How to begin researching prospects for fundraising

Date Published
11/14/2013

There is often a sense of confusion among organizations over the idea of what a prospect even is, according to The NonProfit Quarterly. Prospecting donors is a process that is deeply rewarding but also a common source of angst in the fundraising community. Here are a few tips:

Do background research
Simone Joyaux, founder of the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, makes the distinction that prospects aren’t simply individuals who organizations hope will give them financial support, but are people who are likely to contribute because they’ve demonstrated an interest in a nonprofit group’s mission or purpose. However, the signals of support don’t necessarily have to be directly through the organization itself. In other words, Joyaux identifies these individuals as predisposed to giving or supporting a philanthropic organization because of a shared interest. From that point, it’s the organization’s responsibility to qualify them as genuine prospects.

Accordingly, nonprofit prospect researchers can identify affiliated organizations as a jumping off point for locating prospective donors. For instance, Joyaux’s organization WFRI – an enterprise that supports the rights of women and girls – looks at other organizations in affiliated fields. If donors supported a local battered women’s shelter, they’re probably good candidates to be donors to the WFRI, Joyaux reasoned.

Nurture prospects to verify mutual interests
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean people will become donors, so nonprofit groups have to take the next step in organizing an outreach initiative to get them aware and involved in their mission. A group can hold an informational meeting using a list of donors it received through public lists and explain the appeal and connection it might have with their personal beliefs. If the prospect continues to be interested, then an organization will have a better chance of converting him or her into a donor. The NonProfit Times said enterprises should first look at their own donor base to recognize what has drawn them in to contribute. From here, nonprofits can be better informed about what community they’re serving and what will help connect with others to persuade them to contribute to similar causes.

Use software to help with management
The Nonprofit Technology Network recently released research regarding the benefits of donor management software for researching prospects. According to NTEN’s findings, many systems allow organizations to assign a priority label to every donor, which will then allow a nonprofit to track which donor has a more consistent record of giving versus those who have time gaps. With this information, fundraisers can then create a more targeted list of individuals that should be contacted during specific fundraising campaigns.

Meanwhile, Joyaux doesn’t recommend organizations immediately ask prospects to contribute. Instead, they should focus on distinguishing among a prospect’s interests and what they don’t like. From this point, a charitable organization can better identify what commonalities the group and prospects share to establish a strong relationship. Then the enterprise can begin thinking about what dollar amount a prospect is willing to give. There are a variety of tools available to organizations. In fact, The Nonprofit Quarterly has an up-to-date reference guide for giving online that allows individuals to look at national, state, regional and city data correlating to levels of contribution. While household giving capabilities can largely vary, these types of resources can give an organization a foundational understanding of how willing specific community members might be to contribute $50 or $500.

Donor management is an involved process that integrates social science methodologies with aesthetics from the humanities. There is a balanced approach that software for nonprofits can help sustain while creating a more effective strategy for identifying and nurturing new prospects.

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