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By chris

Fundraising is not a passive activity. Just like any other nonprofit, religious organizations need to get active and call prospects, host events, and engage donors in order to raise the funds that allow them to operate at full capacity.

To boost your church fundraising efforts, we’ll answer:

  1. Why do faith-based organizations need prospect research?
  2. How is prospect screening unique for faith-based organizations?
  3. Who should you focus on?
  4. When should you screen?
  5. Where to do screenings?
  6. What are the benefits of screening?

Keep reading to learn more!

Why do faith-based organizations need prospect research?

Religiously affiliated schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, and mission-based organizations all have expenses. From facilities to employees to charitable projects, religious organizations require fundraising in order to deliver for the communities they serve.

Major donations are what your religious organization wants. Most nonprofits receive the bulk of their funds from major gifts, and faith-based organizations are no different. The traditional rule is that approximately 90% of donations come from 10% of donors, so finding that 10% is crucial.

Religious organizations have members, students, employees, and other community members who could give. Who is willing to give a major gift, generally regarded as a donation of $5,000+, isn’t an exact science, but without prospect research your nonprofit is left to guess who to dedicate time and energy to. Guessing about which donors to pursue will waste resources that you need to be dedicating to legitimate major gift prospects.

Check out our free white paper on Major Giving: Prospects and Approaches.

Bottom line: Just like any other organization, churches need prospect research to be able to learn more about potential parishioners and current members.

How is prospect screening unique for faith-based organizations?

Religious individuals tend to be passionate about their beliefs, which is great news for religious fundraisers. People want the religions they support, their local house of worship, and the facilities that host worship ceremonies to thrive. The motivation for donating is alive and well, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to people giving the big gifts that your nonprofit needs.

Lots of small gifts are fine, and should be welcomed with open arms. However, religious nonprofits can aspire to more, as they have plenty of places to look for major gift donors. Not only do faith-based organizations have members, but many of them run schools and community events, such as festivals or sports leagues, which can attract a variety of community members.

For churches, prospect research isn’t about trying to find people with the capacity to give, but instead, people who are willing to give to your religious organization. Looking for prospects also involves looking for potential congregation members: people who are willing to join your congregation, give to your organization, and participate in various community events.

As a result, prospect research for churches won’t always look for the same factors as other nonprofits. Instead of focusing on a person’s giving capacity, churches should put a higher emphasis on a person’s religious contributions.

Additionally, churches will use prospect research to look at existing congregants to see if there is potential for them to give more.

Bottom line: Churches need to focus on finding the reason why people give and looking for potential donors that have an interest in supporting your church.

Who should you focus on?

Many religions encourage charity, such as the Jewish faith does through the tradition of Tzedakah. However, people follow religions according to varying levels of strictness, so many people may feel no obligation to donate.

Aside from followers, religious organizations can have students, and those students have parents. Religiously-affiliated colleges and universities, as well as places of worship that offer religious classes and schools, have both alumni and parents from which they can request donations. There are a lot of these people to sift through, and prospect research can help you to identify the best prospects out of the bunch.

Then there are the people who work for your organization. Whether these people are teachers, administrators, or religious leaders, they can all give back in some form.

Prospect research saves you time by identifying who your organization should focus on.

Your fundraisers can only talk to so many people, and when they’re talking to the right people you stand a much better chance of raising the funds you need.

Bottom line: Churches should focus on conducting prospect research on current congregants and potential religious leaders.

When should you screen?

The best advice is to screen according to a schedule that works for you. No one knows your donors and when they like to give better than you. It’s best to target the busiest times of the year to make your biggest fundraising pushes. Donors already want to give, and a few friendly pushes can encourage them to give more.

What religious organizations can leverage more than most nonprofits are holidays. These are special times of the year when people tend to be in giving moods.

Akin to holidays, any special event run by your religious organization is a fundraising opportunity. Between special events and holidays, religious organizations may have more momentous reasons to reach out to donors than any other type of nonprofit.

Take advantage of these opportunities, and schedule your fundraising efforts accordingly.

Bottom line: Holidays are the perfect to time to conduct prospect research because this is when congregants give the most to organizations and faith-based institutions.

Where to do screenings?

An important component of incorporating prospect research in your fundraising approach within a faith-based setting is making sure that you’re doing it at the right time and in the right place. Not every event requires there to be prospect research or wealth screening ahead of time or ahead the event.

The trick is focusing on events where high net-worth donors will be in attendance or where they are individuals who could become high net-worth donors in the future.

For different ideas of events that your faith-based organization, check out this handy guide that @Pay put together.

Bottom line: While prospect screening can be beneficial for fundraising events, it’s not always necessary. Use prospect research for events with major donors.

What are the benefits of screening?

All this work to plan and execute prospect research, but what exactly is your religious organization getting out of it? A lot.

Important donor information that you’ll learn from prospect research includes:

  • Previous donations to nonprofits — People who already give to your organization are the most likely to turn into major gift donors. It’s also a good practice for nonprofits to look for donors from similar organizations, such as from other local groups who support the same religion, because these donors could become your donors, too.
  • Real estate ownership — The monetary value of real estate owned is a wealth indicator. This helps your fundraisers to know if a prospect has the capacity to give, which should be figured out after knowing if the prospect has an affinity for philanthropy.
  • Personal information — Cleaning up your donor database gets easier when you have updated contact information. Prospect research can also unveil marital statuses and hobbies that your donors engage in, which can help fundraisers to craft the types of personal appeals that resonate with donors.

Additionally, prospect research can be used to enhance the success of your fundraising events. Think about it this way: a fundraising event is only effective if your congregants are interested in attending. With personal information on your donors’ hobbies and interests, you can create events that will excite and engage your guests.

The more people that are interested in coming to your event, the more money you can raise through admission fees and other fundraising ideas.

For instance, if you’re hosting a silent auction, prospect research can help you determine what types of items to procure for the event. Perhaps your congregation is interested in acquiring sports memorabilia or an exotic trip.

You can also use it to find new prospects that you can invite as guests to your fundraiser. No matter what type of church fundraising event you want to host, prospect research can help you plan an event that will engage your donors and help you find more interested guests to attend.

With all of this prospect research and more in hand, fundraisers will be able to:

  • Convert more annual donors into major gift donors.
  • Find new prospects that are more likely to turn into donors.
  • Improve fundraising efforts so that they’re more personal, timely, and effective.

Religious organizations matter to individuals and communities.

Bottom line: With prospect research, you can plan fundraisers that provide memorable experiences and keep congregants excited to give more in the future.


If you’re new to prospect research or want to learn more about how prospect research can help your religious nonprofit, then schedule a demo with a dedicated member of the DonorSearch team today.

For more information on prospect research, check out these additional resources: 

  • Prospect Research Ultimate Guide. Looking for more information on prospect research? This guide is full of basic information as well as tools to help you get started.
  • Wealth Screening. A huge part of prospect research is determining if your supporters have the potential to be major gift donors. Learn more about how to perform wealth screening.
  • Top Fundraising Software Platforms. You’ll need the right tools to help your church raise more money. We’ve got a list of 8 fundraising tools your church can use.

Schedule a demo of DonorSearch's products!

Prospect Research for Religious Organizations