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The first little pig needed straw. The second little pig required sticks. The third little pig sought bricks. And that big bad wolf? He needed enough breath to blow all those houses down.

Depending on who you are, what you need to succeed varies. No two types of nonprofits seek the same prospects. An education-based nonprofit won’t build its fundraising campaign from the same prospects as a healthcare organization, which will differ in prospects from fraternities and sororities. Like a home, you build your life out of the materials at hand, and you hammer away at your work until something stands upright that you can be proud of.

While the various types of nonprofits use prospect research to unearth similar information, they’re doing so for different types of donors and for a wide range of causes.

We’ll talk about eight different nonprofits that use prospect research:

  1. K-12 Education Organizations
  2. Higher Education Institutions
  3. Healthcare Organizations
  4. Greek Organizations
  5. Arts and Cultural Nonprofits
  6. Community Foundations
  7. Faith-Based Organizations
  8. Advocacy Groups, Social Service Organizations, and Environmental Groups


Keep reading as look deeper at these types of organizations and how they can use prospect research to their advantage.

K-12 Education Organizations

Unless they’re prodigy pop stars or the lucky inheritors of a family fortune, young adults tend not to have the funds to give major gifts. This leaves their parents as the prime major gift prospects.

Each year, new students arrive, old ones leave, and parents come and go with their children. It’s important for schools to screen their lists of parents at certain times throughout the year in order to identify who to pursue with their limited fundraising resources.

Good screening times include:

  • the beginning of the school year
  • the end of the year around graduation
  • in between semesters

It’s important to space out screening prospects so as not to overwhelm your fundraising team with too much information at once. Most parents remain involved with schools for multiple years, so time is on your side, but you want to make the most of it.

Higher Education Institutions

As with K-12 schools, parents are a primary focus, but they’re not the only focus.

Alumni networks are filled with wealthy folks eager to support their alma maters.

Many colleges and universities use telefunds to reach out to their alumni networks, and telefunds are most efficient when they organize prospects according to certain criteria, such as a specific calling pool for major gift prospects. This allows schools to keep track of their most important donors and call them at the right times of the year with specific ask strategies.

If you’re interested in learning more expert advice on how colleges and universities can raise funds, check out our university fundraising guide.

Keep in mind that reaching out to current students and recent graduates may not be fruitful, especially in terms of landing major gifts, but it’s important to plant the philanthropy seed early. That way, when these people do make big bucks they remember to give back to the place that set them on the right path.

Learn more about prospect research for education-based organizations.

Healthcare Organizations

People get sick, people feel better, and people are constantly coming and going from hospitals. This leaves healthcare organizations with little time to discover who among the masses is a major gift prospect.

Hospitals can bulk screen patients daily, weekly, or monthly, according to their schedules. It’s important to stay on top of the constant influxes and departures of patients, as cultivating relationships takes time. You don’t want to miss out on your chance to begin dialogues with the people most likely to give large donations.

Many nonprofit hospitals run grateful patient programs, which consist of teams of doctors, fundraisers, and other staff who use prospect research to pursue donations from the major gift prospects either staying in or recently departed from their hospitals. Grateful patient programs work best with daily patient screenings, as you don’t want to miss out on a single opportunity to pursue a donation that could lead to much needed equipment, staff, or facility updates.

All prospect research should be acquired in full compliance with HIPAA regulations.

Learn more about prospect research for healthcare organizations.

Greek Organizations

Fraternities and sororities have vast networks of alumni who care about the futures of their Greek organizations. However, with so many alumni, it’s important to bulk screen former brothers and sisters in order to receive the data that will help to identify major gift prospects faster.

From campus events to facility updates, Greek organizations require money in order to provide the best experiences possible to their up-and-coming young adult constituencies. Current members likely won’t be interested in donating until after graduation, but they may hold relationships with successful alumni that can be leveraged in order to land major gifts.

Furthermore, people change jobs all the time, and sometimes those changes come with increases in salary. Make sure to screen prospects at regular intervals in order to keep your databases up to date and to stay on top of who your fundraising team should pursue.

Many former brothers and sisters may already donate to various nonprofits, while others have the means to give but have yet to start donating. Prospect research helps to find these people, so you can begin conversations about major giving.

Learn more about prospect research for Greek organizations.

Arts and Culture Nonprofits

Most communities care about their theater scenes, museums, aquariums, and other organizations that provide both cultural and educational enrichment. Arts and culture groups represent the lifeblood of towns and cities, as they entertain with personality that’s distinct to their populations.

Members, ticket purchasers, event attendees, and consistent donors should all be screened for being potential major donors. Simply by attending one play, a person becomes a supporter of the arts, and she may turn out to be your next major donor.

It’s also of note that the way that people get involved with arts and culture organizations is typically through purchasing memberships or tickets, which means that they’re already giving money in a certain way. A general rule of prospect research is to look for current donors to your nonprofit who may be able to give more, and, since people are already purchasing tickets, and thus giving you money, everyone is, in a way, a current donor who may be able to provide more.

Learn more about prospect research for arts and culture organizations.

Community Foundations

As organizations that seek to improve local communities, community foundations could hypothetically pursue anyone situated within their defined geographic locations as a major gift prospect. However, specificity helps to keep prospect research manageable and ensures that you’re not reaching out to people who won’t be receptive to your fundraising efforts.

People both in and with connections to your foundation are a good place to start. Not only might these people donate, but they can introduce you to people they know who might also be good major gift prospects.

Also look for prior giving to your foundation. Donors of smaller amounts may have more to give and simply need to be convinced that major donations are worth their time, while previous major donors may be apt to give again.

Learn more about prospect research for community foundations.

Faith-Based Organizations

Many faith-based nonprofits engage in community outreach, such as with food donation programs, counseling services, and other endeavors. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations have large memberships that can be leveraged to raise money for the nonprofit groups that they support.

Prospect research helps faith-based organizations to pinpoint the wealthy, philanthropically inclined donors in their congregations.

Advocacy Groups, Social Service Organizations, and Environmental Groups

People care about polar bears, clean highways, and taxes. Advocacy groups, social service organizations, and environmental groups pursue different missions, but these nonprofits converge upon the desire to enact social change.

This shared dedication to social change leads to these organizations pursuing similar prospect contingencies. People volunteer for these types of nonprofits or show up to events, and these people are who should be screened in order to reveal the major gift prospects among them.

Volunteer opportunities and events tend to occur on planned dates, which means that your nonprofit can plan ahead and identify who will be attending ahead of time. This allows your fundraising staff to focus on the prospects who have the capacity to make a major gift.


The information that organizations seek from prospect research is largely the same, but nonprofits differ in who they screen and why. Focus on the prospects who are right for your organization in order to uncover major gift prospects who will want to give to your nonprofit.

Keep reading about prospect research by checking out these awesome additional resources:

  1. Prospect Profile Templates  Creating prospect profiles is an essential part of prospect research. Luckily, we’ve got FREE templates to help you capture key information on your prospects.
  2. Wealth Screening Ultimate Guide — Similar to prospect research, wealth screening helps organizations discover which supporters have the capacity to be major donors. Learn how you can conduct wealth screenings on your donors.
  3. Annual Fundraising Strategies — There is no better time to conduct prospect research than during your annual fund. Learn how prospect research can help boost your fundraising efforts year round.
Build a solid foundation for your healthcare fundraising with a wealth screening demo from DonorSearch!
How does prospect research vary by nonprofit cause?