• 0

By DonorSearch

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. It’s no coincidence that consistent donors are your most apt prospects to convert into major gift donors.

Previous charitable giving is the best indicator of future giving, and that’s why DonorSearch prioritizes philanthropy data over wealth screening.

That said, DonorSearch does incorporate wealth screening, because a complete picture of a donor is the only portrait worth having. An affinity for a particular organization matters more when a prospect has a history of charitable giving, which matters more when that prospect’s capacity to give equates to being a potential major gift donor. Prospect research brings all of this information and more together in a comprehensive, comprehensible format.

To get the most out of a screening, sort through your preexisting contacts from the above affiliation categories. You can screen everyone, or you can screen folks who demonstrate known indicators of major giving.

The goal of employing a prospect research company is two-fold: Save time and attain more information that’s more accurate. Weed out fruitless prospects, so you’re not spending money to screen prospects who you could have figured out yourself were not inclined to give significant donations.

Some criteria to think about when selecting who to screen:

  • Members versus single ticket purchasers
  • Demographic information
  • Donation history

Major gift prospect research won’t break your bank, and it’s a fundraising strategy that almost always returns on its investment, and plenty more.

4. When Arts and Cultural Nonprofits Should Screen

The age old dentist’s advice is to brush your teeth twice a day. You also want to floss and mouthwash doesn’t hurt. And don’t forget your retainer, so you don’t wake up with crooked teeth.

Ugh, that’s a lot of work for some pearly whites, but anything worth achieving requires hard work. Major gifts are no different. You need a plan of attack, and you need to be devoted.

You should screen according to a schedule that works for you. A museum might experience a constant influx of new donors and should screen more frequently, while a symphony might have a consistent audience and screen after longer intervals in order to acquire enough new names to make the research worth their while. Whatever variation of engagement that your organization experiences, you want to at least conduct an annual screening, although larger organizations should do even more than that.

As new people come to your shows and to see your exhibits, you’re receiving new people who need to be screened, segmented, and asked for donations. Small nonprofits can wait longer to screen, in order to build substantial enough prospect lists to make research cost-effective, but large organizations should be screening regularly.

Large arts and cultural organizations receive new faces all the time, and quarterly screenings are one such schedule that will keep you on top of your potential donors. Monthly screenings or a more open approach to screening, such as whenever you attain a certain number of new prospects, can also work well. Know who you are as an organization and how many new prospects you acquire per any set amount of time, and screen accordingly. If you fall behind on your prospect research then you may miss out on lucrative donations.

New to prospect research? Want to learn how a marriage between philanthropy screening and wealth data can lead to better major gift prospects? Sign up for a free demo today.

Schedule a demo of DonorSearch's products!

Prospect Research for Arts and Culture Nonprofits