Have you ever been asked the quintessential superpower question…would you rather be able to read minds or fly?
I know what fundraisers would answer. Read minds. It would make their jobs a lot simpler.
Fundraisers are constantly busy and constantly being pulled in a thousand directions. It is not an easy job, but it is a satisfying one. For every dollar brought in by the development team, that is another dollar that can go towards fulfilling an organization’s mission.
A fundraiser has to be able to connect with and anticipate the needs of a donor prospect. Reading minds would certainly help with that.
Since reading minds isn’t possible (yet), prospect research is the next best thing.
Prospect research gives nonprofit employees a well-rounded understanding of donors: what influences them, what their donation capacities are, and what the likelihood of them donating is.
Prospect research helps build out and fill in donor profiles. Those nonprofit prospect profiles are going to range from comprehensive to minimal.
We’ve compiled a list the 18 crucial pieces of data to include in your donor profiles.
We know, 18 is a high bar to reach. Prospect research will help your organization get there.
Some pieces of information will be more readily available than others. Check out our article on prospect research ethics if you’re concerned about the ethics of more in-depth investigation.
To make the list easier to follow, it’s been broken down into the following three categories:
a. Donor Details
b. Donor Network
c. Donor Wealth Markers
Let’s look at these categories one by one.
Category A — Donor Details
This category contains most of the personal information you can gather on donors. It is about both getting to know donors, and also, getting to know how your organization factors into their lives.
#1: Basic Contact Information
There’s a reason why this is number one on this list, you can’t do much of anything in terms of building a prospect profile without first having basic contact information. This info includes:
- phone number
- employer name
- and any other standard details that could help your fundraisers research and then reach out to a given donor.
#2: Past Actions and Interactions with Your Nonprofit
A strong indicator of future giving is a demonstrated relationship with your nonprofit. That connection is not limited to donating. Maybe a prospect has never donated but has volunteered or attended an event. That supporter has opened the door for donating.
Knowing that a prospect has a past with your nonprofit is important as an indicator of potential giving. Additionally, when fundraisers do reach out to the fundraising prospect, they can make sure they acknowledge the relationship and thank the prospect for past support.
#3: Past Giving to Your Nonprofit
If past involvement is a good indicator of giving, past giving is a great indicator. These donors have a proven track record. They should be appreciated and solicited as such.
#4: Past Giving to Other Nonprofits
Past giving to other nonprofits demonstrates a prospect’s propensity for charitable giving. A person who has already taken action to donate to any nonprofit is more likely to donate to your organization than someone who has never given before. This is especially true if that particular prospect has given to causes that are similar to your organization’s cause.
#5: Personal History
This data type is about getting to know your prospects and is going to vary drastically from person to person. Supporters contribute to organizations because they connect to those organization’s causes. A person’s personal history informs what he or she will connect with.
#6: Giving Capacity
We’ll delve further into this in the wealth marker section, but in terms of giving capacity as a donor detail, your fundraisers need a sense of what a prospect’s giving ability is, meaning what the potential donor is truly capable of giving. Many factors will affect a donor’s capacity, but understanding it is crucial to successful fundraising.
Awards speak to who a person is. They highlight what he is good at and what he is invested in. They give fundraisers a fuller sense of a prospect and can highlight potential ways to connect.
This point also goes to personal history, and is more vital to some organizations than others. Maybe your nonprofit hosts events with a nearby university, if a prospect is an alumni, she should be invited to that event.
#9: Suggested Gift Amounts
This amount will be informed by past behavior and giving capacity. It takes the guesswork out of asks. A major benefit of prospect research is that it helps fundraisers confidently cater their asks to specific donors.
#10: Preferred Communication Method
Just like with suggested gift amounts, knowing a preferred communication method will alleviate the stress of a fundraising ask. If a donor likes to be contacted via the phone and you only ever reach out through email, you are missing out on potential funds. Prospect screening catches what would otherwise fall through the cracks.
#11: Last Contact with Your Organization
Fundraisers interact with so many donors on a given day that remembering all interactions is a far-fetched dream. Donors only interact with fundraisers on occasion. They are more likely to remember a specific encounter than a fundraiser is.
If your organization keeps track of the last time a donor was contacted with a few notes on the interaction, your fundraisers can be quickly brought up to speed. This puts the donor at ease while continuing to build the ever important donor-fundraiser rapport.
Category B — Donor Network
Donor network refers to any pertinent relationships a donor may have. Networking is a necessary aspect of fundraising. It’s not just about who you know, but also who your donors know. A donor could be the link between your organization and a new major giver.
#12: Relationships or Associations
These cover both social and business connections. Both go back to what was said above. Know who your donors know.
#13: Children and Their Ages
This is especially relevant to K-12 educational institutions. Parents are common donors for schools. It is important to know each donor’s child and the child’s grade level when making asks. Parents donate to improve their schools and be part of their educational communities.
More generally, they donate to either make a difference in their children’s lives or generations of students to come. It is crucial to know who those children are.
#14: Involvement with a Nonprofit
First, a donor involved in a nonprofit is clearly committed to philanthropy. That’s a win for any nonprofit.
Second, a prospect or donor who is heavily involved with another nonprofit has probably built a foundation of relationships within that organization. If that person is a donor or becomes a donor for your organization, he or she has connections to people with similar charitable interests who may also be interested in supporting your cause.
#15: Foundation Board Membership
Many potential major givers sit on the boards of nonprofits. Your donor may, for example, sit on the board of another nonprofit and be able to curate a relationship between your fundraisers and a high quality prospect on that board.
Also keep in mind that someone who sits on a board is a valuable prospect because she has a proven understanding of the need for philanthropy and the efforts of nonprofits.
Category C — Donor Wealth Markers
If you want to know if a donor has the capacity to donate a major gift, wealth markers are a good place to start. To be matter-of-fact, more money equates to more money to give.
#16: Real Estate Ownership
Real estate ownership is unique in that it is not only a wealth marker, but can also indicate a likelihood to give. Donors who own $2+ million in real estate are 17 times more likely to give philanthropically than the average prospect. Take advantage of the two-fold indicator.
#17: Boat and/or Plane Ownership
These are both straightforward. If someone owns a boat or, even more so, a plane, he or she will typically have the funds to donate. However, there are multiple steps between having the funds and making a donation.
#18: Stock Ownership
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) insider stock transactions are publicly available. They can be great indicators of giving capacity. Although, keep in mind that ownership in privately held companies won’t be listed.
Gathering all of this information is a tall order. Consider hiring a prospect researcher, consultants, and/or a prospect screening company to help fill in your fundraising prospect profiles.