By chris

Perfect Your Prospect Profile Templates [Free Examples]

Developing prospect profiles on your various high-quality giving candidates is a necessary step in managing a fluid transition from prospects to donors. Your prospect profiles will contain all of the relevant data you gathered during the screening process. With comprehensive profiles, your team can easily transition prospects from one person to the next, without risking miscommunication and information getting lost in the shuffle. The prospect researcher is responsible for completing as much information as possible before passing on the details to a gift officer. Once the gift officer begins the donor cultivation process, he or she then tracks any additional input and changes as the relationship develops. That way, if a new officer were to step into the role, he or she would be automatically brought up to date. Prospect profiles are going to vary from organization to organization, but we wanted to give you an idea of what to expect. With that being said, this blog post will talk you through the various components you may or may not want to include in your profiles. The level of depth for your various profiles will be largely dependent on how extensive your prospect research is and what you learn during cultivation.

DonorSearch’s Prospect Profile Template Sample is divided into seven categories.

  1. Introductory Details
  2. Basic Details
  3. Personal History
  4. Familial Information
  5. Professional Affiliations
  6. Organizational Connections
  7. Philanthropic Ties
Let’s discuss each of these one-by-one.

1. Introductory Details

This category is largely designed to quickly catch a reader up on the current status of the prospect. Its sections include:
  • Prospect Name
  • Date
  • Giving Status
  • Past Interactions
  • Next Moves
Whenever a prospect is interacted with, that should be noted here and future plans should be listed under “Next Moves.” If someone were to briefly open the profile, you want that person to be able to read through these first five sections and recognize where in the donor pipeline the given prospect falls.

2. Basic Details

Basic details are essentially contact information. Its sections include:
  • Full Name
  • Nickname
  • Phone Number
  • Address
  • Email
  • Birthdate
It is critical that your team ensures that these fields are accurate. Successful donor communications rely on current and correct contact information. The first step to building a relationship with someone is to call them by their preferred name. Nothing will get you off on the wrong foot by calling someone by the wrong name when you’re asking for a donation. It makes them feel like you don’t care about them as a person. Special note: if you’re an advocacy organization also using an advocacy-specific CRM like CQ Engage, you might also want to keep things like social media handles and voting districts in this section. These identifiers will allow you to more easily target your donors and supporters with personalized communication strategies for region- or online-specific grassroots campaigns. These details will also make it easier for you to mobilize your advocates because they can champion your cause in their own neighborhoods with your help.

3. Personal History

As important as it is to know how to reach your donors, you have to understand them on a deeper level. That understanding begins with the personal history category. Its sections include:
  • Alma Mater(s)
  • Degrees(s)
  • Connections to Foundations
  • Real Estate Holdings
  • Public Stock Holdings
  • Social Club Memberships
  • Community Involvement
As you can ascertain from looking at the above list, personal history involves a combination of wealth markers and other characteristics that will help your fundraisers better get through to your prospects. You want to know a donor’s interests and history, as well as his or her giving capacity. The personal history category helps on both fronts.

4. Familial Information

As you can probably guess from the title, familial information is all about what details you have collected on your prospect’s families. Its sections include: 
  • Name of Spouse
  • Spouse’s Philanthropic Ties
  • Spouse’s Professional Affiliations
  • Key Details on Children
  • Key Details on Other Pertinent Relatives
The significance of familial data can change according to what kind of organization is seeking the information. Two types of fundraising programs could certainly benefit from learning more about their prospects’ families. Those programs are: Each piece of data broadens the scope of the level of personalization your organization can cover when communicating with a prospect. Your nonprofit should know a spouse’s name, so that you can address invites to the couple, rather than your donor and guest, for example. Your donors’ families are important to them. They should be important to your nonprofit too.

5. Professional Affiliations

Professional affiliations, just like familial information, can render pivotal details. Its sections include:
  • Employer
  • Employer Address
  • Position
  • Work Email
  • Work Phone Number
  • Estimated Salary
  • Years with Employer
  • Relevant Employment History
  • Relevant Business Contacts
With professional affiliations right in front of you, you can not only gain a firmer understanding of a prospect’s giving capacity, but also uncover potentially valuable connections. One of your board members, for instance, could work with a high-quality prospect. When you realize that, you can then ask your board member to make an introduction for you. Additionally, a donor might be employed by a company with a generous corporate giving program. Imagine the potential gift size if you notify a major gift donor that their contribution will gladly be matched by their company! Some companies also offer volunteer grant gifts, which would donate funds to your organization based on hours that an employee has spent as a volunteer for your nonprofit. As you can tell, the opportunities stemming from researching this list of facts for a donor are varied and plentiful.

6. Organizational Connections

This is the point in the profile where you delve into exactly what motivates your prospects’ philanthropy and how strong their bonds with your specific cause and nonprofit are. Its sections include:
  • Date of Last Gift
  • Amount of Last Gift
  • Total Number of Donations
  • Average Gift Size
  • Board Membership
  • Hours Volunteered
  • Relationships with Others Involved in Your Organization
For a brand new prospect, this category might be completely blank. You’ll want to revisit it as you cultivate the prospect and the prospect becomes more engaged in your organization. Past giving is the strongest indicator of future giving

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By chris

[Guest Post] Maximize Your Donor Solicitation’s Response Rates

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Marvin Dawson, Vice President of MMI Direct, for his thoughts on how to improve donor solicitation response rates. You’ve agonized over every word in the copy, spent hours working with your designer to make sure the layout is perfect, and tested multiple calls to action.  You’re finally ready to mail your incredible donor solicitation, right? Before you do, you should ask yourself one more question — have you used the same care to choose which potential donors to solicit as you have in designing the mail piece itself?  Many marketers aren’t aware that their list management decisions can have just as powerful an effect on results as choosing the best creative. There are three important questions you need to ask yourself to ensure you are mailing to the right recipients: 1. Is every address deliverable? Nothing is more wasteful than paying to mail something that is never going to arrive. The first step in improving your list’s deliverability is to run it through CASS Certification to standardize the address, append a 9-digit zip code and add a delivery point barcode.  With over 11% of all Americans moving in a typical year, the second thing you should do is to match your updated list against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database to make sure it contains the latest addresses.  Finally, since as many as 40% of Americans who move don’t bother to file a change of address notice with the USPS, you should also consider using the Proprietary Change of Address (PCOA) database to update your list with the correct addresses for this group. 2. Are there addresses you should exclude from the mailing? We almost universally recommend not mailing to jails or prisons, military bases, nursing homes, trailer parks, vacant lots, disaster areas, and addresses on acquisition lists that are also on the DMA Do Not Mail list.  Depending upon your organization’s target audience, records with no names or only company names may or may not be worthwhile for you to send, as might records going to unique zip codes like the Pentagon or a large university.  Finally, you may want to exclude mailing to records on an acquisition list that have been flagged as deceased (though you should test these names a few times first, as sometimes they continue to respond, presumably from a surviving spouse!). 3. Is more than one copy of a mailing going to a particular person and/or address? Optimizing your merge purge operations to eliminate duplicate mailings can be surprisingly complex, but often pays out in higher returns. Want to learn more about how to maximize the response rate to your donor solicitation?  Our free eBook, How to Use Data Hygiene to Maximize Your Direct Mail’s ROI, explains in simple terms what you need to know.  Download it here!   Marvin Dawson (, VP of MMI Direct, has been managing data hygiene and merge purge operations for a wide variety of companies for decades.  He eats, breathes and dreams about data, and would love to help your company improve the ROI of your direct mail!      

By chris

[Guest Post] Why You Should Pay More Attention to These Forgotten Donors

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Mary Cahalane of Hands-On Fundraising and please enjoy her post on mid-level donors.

Why You Should Pay More Attention to These Forgotten Donors

They’re the stalwarts of your annual giving program. They’ve been giving for years. They’re obviously committed. So how well do you really know your mid-level donors? I can’t tell you how to define “mid-level”. Just like “major gift donor” it will depend on your organization’s size and donor base. But if you take a good look at your list, you’ll know who they are. Not your biggest donors – who are hopefully being engaged as major donors. Not your smaller donors – though your smallest donors may be very loyal. And I’m a huge fan of recognizing loyalty at any level. They’re the donors in the middle of your file. They might be new, or among your longest-giving donors. And you’re losing money if they’re not getting special attention. Jeff Schreifels of Veritus Group explains why in this post. He tells us that mid-level donors are very loyal. They make your direct response program strong (you’d need a lot of $25 gifts to make your goals, right?) And they may be your future major donors. Mid-level donors are definitely a hybrid. They’ll fall somewhere between the high-touch care of major donors and your direct response program. And that’s how you’ll need to treat them – a little of both.

How to find them.

Begin with your database. Find the mid-point and select a group of donors whose giving hovers near that. Start your mid-level program with these donors. But don’t stop there. Mid-level donors may be hiding among your smaller donors. Do a little sleuthing. Then look below your mid-point and create a special solicitation. Offer a great case (why should they give more?), a more personal touch (first class stamps, hand-written notes, an upgraded response device) and a higher ask. You may find people who were just waiting to be asked to give more!

How to keep them.

Offer them their own representative. Veritus recommends something I’d done years ago – offer these donors a personal representative at your organization. Designate someone on your staff to be their contact – to answer questions, to sort out problems, to listen. This is a win-win because you want these donors to be in touch! Upgrade their recognition.

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By chris

[Guest Post] How to Capture a Baby Boomer’s Attention

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Karen Blanchard of Alumni Finder, and please enjoy this post on engaging Baby Boomers. While Baby Boomers may have been overtaken by Millennials as the largest segment of the U.S. population, don’t count them out when soliciting donations. Retirees are expected to donate $6.6 trillion cash and $1.4 trillion in volunteer services during the next 20 years, according to a report released recently by Age Wave in partnership with Merrill Lynch. As Baby Boomers like me begin retiring, we are expected to give at even higher rates. And that’s good news for nonprofits smart enough to capture the attention of such donors. Born between 1946 and 1965, Baby Boomers make up 76 million people in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This population surpasses every other age group in terms of charitable donations and is the dominant source of income for many nonprofits. Interestingly, Boomers are giving less money to religious and spiritual organizations compared to their parents’ generation, the report said. However, Boomers are still much more inclined to support religious groups than Millennials and Gen Xers. So what does your nonprofit need to know about Baby Boomers like me to be effective?
  1. Consider highlighting all the ways potential donors can connect with you including online and in-person. This group does their research online but then prefers in-person connections. Provide volunteer opportunities for this mature, experienced labor pool that has time and resources.
  2. Boomers like me are receptive to traditional and digital marketing that is genuine. Many people in this age group are looking for information and opportunities to connect with a meaningful charity.
  3. Avoid references to retirement and growing older as we don’t like to think about these things and prefer to sidestep that terminology.
  4. Many Boomers are still working and seek convenient ways to give. While the report says retired women are the most likely group among Baby Boomers to contribute both money and hours to charity, make sure you are providing an easy way for your potential donors to engage.
  5. Your nonprofit organization should be transparent and offer information on how donations benefit your charity. Baby Boomers more than any other population segment make an effort to find out how nonprofits use their money before they decide to donate.

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By chris

Timeline for a Capital Campaign: 3 Fundamental Stages

If your nonprofit is looking to take on a substantial project or construct a new building in the future, you might need to start planning a capital campaign. Because capital campaigns can sometimes extend for years, you’ll need to establish a timeline to help you and your team stay on track while you plan and raise money for your nonprofit’s project.

Below, you’ll find a general timeline for a capital campaign.

Here are the three core stages of any effective capital campaign:
  1. Planning
  2. Implementing
  3. Following up
Naturally, your capital campaign may have fewer or more steps depending on how much money you’re trying to raise and how much time you have. Use these steps as a beginning template and add or subtract as necessary. And for more information, check out our Breakthrough Guide to Capital Campaigns

1. Planning

Planning for a capital campaign is no small feat. It involves the coordination and cooperation of many different individuals, departments, and committees. We’ve extensively covered the planning of a capital campaign in another article, but we’ll go over the basics now.

Assemble a capital campaign planning team.

Think of your capital campaign as ship out at sea. A ship can’t get from point A to point B without a crew of people. Each individual has their own part to play and without cohesion, the ship would quickly devolve into mutiny. Your capital campaign can’t steer itself. You need a dedicated crew to help take it from one harbor to the next. Cheesy ship metaphors aside, a capital campaign team or committee relies on a solid base to help lead it to success. This base is usually comprised of the following individuals:
  • Board members
  • Staff or faculty
  • Community volunteers
Your capital campaign committee can also breakup into smaller subcommittees depending on the size and scope of your project. However you decide to segment your committee, make sure that everyone meets regularly and is on the same page going forward.

Set a goal, deadline, and budget for your capital campaign.

Capital campaigns are centered around raising a specific amount of money in a certain timeframe. Therefore, before you start raising any money, make sure that you set a reasonable financial goal and deadline. Additionally, you’ll need to set a budget for the various expenses that will occur during the planning and fundraising process.

Complete a feasibility study.

A feasibility study should be completed during the planning process to determine whether or not the capital campaign will actually be successful. A feasibility study can be conducted in-house or can make use of an outside consultant. Either way, it involves the interviewing of 30 to 40 individuals to determine whether or not the capital campaign can raise the needed funds in the allotted time. These interviewees can range from board members to general members of the community. The group should include past major gifts donors as well as other fundraising prospects.

Conduct a prospect screening to get started.

Capital campaigns rely heavily on major gift donors. In fact, before the campaign is open to the public, up to 70% of the funds should already be received thanks to these major gift donors. In order to determine who you should solicit for donations, you should conduct a prospect screening. Prospect research can help you tailor your asks to various donors and uncover hidden major gift contributors. With prospect research, you have basic information like names and addresses as well as complex data like past giving history and business affiliations. Prospect research can help your capital campaign get off on the right foot!

2. Implementing

After carefully planning and preparing for your capital campaign, it’s time to put all that hard work into action! Implementing a capital campaign takes place in two phases. We’ll cover each of those stages separately.

The Quiet Phase

No, this is not the part of the capital campaign that requires you to whisper all the time. It’s actually more like a soft opening for your fundraising efforts. Let me explain. In order to gain massive public support (and donations!) for your capital campaign, your nonprofit has to show that others have already donated. People won’t donate to a project that they think will fail; the quiet phase of a capital campaign is when you rally your biggest supporters behind you. During this stage, the members of your capital campaign committee will be soliciting major gift donors, corporations, and government agencies for substantial donations. Make sure that each individual is well-versed in proper etiquette for asking for donations.

The Public Phase

After you’ve received donations and pledges from your various major gift donors and local corporations, it’s time to enter the public phase. The public phase of your capital campaign is when you will solicit a large amount of smaller donations from members of the community. The public phase usually begins with a kickoff ceremony. If your capital campaign is building related, you could host the kickoff at the building site to show attendees what your proposed plan is. The kickoff event doesn’t necessarily have to be a fundraising event, but some people may want to give donations after getting excited about the campaign. Make sure that you have ways for people to donate at your event. The rest of the public phase will require broad outreach tactics to help you reach your financial goal within the deadline.

3. Following Up

Congratulations! You’ve successfully planned and implemented your capital campaign. You’ve raised the money to pay for a large project or initiative. You can finally rest, right? Not until you follow up with donors! Following up with donors after a capital campaign can take several forms. Let’s take a look at each of them separately.

Saying thank you

Gertrude Stein once said that, “Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” She has a point! You should vocally and publicly recognize the people who helped you reach your goal. Saying thanks to your donors will largely depend on the amount of the donation and your relationship with that donor. If you receive a large contribution from a regular supporter, you should publicly and privately thank that individual for their donation. Perhaps this thanks could take place at the kickoff event or at a closing ceremony. Additionally, you’ll need to send out thank you letters, cards, or emails to the rest of your supporters. No gift should go un-thanked. A capital campaign can’t be successful without the generosity of your donors. Finally, you’ll need to show appreciation to your committee members. After months and maybe even years of hard work and planning, they deserve more than a pat on the back. Make sure that you properly thank everyone that had a hand in soliciting major gift donors, corporations, and other individual supporters.

Keeping donors updated

People rarely like donating to a cause or project and then ignoring it. It’s your nonprofit’s job to keep donors updated on the project and show them how their contributions have affected your nonprofit. These updates can take the form of:
  • Special events for major gift donors.
  • Newsletters and emails.
  • A ceremony after the project is complete.
  • Phone calls to major gift donors.
However you plan on communicating progress, make sure that you thank donors again to emphasize how meaningful their contributions were and how much you appreciate their continued support. And there you have it! You’re all set to plot out the various steps of your capital campaign timeline. For more information about planning a capital campaign, check out our comprehensive article with 14 in-depth steps

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By chris

14-Step Guide for Getting Started with a Capital Campaign

So, your organization needs to raise a significant amount of money for a particular project. This might be a long-awaited renovation for your organization’s headquarters or perhaps another big-ticket project that can’t be covered by your annual fundraising efforts alone. After examining all fundraising routes, you’ve determined that a capital campaign is the right way to go. Before you dive straight into fundraising, there are a number of steps that you have to take to properly plan your capital campaign. To get your capital campaign off the ground, you should: Assemble a capital campaign committee.

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By donorsearch

[Guest Post] Retaining Major Gift Donors

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Vicki Shelton, Senior Director of BNY Mellon Wealth Management, Seattle, Washington and please enjoy this post on retaining major gift donors.


By Vicki Shelton, Senior Director, BNY Mellon Wealth Management, Seattle, Wa. In 2015, charitable giving increased for the fourth consecutive year, as reported in the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) Survey Report. The FEP, developed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Urban Institute, measures gains and losses in gift amounts, as well as in the number of donors among participating charitable organizations. Alarmingly, among the organizations surveyed, for every 100 new donors, 102 existing donors left the charity without making a gift. In fact, for every year since 2004, more donors left than gave new dollars to organizations suggesting that the emphasis of charities is on gaining new donors, rather than building relationships with major donors to encourage repeat giving. Most nonprofits are effective in raising new dollars from new donors; though it may not stem from outstanding fundraising efforts. Rather, economic conditions over recent years may have more to do with prompting donors to reach for their wallets. Looking at 2014 fundraising drivers, the financial markets experienced double-digit returns in that year, employment increased, and at the same time, energy prices fell. These movements improved consumer confidence, which more likely led to increased giving. However, as markets move and consumer sentiments fluctuate, nonprofits will need to deploy a more rigorous approach to fundraising – balancing efforts to win new donors with donor retention. While most boards and foundations dedicate time to developing relationships with major donors through meaningful connections, merely spending time with major donors is no longer enough. Savvy donors want to understand an organization’s strategic plans, with well-developed business objectives, for a clear view of a nonprofit’s goals. Reduced government funding and other traditional grant-making resources demand that organizations sharpen their focus on major-donor capacity for future growth. Nonprofits seeking new or repeat gifts from major donors will need to adopt a specific strategy and approach to donor interaction. Often, nonprofits use the same approach across their donor base – direct solicitation or a written request. One wealthy philanthropist recently explained: “Every time I attend a nonprofit event, I feel as if I have a dollar sign tattooed on my forehead. I am approached almost instantly by someone from the organization wanting me to make a large donation.” Most wealthy donors are put off by direct solicitations at events or outright through a phone call, and require a thoughtful and strategic approach for continued future gifts. Nonprofits are getting smarter about building relationships and strategic plans with major donors for continued gifts. However, many nonprofits say they are all vying for the same dollars as their competitors. Nonprofits that succeed in their fundraising efforts recognize what this level of donor expects.

To delve into this rigorous approach, this article is divided into four key sections:

  1. Attracting and Retaining Major Donors
  2. Research Highlights
  3. The Major Donor Experience
  4. Honor and Engage Your Donors

Attracting and Retaining Major Donors

There are four ways to better attract and retain major donors: 1. Share the big picture: From Atlas of Giving’s 2014 report, “most people like to support winning causes.” Board members and staff need to share with donors not only how the nonprofit makes the world a better place but the metrics to back up those claims. 2. Internal collaboration: A unified fundraising effort between the board and staff reduces duplication of effort and avoids confusing the donor about whom to contact at the organization. As a donor mentioned, “It is annoying to receive a direct mail letter while at the same time in my mailbox I am invited to purchase a table for an upcoming Gala. And then, I will get a call from a staffer asking for a gift. Can’t they coordinate their efforts, so I don’t feel harassed?” 3. Discuss special projects: Major donors have often built their wealth by being entrepreneurial in their careers. They want to hear about the overall strategic plans for the organization, but may relate well to special projects that resonate with them for a variety of reasons. Some may be pleased to be involved in a project reserved for a “small club” of other significant donors, such as major funders of a new university building or a specialized hospital wing. Others may desire acknowledgement through naming rights. 4. Collaborate with other donors and nonprofits with similar missions: Paul Lagasse writes in his article A New Perspective, “There is enough evidence out there showing that the old model of being able to focus on your own little corner of the world without understanding everything else that’s going on just doesn’t work anymore.” In recent years, grants given by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to community foundations were provided so each community foundation worked together with their region’s nonprofits on initiatives that crossed over many aspects of the local community. One community foundation in the Pacific Northwest focused on homelessness, addressing the impact on the community for stresses around education, safety, drug and alcohol abuse. Another community foundation worked on child trafficking, its impact on the community, and resources to children and families being affected. As organizations focus on “relationship equity” or making meaningful connections with major donors, a good place to start is to take the AFP Fundraising Fitness Test. Another resource is the Leaky Bucket assessment (, which measures nine key business practices that contribute to or detract from the effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity of fundraising efforts. Nonprofits should conduct a careful analysis of how their fundraisers focus on major gifts: That is, to determine how much effort is spent on “busy work” vs. identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding major donors. Linda Lysakowski’s article Spending Enough on Fundraising? notes that ‘face time’ with donors is paramount to receiving large gifts. By developing a relationship with a major donor there is evidence to suggest that when asked, 60% of those donors that are engaged in person will make a gift. It’s important to keep in mind that 95% of your gifts will come from 5% of your donors. As previously mentioned, major donors make gifts because they resonate with the mission, purpose and activities of the nonprofit organization. While it is true that major donors will typically make a gift if there is a recurring ‘ask’, subsequent gifts are rarely made if there is not a strategic plan around the gift that has been discussed over time with the donor.


Research Highlights

Without continued, coordinated connections with your major donors, the trend downward for repeated gifts will continue. The Science of Philanthropy Initiative (SPI) co-founder John List and the University of Chicago studied the giving pattern of donors for more than ten years

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By chris

[Guest Post] Cast a Wider Net in Your Prospect Identification

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Jeff Stein and Allison Keech Sanka of Planned Giving Marketing and please enjoy their post on planned giving.

Cast a Wider Net in Your Prospect Identification

There are more big fish in your small pond than you may think (or than you’ve been led to believe).

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By chris

[Guest Post] Fundraising Compliance and the Impact on Giving

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming James Gilmer of Harbor Compliance and please enjoy this post on fundraising compliance.

Fundraising Compliance and the Impact on Giving

Fundraising and active donor engagement are critical to your nonprofit’s success. Many nonprofit leaders believe that simply being recognized as tax-exempt under IRC Section 501(c)(3) allows their charity to fundraise freely. However, fundraising (or “charitable solicitation”) is highly regulated at the state level. Failure to comply with the rules and requirements of state authorities can lead to steep financial penalties, loss of personal liability of the officers and directors, and a loss of credibility with your donors. Proper registration and compliance directly impacts your ability to fundraise for major gifts. Consider this the “other side” of prospect research. While you are determining their giving capacity, donors will research your organization before they give. If you are not registered, or noncompliant, you risk losing a big opportunity. This post will serve as an introduction to fundraising registration and demonstrate its potential impact on current and future gifts to your organization.

What is Charitable Solicitation Registration?

Charitable solicitation registration, also known as “fundraising registration,” registers your charity with the state (usually the Attorney General’s Office), and allows your charity to solicit funds in that state. Currently, forty states and the District of Columbia generally require nonprofits to register, and to renew the registration annually or biennially. By registering, you keep the state informed of your operations, financial information, leadership, and fundraising activities. The purpose is to protect the citizens of that state from unregulated or illegitimate organizations. Each state has differing application requirements and filing fees. You can expect to submit information on the organization’s leadership, activities, and financials, as well as any corporate records. You can also expect to appoint a registered agent, and obtain a Certificate of Authority in several states. You will then file annually or biennially in most states in order to keep your registration active. Review your state’s registration and renewal requirements using this Fundraising Compliance Guide.

Why Register, and How Compliance Impacts Giving

Currently, forty-four states have laws surrounding charitable solicitation. Of those states, forty and the District of Columbia have a registration requirement. With few exceptions, your charity must register before it solicits funds, regardless of whether funds are actually received. That’s right, before you even ask for a donation. The IRS also wants to know. On your IRS 990 return, you disclose all the states in which you fundraise and in which you have registered. Most importantly, don’t believe for a second that while you are researching prospective donors, that they are not researching you, too. It’s a fact that donors who have made major gifts in the past are more likely to give again. Experienced donors and foundations use the state’s registry of charities to search for your nonprofit before they give, especially if they have never given to you before. If your organization is not registered, or is noncompliant, you lose credibility with those donors, and potentially lose the sale as well. By staying compliant, you demonstrate your organization’s credibility and reassure donors that they are making the right choice.

When Does My Organization Need to Register?

According to state requirements, your nonprofit should generally register before it asks for donations, including online. In reality, many nonprofit leaders are unaware of having to register for charitable solicitation. If you have already been sending solicitations, or receiving contributions from a state, consider registering there as early as possible. State law is one motivator, but your organization’s bottom line is another one. Given what you now know about donor behavior, are you losing out on gifts because your nonprofit is not fully compliant? Are your donors demanding, either directly or indirectly, that you register? For many organizations, the value of compliance, through added contributions and avoidance of state penalties, outweighs the cost of registration. By the way, if your organization fundraises online with a “Donate Now” button or on crowdfunding platforms, you are technically soliciting funds in every state. This means your nonprofit must comply with applicable registration requirements nationwide.

Staying Compliant

Once you have registered and become compliant, the last thing you want to do is fall out of good standing with state charitable solicitation authorities. Even if your charity operates and solicits donations in just a few states, tracking due dates and filing registration renewals on time is important, as one lapse can lead to penalties and fines. For larger organizations, tracking nationwide renewals can be a huge drain on staff time and organizational resources. If your nonprofit is using substantial resources managing registrations, remember that there are service companies, attorneys, and other professionals who specialize in this work, reduce the time you spend, and help you stay the course. The reward for all your hard work is two-fold. First, by registering your nonprofit, you help stay in compliance with state and IRS requirements. You’ll also avoid state fines and penalties that may arise if your nonprofit is found to be noncompliant. Even greater, your nonprofit will have the freedom to solicit funds in any state where you are registered, and will give your donors the complete confidence to support your mission.     Author Bio: James Gilmer is a compliance specialist for Harbor Compliance, which establishes 501(c) nonprofits and helps them stay compliant. Harbor Compliance assists charities in every state and several countries abroad. James serves on the Board for two nonprofits in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
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