tens of thousands of dollars for a subscription, but are completely free online. Do I use them? Yes, all the time. I can jump into resources like: This means my research will be that much better… and the resources are free. In fact, having them available via the library has allowed me to reduce our research budget by cancelling a few subscriptions here and there for similar products. This has allowed me to use the budget we have to make sure we can subscribe to the products we can’t get elsewhere, like DonorSearch! And it’s not just Cleveland. I randomly checked out a number of libraries across the country, and was pleasantly surprised to see that most of them offered a variety of research products to allow patrons to do:
  • News searches
  • Business searches
  • Other research
And don’t forget, it’s not just public libraries; many colleges also will let local residents use their services. This tends to be more common in state institutions that are dependent on taxes and state support (they don’t like to annoy the taxpayers who support them), but even a number of private colleges will let community members register for library cards or use their research workstations. Granted, they may have more esoteric databases to explore, but you’d be surprised; many of them have:
  • Lexis/Nexis
  • Some big business research products
  • Genealogical research databases
  • News databases
  • Others that would be beneficial to a prospect researcher.

Don’t Forget About The Foundation Center

Nonprofit folks living in the New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington DC and Cleveland regions can visit their local Foundation Center to take advantage of all the free resources they have to offer. But there are also Foundation Center resources all over the country, through the Funding Information Network. These 470 partners are public and school libraries, community foundations, and other centers.

So while you may not be able to become wholly dependent on your library for your research databases, you should never overlook what they have to offer in terms of prospect and donor research that’s free.

In fact, even if you work in a shop that has been fortunate to be able to afford a number of the big research products on the market, check out your local library; there may be something they have that can help you provide additional information for your research. I know here in Cleveland I once did a presentation on research and showed the attendees all the databases that they could access for free via the library. You would have thought I gave them winning lottery tickets! Though in a way, perhaps I did! Libraries aren’t just for borrowing DVDs… they could become your new satellite office… though you may also be surprised at how many of their resources you can access from your own desk. All you need is a library card. Now quit reading this, and go check out your local library’s resources! And if you’re looking for more free prospect screening, schedule a demo by clicking below!  About the Author: Chris Dawson is the Senior Prospect Researcher at University Hospitals of Cleveland.

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By chris

Prospect Research for Arts and Culture Nonprofits

Imagine a world without music: stages bereft of the patters of ballerina feet, theaters stripped of their actors, and galleries deprived of inquisitive conversation. No art. A culture built upon rationality and devoid of its hallmark creativity. Such a world may never exist, but just like hospitals, schools, and homeless shelters, the human spirit requires funding in order to thrive. Prospect research is the key to how your arts and cultural nonprofit can survive and thrive! Ticket sales and membership fees won’t fund your organization quite like a major gift will. It’s the difference between eating a pile of Halloween candy instead of one giant slice of dark, dense, creamy chocolate cake. The chocolate cake is more food, more satisfying, and you don’t have to open multiple wrappers to enjoy it. A few significant donations will help you to attain your fundraising goals better than a plethora of small gifts, and prospect research is the best way to identify major gift donors. It’s hard to identify new prospects and donors. Like, solve-a-Rubik’s-cube-while-blindfolded-and-with-one-hand-tied-behind-your-back hard. Okay, maybe not that hard, but, without the proper tools, prospect research can be both time consuming and imprecise. Your time is valuable, and you don’t want to spend it searching for and then pursuing the wrong prospects. We’ll cover the following topics so you can gain a better understanding of how your arts ad cultural nonprofit can benefit from prospect research:
  1. How screening for arts and cultural nonprofits is different
  2. Who arts and cultural nonprofits should screen
  3. How arts and cultural nonprofits should preform prospect research
  4. When arts and cultural nonprofit should screen prospects
For more advice on how to receive gifts from major donors, download our free whitepaper on Major Giving: Prospects and Approaches

1. How Screening for Arts and Cultural Nonprofits Is Different

Prospect research has a lot of consistency across various nonprofit industries, but hospitals acquire prospects differently than schools who acquire prospects in a unique way from arts and cultural organizations. How people engage with your nonprofit can dictate when and where to look for major gift prospects. Other nonprofit industries don’t have members and ticket purchasers who are already giving money to your organization. This makes discovering financially capable prospects different from how hospitals, schools, and other nonprofits identify prospects, and prospect research can fill in all the missing details that can separate potential prospects from those worth pursuing. Furthermore, your organization is a form of entertainment. From gardens to animals to ballerinas, arts and cultural organizations show off forms of creative work. Many of the people who come to see your work have a certain amount of personal investment in the subject matter, which makes finding new prospects unique as people have to be passionate about what you create. As a form of entertainment, you receive plenty of audience feedback. These critiques let you know what prospects care about, as they want these particular things fixed. Or they might love your work! Either way, feedback lets you know who cares about what, so you can use those particulars to both make more specific donation pitches and perform in-depth research on prospects. Arts and cultural nonprofits have a unique angle for getting to know prospects, and learning how to think about different patrons in order to segment donors for screening is an important skill to learn.

2. Who Arts and Cultural Nonprofits Should Screen

Major gift prospects can be segmented in a variety of ways. For arts and cultural organizations, prospects tend to fall within one of the following categories:
  • Members
  • Single-ticket purchasers
  • Special event attendees
  • Consistent donors


A unique aspect of museums, aquariums, theaters, and other arts and cultural organizations is that they offer memberships. While memberships might demonstrate a sincere loyalty to an organization, they also may represent economical financial decisions more so than a desire to invest in an organization. For instance, take Gertrude, who attends her local art museum for the first time and discovers that a single day ticket costs $10, while a year-long membership costs $35. Gertrude decides that, between her friends, family, and personal interest in art, she’ll visit at least four times throughout the year, so she purchases a year-long membership. Gertrude becomes a member because she is trying to save money, and not because she wants to contribute more than required to the art museum. Membership is best looked upon as an indicator of association with your organization, but not a guarantee that people want to donate.  Arts and cultural organizations should disregard membership participants completely, however. Going back to our example, if Gertrude continues to renew her membership year after year, this could be an indicator that she is interested in supporting your organization. Keeping a record of your organization’s members can offer insights into which donors are likely opting into the program to save money or because they want to support your cause. Whether you’re a museum, theater, or zoo, your members can play a vital role in your fundraising plan (just check out what this guide from Doubleknot has to say!). Keep in mind: most major donations to arts and cultural nonprofits do come from members, so, while membership is not a tell-all detail, it is something to pay close attention to.

Single Ticket Purchasers

Arts and cultural organizations also have consistent influxes of single-ticket purchasers. Like memberships, single-ticket purchases don’t indicate any particular affinity for your nonprofit, but they do demonstrate engagement and permit you to open up the conversation about donating.

Special Event Attendees

Special event attendees have a lot of potential to become major gift prospects since galas, museum dinners, and similar events include pricey entrance fees and attract the intelligent elite, who tend to have money to spare. However, never assume any prospect is or is not a major gift donor without conducting prospect research, as you might miss out on significant donations. Not only is prospect research a best practice for any fundraising campaign, but it can unearth hidden details about consistent donors.

Consistent Donors

Consistent donors, who tend to be members, are your prime major gift prospects, as they already give and engage with your nonprofit on a regular basis. A proper wealth and philanthropy screening can unearth previously unforeseen major gift potential among these loyal donors. This allows you to ramp up your gift cultivation from their normal amount to a more significant gift that can improve your nonprofit’s fortunes.

3. How Arts and Cultural Nonprofits Should Perform Prospect Research

Most prospect research companies favor wealth data over philanthropic histories, but that’s an ineffective approach

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By donorsearch

How Does Our Bulk Screening Work?

Bulk screening is our most popular service, as it helps many nonprofits to find the major gift prospects among their masses of donors. A bulk screening can save your nonprofit valuable time that can be devoted to other fundraising efforts.

What is a Bulk Screening?

You’re a busy organization and you have lots of donors. A bulk screening allows you to submit 2,000 or more donors to DonorSearch. We will research each donor and return comprehensive reports that detail philanthropic histories, wealth markers, and other vital information. Bulk screenings work great for:
  • Annual Screenings — If you only screen donors once a year, get as many comprehensive profiles as possible to maximize the amount of major gift prospects you find.
  • Grateful Patient Programs — New patients are continually admitted to your hospital, and you want to know who might be apt to donate in order to best allocate your fundraising efforts.
  • New Parent/Alumni Events — Similar to grateful patient programs, schools always have new parents who might donate, and identifying the best prospects fast allows you to focus your efforts on prospects with real potential.
  • Pledge Drives — Public broadcasting stations need to know which viewers are major gift prospects or else they could waste valuable amounts of their finite time seeking large gifts from the wrong prospects.
  • Preparation for a Major Gala — Potential donors might flock to your big event, but, unless you know who they are and whether or not they might be inclined to give, you might miss out on significant gifts.

The DonorSearch Process

Our bulk screening process is designed to return comprehensive results that cause the best prospects to rise to the top.

Step One

At DonorSearch, philanthropy comes first. We analyze your internal data on prospects’ previous donations. Evaluating these relationships lets us measure and compare the strongest predictors of future giving. We make a dedicated effort to ensure that you receive accurate results according to a schedule that you dictate.

Step Two

The difference between DonorSearch and other prospect research companies is our philosophy that philanthropists make the best prospects. If a donor has given generously to a similar nonprofit in the past, then that person is apt to give to another organization. Screening for philanthropy first means that you no longer have to assume which prospects are most inclined to give. DonorSearch screens records against 30 unique philanthropic and wealth databases in order to return the most detailed and accurate results in the industry. The incorporation of philanthropy histories may seem obvious, but other prospect research companies still value wealth markers first. While wealth screening can accurately identify valuable prospects, it does not predict if people are philanthropic. Philanthropy data demonstrates a previous history of giving, which separates wealthy prospects from wealthy prospects who actually donate to charitable causes. You want to allocate your finite fundraising resources to potential prospects and not just any old bloke with a large bank account. Also, without philanthropy data, you might overlook many potential major gift donors because they have less wealth than others on your list.

Step Three

After a philanthropy screening, DonorSearch conducts a wealth screening. This data highlights capacities to give, affinities to donate, and asset information, such as real estate and boat ownership. While philanthropy comes first, we value a dual approach. A wealthy prospect is more valuable if he’s philanthropic, and a philanthropic prospect is more valuable if he’s wealthy. When the two ideals converge, that’s when prospect research makes the heavy lifting of identifying your best major gift prospects feel like a walk in the park.

Step Four

The quality of your data matters, and DonorSearch goes the extra mile to ensure the most accurate screening results. In-house prospect researchers spend hours manually reviewing results to eliminate extraneous time that your staff would spend doing the work themselves. A computer screening typically results in 70% accuracy, but our assessment process raises the accuracy to an industry-best 90-95% accuracy. You can also talk to your DonorSearch representative about how to manually verify additional prospects.

Step Five

Sophisticated analytics provide modeling on all donors. The modeling relates:
  • Likelihood to donate to the annual fund
  • Major gift likelihood
  • Planned giving likelihood
A collection of ratings systems allows you to easily comprehend the best prospects from a mere three scores. These scores are derived from both provided and external giving information. Prospects are ranked by both their propensities and capacities to give.

Implementing Your Screening Results

While DonorSearch does the heavy lifting of providing the prospect research in a comprehensible format, it’s up to you to put it to work. Steps to effectively implement prospect research should occur before you receive your research and continue afterwards. These steps include:
  1. Prepare a Strategy — You want to have an idea of what you’re looking for in prospect data and how you might implement such information.
  2. Clean Up Your Data — It’s no use trying to organize new data among a mess of old or outdated information.
  3. Develop a Solicitation Plan — Outline a comprehensive plan for how you will utilize the data and target the top major gift prospects.
  4. Analyze Prospect Screening Results — Figure out who to target, what the best approaches will be for each prospect, and share the information among all relevant departments.
  5. Land Major Donations — Major donations take awhile to land, so get out there and start pitching to the major gift prospects who you so dedicated yourself to finding.

Prospect Research Training

In order to get the most out of DonorSearch’s bulk screening, it’s vital that you be well versed in our tool. We provide free, unlimited basic training as part of our service, so you can learn how to efficiently navigate and analyze your prospect lists. From My Portfolio to Integrated Search to our Prospect Generator, you’ll become well acquainted with our host of tools

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By donorsearch

Top 5 Indicators of a Great Fundraising Prospect

// The secret to a successful fundraising campaign is identifying the right prospective donors – those who care about your organization and are able to make a significant contribution. Finding these donors is the tricky part! Whether you have experienced this problem firsthand or are planning your next fundraising campaign – this article is here to help. We are going to explore the top five factors that most accurately predict future giving.  Based on an analysis of $5 billion in known giving to 400 nonprofit organizations, here are the top five data-driven predictors of future giving: We’re going to discuss each of these points in detail. Click on any of the links above to scroll to a particular section.

Philanthropy Predictor #1 – Past Charitable Giving to Your Organization

Loyal donors are a nonprofit organization’s best friend. Donors that have given charitably in the past are more likely than the average individual to give in the future. Of all factors analyzed, past giving to a nonprofit is the strongest predictor of future philanthropy. The evidence is right there in the data. We know that this may seem like a straightforward conclusion, but it’s crucial to note. Too many nonprofits don’t place enough emphasis on donor retention, and, as a result, miss out on the opportunity to upgrade high-quality, existing donors. Don’t miss out!  To quantify previous giving, use an RFM score. An RFM score serves as an internal analysis of the relationship you have with each of your prospects. An RFM score factors in three pieces of data:
  • Recency of giving: How recently has an individual made a charitable donation?
  • Frequency of giving: How often has an individual donated? (i.e., weekly, monthly, annually)
  • Monetary contribution: How much has an individual given?
On your own, you can review your list of existing donors and rank them according to each of these three dimensions (suggested scale of 1-100). For example, a prospect that has given the most money would receive a high score on the monetary contribution factor whereas a prospect that has given less money would receive a lower score. After every factor is sorted and rated, the three ratings are added up to make the RFM total. Thus, the closer to 300, the better your relationship is with that donor. If data is unavailable for one of the three fields, then the RFM total will be out of 200 (or 100). Please note – if you work with a prospect screening company then they should calculate each donor’s RFM score for you.

Philanthropy Predictor #2 – Past Charitable Giving to Other Nonprofit Organizations

Philanthropic giving to other nonprofit organizations is the second most predictive sign of future giving. It makes sense intuitively – people who are already philanthropic are more likely than the average person to give charitably. What’s particularly interesting is how powerful a predictor this is:
  • Individuals who have made a gift of over $100k to a nonprofit are 32 times more likely to make a charitable donation elsewhere.
  • Individuals who have made a gift of $50k – $100k to a nonprofit are 25 times more likely to make a charitable donation elsewhere.
  • Individuals who have made a gift of $10k – $25k to a nonprofit are 10 times more likely to make a charitable donation elsewhere.
  • Individuals who have made a gift of $5k – $10k to a nonprofit are 5 times more likely to make a charitable donation elsewhere.
To determine giving to other nonprofits, DonorSearch uses its proprietary annual report philanthropy database, which is the second largest collection of charitable giving data and includes giving information no longer publicly available.

Philanthropy Predictor #3 – Involvement in Nonprofits as a Foundation Trustee or Director

Based on the analysis of charitable giving to over 400 nonprofits, a prospect’s participation as a foundation trustee or nonprofit director is a more powerful signal of future philanthropy than any wealth indicator. Why? These prospects understand the importance of philanthropy and the work nonprofits do because they have firsthand experience. When you make your fundraising case to them, they’re more inclined to understand where you’re coming from and where’d like to go better than any other prospect. Simply put, their ingrained knowledge of the fundraising world is a huge benefit to your cultivation process. Once you’ve successfully acquired a donation from them, there are more benefits to come.  These prospects are valuable because of the connections they bring. Any given foundation trustee or board member is bound to have ties to the other members of their foundation or nonprofit board. And those other members can become high-quality future prospects, too! Any experienced major gift officer will tell you how difficult it can be to get your foot in the door with a high-quality prospect. Once you’ve developed relationships with a group of foundation trustees or board members, you can ask them to make introductions to other top-notch prospects. From there, the introduction cycle continues!

Philanthropy Predictor #4 – Political Giving

Political giving is another excellent predictor of future giving. A single lifetime FEC gift of $250 puts your constituent into the top 6% of the US population. What’s more, a single lifetime FEC gift of $1,000 puts your constituent into the top one tenth of one percent. The predictive power of political giving is huge:
  • An individual who has given at least $2,500 in his/her lifetime to federal political campaigns is 14 times more likely to give a philanthropic donation than someone who has not.
  • An individual who has given at least $500 in his/her lifetime to federal political campaigns is 5 times more likely to give a philanthropic donation than someone who has not.
Why is political giving so predictively powerful? The answer is two-fold:
  1. The size of a prospect’s past political gifts can clue you in to the giving capacity of a particular candidate.
  2. Anyone who gives a political donation is clearly open to making a donation to a cause they feel passionate about. If you can strike a similar chord in your communications with those prospects, you’ll have a greater chance of securing a gift.
When you’re ready to dive into the data on political giving, check out the database for a free treasure trove of records of political gifts. Learn more about the resource here!

Philanthropy Predictor #5 – Real Estate Ownership

The last factor we will focus on is real estate ownership. Given the limits of wealth screening, this is the only true wealth indicator to have made it on our list. Here is what we found:
  • An individual that owns $2+ million worth of real estate is 17 times more likely to give philanthropically than the average person.
  • An individual that owns $1-2 million worth of real estate is 4 times more likely to give philanthropically than the average person.
  • An individual that owns $750K – 1 million worth of real estate is 2 times more likely to give philanthropically than the average person.
What does this tell us?  This correlation between giving likelihood and property worth demonstrates one important fact. Real estate ownership is more than just a wealth marker; it’s a philanthropic indicator as well. Just like political giving, its predictive powers are two-fold. Plus, real estate ownership can be plugged into a larger formula that assists in calculating a donor’s total wealth, which, in turn, helps assess giving capacity scores. In short, real estate ownership is a wealth marker you can’t afford to look past. 

How can nonprofits uncover this information about their prospects?

If you don’t have information about any of the predictors listed within this article, then your organization should consider investing in prospect screening. Performing prospect research prior to a fundraising campaign will provide you with all the information listed within this article and help your organization prioritize its donors accordingly. That way, your development staff can spend less time doing research and more time fundraising. If you’re interested in learning more, schedule a demo of DonorSearch’s prospect screening services >

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By donorsearch

Limits of Wealth Screening

All too often when nonprofits decide they want to invest in prospect research, they focus specifically on wealth screening. While having some information is better than no information, wealth data is just one indicator of many when it comes to predicting a prospect’s likelihood of giving. Additionally, research has shown that historical charitable giving data is a much stronger predictor of future charitable giving. For this reason, nonprofits that just focus on wealth screening are losing out on valuable information about their list of prospects and missing an opportunity to get the most out of their fundraising activities.

What is wealth screening?

Wealth screening is a subset of prospect research focused on wealth indicators such as real estate ownership, stock holdings in public companies, and business affiliations.

Why is wealth screening important?

Wealth screening is an essential part of the prospect research process. Understanding a prospect’s financial situation can provide insight into:
  • Capacity to give
  • Likelihood of giving
  • Ways to segment outreach
  • Suggested donation ranges
  • Relationships with other potential prospects unfamiliar with your organization

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By donorsearch

Eight Types of Essential Prospect Data

// When conducting prospect research for your next fundraising campaign, there are countless types of information that you may find useful in your evaluation of whether an individual is a strong prospect. Just remember that all data is not equally meaningful when it comes to fundraising! For this reason, we have compiled a list of the eight most essential types of data that you should include the next time you conduct prospect research.
  1. Previous Donations to Your Nonprofit
  2. Past Charitable Giving to Other Nonprofits
  3. Political Giving
  4. Nonprofit Involvement
  5. Real Estate Ownership
  6. Business Affiliations
  7. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Insider Stock Transactions
  8. Personal Contact Information
Each of these data types brings its own valuable predictive qualities to the prospect research table. And we’re going to cover every item on this list in depth. If you want to jump ahead to a particular data point, click on any of them to be directed right to that section. Otherwise, let’s begin at the top of the list: Previous Donations to Your Nonprofit.

Previous Donations to Your Nonprofit

This should be common sense and is the reason why fundraisers solicit the people who have given previously before reaching out to anyone else. In fact, our research has proven that past giving is the greatest indicator of future giving.  For instance, a donor who has contributed a gift ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 to a nonprofit is five times more likely to make a charitable donation than the average person. If your nonprofit has already done the hard work of cultivating a donor once, you don’t want to let that relationship lapse. Capitalize on the likelihood that they’ll give again and make sure your stewardship is top-notch in the meantime. Plus, a major benefit of organization-specific philanthropy data is that it is free and easy to access if your nonprofit has collected the data over time. You just need to quantify past giving. The best way to evaluate and organize past giving is through the use of an RFM score. An RFM scores stands for:
  • Recency of the last gift: When did the donor last make a contribution?
  • Frequency of giving: How often does the donor give?
  • Monetary contribution: How much has the donor given?
By combining these three factors into a super-score of sorts, you’ll have a much clearer sense of how to prioritize your outreach to existing donors. The drawback of this data is that it doesn’t allow you to identify individuals who made small donations previously but have the potential to become major donors. In order to do that, you’ll need to combine your analysis of prior giving to your nonprofit and various other data points we’ll be touching on throughout this article.

Past Charitable Giving to Other Nonprofits

Research has shown that past charitable giving to other organizations is one of the best predictors of whether a prospect is likely to make a donation to another nonprofit organization. Many nonprofits make their annual reports and recognition documents available either online or in-person, so there’s the possibility to cross-reference your donor base with other nonprofits’ giving data. However, some internet-based annual reports are taken down over time, and publishing annual reports online is not a regulatory requirement. This means that the data available online may be a fraction of all gifts made. If you already subscribe to DonorSearch’s online research tools, make sure you are utilizing our Annual Report Philanthropy Database. It’s already the second largest collection of charitable giving data available anywhere and is growing quickly by 50,000-100,000 records per day. It is a proprietary philanthropic database that includes hard-to-find print references and internet-based annual reports harvested from nonprofit websites. This comprehensive collection spans seventeen years, with millions of records from the mid to late 1990’s, even better coverage for each year of the previous decade and one of the fastest growing collections for 2010, 2011, and 2012. The database provides access to giving information that was previously published on the internet, but is no longer available, and the broadest collection of printed documents not available elsewhere.

Political Giving

Your prospect’s lifetime giving to political campaigns is an excellent predictor of future philanthropy. For example, virtually every FEC donor that has lifetime political giving of $10,000 is wealthy and has the capacity to make a major gift. This information is publicly available because the Federal Election Commission (FEC) regulates political giving to federal campaigns and requires that campaigns report the following:
  • The name of the donor
  • The occupation of the donor
  • The address of the donor
  • The date of the gift
Political giving is considered such an important data type for two main reasons:
  1. The amount someone has given to political campaigns is a good indicator of how much they’d be able to give to your organization. If someone is regularly donating large sums of money to political campaigns, they’re likely major-gift-qualified prospects for your organization.
  2. The fact that someone is willing to donate to a political campaign speaks to their openness to take action. When a person makes a political contribution, they are essentially recognizing a cause they care about and doing something about it. If your nonprofit can inspire the same kind of passion in your cause, you’ll be in good shape!
Plus, political giving also speaks to a prospect’s interests. For example, imagine your nonprofit’s mission focuses on arts education. You might find that your prospect donated to the political campaign of a senator whose platform involved increasing funding for arts education. You can leverage that aligned ideology to better connect with your prospect during cultivation. Convinced of its value? Simply head over to and perform a quick search (you can read more about the tool in our list of prospect research resources and tools).

Nonprofit Involvement

Nonprofit involvement indicates that a prospect understands the value and the importance of philanthropy – this is especially true of any prospects who sit on foundation boards as trustees. Fortunately for nonprofits trying to conduct prospect research, foundations are required to report their trustees, and GuideStar has made that information available through a search function on their website. Additionally, if you can successfully solicit a gift from someone involved in other nonprofits and steward them into loyal donors, you’ll be able to leverage their connections down the road. When you’re actively seeking major gifts, every connection counts. Picture the difference between one of your major gift officers cold calling a new prospect versus one of your loyal and active donors making the introduction over a shared lunch. It’s incredibly valuable to have donors who are prominent in the philanthropic community. They’ll be able to help you expand your network. And that expansion starts with recognizing those involved in nonprofit work and cultivating your relationships with them. Let prospect research highlight who those candidates are.

Real Estate Ownership

Real estate ownership is another helpful indicator of whether or not a prospect will be philanthropic. Our research has shown that individuals who own real estate valued at over $2 million are statistically much more likely to make a charitable donation than the average individual.  If you can identify donors who have substantial real estate investments, you can incorporate this information into your prospect outreach plan. One benefit of real estate information is that some of it is publicly available through different free websites such as Zillow or in-person at the local county tax assessor’s office. Determining if a prospect has significant real estate holdings is an involved process that is part art and part science. You’ll have no shortage of concrete data available, but you’ll need to pay careful attention to the manner in which you contextualize it. You can test out the following methods to better understand your prospect’s real estate data:
  • Using a screening tool to do the heavy lifting and not only find the real estate holdings but learn what they mean and could predict.
  • Scanning a real estate website, like Zillow that we mentioned earlier, to figure out property values.
  • Checking with the county tax assessor for official records of purchase prices and property values.
  • Considering the role geography plays by asking:
    • How does property value change if you adjust for inflation in certain cities?
    • Is this property a main residence? Business venture? Vacation home?
    Stepping back from the data and seeing how it fits into the larger image you have of your donor. Learn more about investigating a prospect’s real estate holdings here!

    Business Affiliations

    Another insightful category of information is a prospect’s business affiliations. This includes details on a prospect such as:
    • Basic employer information.
    • Role at their company.
    • Whether they sit on any corporate boards.
    • And more!
    There is a multitude of resources you can take advantage of to better make sense of a prospect’s business affiliations. Some of those resources are:
    • DatabaseUSA
    • OpenCorporates
    • LinkedIn
    • And even sites like Facebook and Google
    Understanding a prospect’s business affiliations can provide insight into his or her capacity to give as well as identify relationships with other potential donors. So, just as with political giving, the benefits of studying business affiliations is two-fold:
    1. Often, gaining greater insight into a prospect’s professional life can also act as window into their financial life. If you know what someone does for a living, you should be able to extrapolate a rough estimate of salary and similar factors which play into total wealth.
    2. Just like you can leverage the relationships of donors involved in other nonprofit work to meet new prospects, you can take a similar approach to those supporters who have strong business ties. Professional affiliations can be the key to a whole new world of supporters.
    In other words, business affiliations are vital in developing your organization’s grasp of not only the prospect’s potential as a donor but also the prospect’s potential as a supporter.

    Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Insider Stock Transactions

    Another publicly available type of information is SEC stock holdings at publicly traded companies. This data is reported to the SEC and provides insight into an individual’s capacity to give. Keep in mind, SEC Insider Stock Transactions are one of the top wealth markers, but they don’t tend to speak to philanthropic capacity. Essentially, this information may have limited predictive ability for an individual’s willingness to give. Plus, any ownership of privately held companies won’t be captured. Those notes aren’t to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of the financially predictive capacity of SEC stock holdings. They’re just meant to point out that stock ownership should be one point amongst the group and not the driving indicator. On the whole, prospect research is a holistic process. You should aim to be as comprehensive with your investigation as possible. That’s why we place so much emphasis on philanthropic research. Delve further into the role of SEC holdings in the prospect research process by studying up on the wealth screening guide

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