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If your nonprofit organization is conducting prospect research, you typically won’t be able to screen everyone due to time and resource constraints. One of the first major decisions you will likely need to make is which donors on your list or within your database to research. This is one of the most important decisions your organization will need to make because it plays a major role in how the results can be implemented into your fundraising activities.

Think strategically about why you are performing prospect research and how you will use the results. Here are a few sample questions to ask yourself or your development staff:

  • What information does your organization already have about your donors?
  • Is your organization performing prospect screening before or after a major fundraising event?
  • Will the prospect research be used to help with a specific type of fundraising (i.e., major giving, annual giving, planned giving)?
  • Is your organization trying to identify new donors or learn more about existing donors?

Based on your answers to the questions above, we suggest using one of the approaches listed below to refine your prospect research strategy. Each approach has its own advantages and specific uses so work with your development team to determine which one will best support your organization’s fundraising goals:

Event-specific prospect research

Do you have a major event coming up where your development staff will interact directly with a large number of donors?

By screening your list of expected attendees prior to the event, you can identify the highest quality prospects to focus on. During the course of the event, a member of your development team can connect with each of the prospects one-on-one to introduce themselves and open the door for future communications.

Has your event already occurred? Prospect screening can reveal which of the attendees are high quality prospects. Use that information to determine which prospects should receive a personal call from a member of the development team to thank them for attending the event. If you have already thanked all the event attendees, use the information to identify which prospects should be first on the invite list for your next major event.

Perfect events for prospect research include:

  • Galas
  • Donor dinners
  • Special receptions
  • Alumni events for educational nonprofits
  • New parent events for educational nonprofits

Prospect research by historical gift size

Another common approach to segmenting donors is to focus on those individuals or foundations that have already made major charitable contributions in the past. This method of prospect screening has two major benefits:

  1. Determine if your existing major donors have business or philanthropic relationships with other potential donors. For example, some of your existing donors may serve on the board of a foundation or nonprofit organization and could be willing to facilitate introductions between the other members of the board and your development team.
  2. Learn more about your major donors – donors that have given generously in the past are likelier than the average person to give in the future. Learning more about their giving histories, interests, and personal relationships may provide insight into how to grow the existing relationships.

Prospect research by donor loyalty 

A great place to start with prospect research is analyzing those donors who have demonstrated an affinity for your organization, specifically those who have given charitably over multiple years. For this approach, the size of the gift is not nearly as important as the number of years the donor has given charitably. Here are a few examples of why this matters:

  1. You may identify loyal donors who have made major gifts to other nonprofit organizations. These are ideal prospects for your development team to focus on because they have demonstrated an affinity for your organization and also have the capacity to make a major gift.
  2. The number of gifts a donor makes to a nonprofit organization is the best indicator of whether they are likely to make a deferred donation or bequest (types of planned giving). In fact, 78% of planned giving donors typically give 15 or more gifts in their lifetime. By identifying these planned giving prospects, your development team will be able to open a dialogue and facilitate the donation process.

Did you know DonorSearch will screen your first 200 prospects for free? See a demo of our prospect research services >

3 Ways to Segment Your Donors for Prospect Research