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By chris

This post was written by Bill Tedesco, CEO of DonorSearch


Real estate holdings are the wealth marker extraordinaire. They are the cream of the crop.

Why?

Significant real estate ownership can act as more than a wealth marker. It has philanthropic predictive capabilities as well.

Those who own $2+ million in real estate are 17 times as likely to give as an average prospect is.

With trends like that, it is easy to see why real estate ownership can be so significant in analyzing a donor’s giving capacity.

In order to get to the point where you utilize real estate ownership as a tool to better understand giving capacity, you have to first better understand the research that goes into uncovering real estate ownership.

Below, you’ll find five ways your nonprofit can investigate real estate ownership and discover if any of your prospects or donors has significant holdings.

The first three methods listed refer specifically to the process of hunting down details on properties. In particular, you’ll need to know a property’s:

  • Market value
  • Taxable value

Once you have that information, consider points four and five. The final two suggestions take the word “significant” into account. They should help your team decide how to classify their findings after extensive research.

1. Let a screening tool help.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t open this discussion by advising you to consider letting a prospect screening do the heavy lifting. By analyzing data from a charitable giving database among other resources, you can learn more about your donor’s:

  • Real estate holdings
  • What those holdings mean
  • How they apply to various other predictive factors for the donor you’re investigating.

For more information, read through this discussion of our charitable giving database.

2. Use a real estate website.

If you have an internet connection and your prospect’s address, there are various free search tools you can use to discover details on your donor’s property(ies).

Zillow

We recommended Zillow as one of our prospect research tools here and with good reason.

With Zillow, you can search a donor’s address and retrieve the website’s Zestimate. The Zestimate is not a hard and fast appraisal, but it will give you a good ballpark. You can also see the most recent sale price. The investigative value of that price will vary depending on how recently the prospect purchased the home.

Realtor.com

Similar to Zillow, Realtor.com will give an estimate and the sale history. Switch the search option to property records and type the address into the empty field. Once you have your desired location pulled up, move from the overview tab to the property history tab. There, you’ll find the purchase price and the date of purchase.

Trulia

Trulia has comparable features to Realtor.com and Zillow. For Trulia searches, you’ll be taking advantage of the recently sold option.

At the end of the day, pick the resource you use based on the user-experience that is most appealing. 

3. Search a county tax assessor’s site.

Visit pulawski.net to locate the tax assessor’s website for the county of the address you’re interested in. When you arrive at the specific county’s website, your search will be dictated by the capacity of the county’s searchable database. Sometimes you’ll need the owner’s name and address, while other times the name or the address will be sufficient on its own.

4. Consider geography in your analysis.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully researched and determined the value of a prospect’s real estate holdings.

Now what?

Before going any further, consider where the property is located. It can better clue you into the financial situation of your donors.

There are two levels of geography you’ll want to evaluate:

  1. How does the property’s price compare to the property values in the area? A million dollar house in one city might tell a drastically different story than a million dollar house in another town. Use logical reasoning and your best judgement to figure out what the property value fully indicates about a prospect’s giving capacity.
  2. Is the address you’re researching the prospect’s primary residence? For one, more property tends to indicate a higher net worth. If you realize you might be researching a vacation home, you can dig in to find the primary address. For instance, an address might be a beach front property on the coast of Florida in a vacation town. That might be a primary property, but there’s a good chance that it is a second home.

When you’re deep into the research process, it’s easy to get entirely caught up in the numbers. Prices and property values are critical to understanding real estate as a wealth and philanthropic marker, but they are even more informative in context.

5. Assess the bigger picture.

Outside of wealth and an increased likelihood of giving, significant real estate holdings can provide plenty of valuable insights about your prospects.

With accurate real estate information, you can:

  • Gauge a prospect’s lifestyle. Does the prospect own three homes located at the respective bases of the three most popular mountains for skiing and snowboarding in North America? Clearly, winter sports are at the very least, an important hobby. From that data, you can extrapolate that the prospect splits time between multiple homes. If that is the case, your direct mail might sit unopened far longer than an email would wait in an inbox or phone call go unanswered. You wouldn’t want your carefully curated informational package on major giving to remain sealed while your prospect enjoys the slopes, would you?
  • Plug real estate value into formulas to estimate a prospect’s net worth. While definitive figures on other types of assets are hard to come by, if you have an address, you have a good chance of finding accurate numbers on the property value. From there, you’ll be reverse calculating.
  • Discover a prospect’s role in their greater community. If your organization works locally within your community and you discover a prospect who owns multiple high-value properties in your area, that’s a prospect you will want to actively pursue. Even if they don’t become your biggest donor, it’s important to have strong relationships with the power players in your city.

Prospect research can leave a treasure trove of invaluable information at your feet, but it is your organization’s job to pick up that treasure trove and invest it appropriately.


At the end of the day, no matter how you go about collecting and evaluating information on your prospects’ real estate holdings, the key is that you go through the process. Define what constitutes ‘significant’ at your organization, and start the search. You may learn even more than you predicted in the process!

Major Gift Whitepaper

5 Ways to Determine if a Prospect Has Significant Real Estate Holdings