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Apr 27, 2021 2:08:36 PM by Sarah Tedesco

Prospect Research | Find New Leads For Your Nonprofit

Prospect Research _ Find New Leads For Your Nonprofit

As a modern fundraiser, you already know that donor data is a cornerstone of effective nonprofit fundraising. It allows organizations to discover gift opportunities, improve solicitations, and continue refining their strategies over time. The more you know about your donors, the better you can engage with them and optimize your fundraising strategy to meet their needs. 

While 2020 has led nonprofit professionals to pursue new virtual opportunities and realign their goals, the importance of high-quality donor data has not changed. 

One use of that donor data is prospect research, which is a strategy that pinpoints key fundraising data in order to better understand your supporters and identify high impact donors.

With either a dedicated prospect research tool or help from a consultant, prospect research screens each of your donor’s personal backgrounds, giving histories, philanthropic indicators, and wealth metrics. From there, you can determine how likely a donor is to give and even how much a donor might give. 

In this guide, you’ll learn about how prospect research methods can unveil new leads and supercharge your fundraising.  We’ll cover prospect research tactics to:

  1. Uncover your major donors.

  2. Connect with current donors via social media.

  3. Take advantage of corporate giving.

  4. Identify potential donors.

Your donors are the main driver for your organization and helped you accomplish what you have so far— it’s worth it to learn a little more about them. Let’s begin.

1. Uncover your major donors.

Most nonprofits turn to prospect research to increase their major gift funds. According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, about 90% of charitable contributions come from 15% of donors. These donors make mission-changing gifts.

However, it’s extremely rare for major donors to surprise you with a large gift out of nowhere. There needs to be an underlying relationship and foundation to foster that generosity. 

DonorSearch’s guide to major gifts recommends screening your donor database to determine a prospect’s affinity to give and their capacity to give. The more positive philanthropic indicators, like evidence of past giving and a regular volunteer history, the more likely a donor will give. The more positive capacity indicators, like stock ownership and business affiliation, the more a donor has to give financially. A donor with positive indicators for both these traits is more likely to make a major gift.

Identifying potential major donors is just the first step. It’s going to take more than a simple email to convince them that your cause is worth giving to. To cultivate a major gift, your best bet is to genuinely connect with these donors and prioritize these relationships. 

A great way to build solid relationships with your donors is to optimize your most common engagements with them— your communications and marketing efforts. For instance:

  • Personalize all emails, letters, etc., with the donor’s name and other relevant unique details.

  • Increase your non-ask emails with updates to your nonprofit’s mission and major accomplishments.

  • Send invitations to all upcoming virtual events.

  • Invest in automation tools to trigger emails after actions like making a gift or signing up for a virtual event. 

One of the best ways to jumpstart a lifelong donor relationship is to showcase your donor appreciation. Thanking your donors after a gift shows them that their contribution genuinely mattered and has made a difference to your cause. According to Eleven Fifty Seven’s guide to donor recognition, it’s key to keep the focus of any acknowledgment program on the donor and their impact.  

2. Connect with current donors via social media.

Almost 3 billion people worldwide are social media users. Social media is a prevalent engagement strategy for corporations and larger nonprofits to reach their younger, more tech-savvy audience.  

For example, the World Wildlife Fund has over 3 million followers on Instagram. This nonprofit social media account has inspired its followers to action with stunning photos of animal life.

Even if you don’t have millions of followers, social media can still greatly benefit your nonprofit, both in cultivating donor relationships and spreading awareness of your mission. While this is especially popular during Giving Tuesday initiatives, it’s also a helpful strategy year-round. Bring your donor engagement into the current decade and meet your donors on a platform they’re already familiar with.

Social discovery is a branch of prospect research that unearths more about your donors through their social media activity and then adapts those findings to your next marketing strategy. 

Your best bet is to invest in a prospect research tool with social discovery functionality. This means your prospect research tool will screen your entire donor database for key metrics like:

  • Followers and influence. Highlighting donors who have a high follower count can clue you into users with wide influence. If you’re fostering relationships with these donors they can even fundraise for you. One simple post or mention of your nonprofit can spread awareness about your mission.

  • Personal passions. Learn more about your donors by taking into account their likes and dislikes, who else they follow, and how they spend their free time. Develop donor relationships more effectively with content based on what they actually like!

Take a look at your social discovery insights and identify any interesting patterns and common traits. With this information, you can optimize your existing marketing strategy, such as by increasing the amount of content you share on the most popular platforms your supporters use.

With the typical adult having at least 3 social media accounts, it makes sense to engage with supporters on at least one of them. Social media has become just as much about keeping up with brands you like and influencers whose opinions you care about as it is about connecting with friends. Your nonprofit can take advantage of this too! 

3. Take advantage of corporate giving.

Taking advantage of any fundraising opportunity is essential to ensuring you make a meaningful impact on your mission. One of the most frequently missed fundraising opportunities is corporate matching gift programs.

Corporate matching gift programs are a form of corporate philanthropy that helps you raise funds without having to ask your donors to give any more. Companies with corporate matching gift programs will match a gift made by one of their employees at a 1:1 (or higher!) ratio to eligible charitable organizations.  

With an estimated $4-7 billion in matching gift funds going unclaimed per year, why are so many nonprofits not taking advantage of this opportunity? For one thing, most donors, even if their employers do have a matching gift program, don’t even know the possibility exists. 

Using your prospect research tool, identify a donor’s business affiliations to determine who can possibly double their gifts. Many nonprofit professionals will use some sort of matching gift tool in conjunction with their prospect research tool to make this easier. 

A dedicated matching gift tool will have access to all the top matching gift companies and their specific guidelines. This way, you can simply screen for a certain business affiliation and then send those donors materials explaining how they can submit a request.

Your best bet is to invest in a corporate giving search tool that you can embed into a customized online donation page. This way, donors can simply search their employer as they are donating (or after), see if they qualify, and submit their request. This article offers a complete walkthrough of the matching gift process so you can see how it would work for your nonprofit. 

Additionally, many companies that offer matching gifts may also have a volunteer grant program. Spreading awareness of these opportunities can help you convert your volunteers into donors.

4. Identify potential donors.

Prospect research can not only help you identify high-impact donors within your existing donor base, but also attract new donors. The more you learn about your current supporters and the more data you store, the easier it is to understand the types of donors who give to your cause. 

Once you identify the shared traits of your most engaged and loyal donors, you can create donor profiles. Donor profiles are basically “templates” of people who are likely to support your cause. They are usually made up of basic details like age, job, and education, as well as financial metrics like past gifts and estimated income. 

The more traits you use, the more in-depth your donor profiles will be and the more complex your understanding of a typical supporter. Some prospect research tools have advanced so much that they have even incorporated artificial intelligence (AI) for nonprofits. With AI capabilities, you can take into account an infinite number of donor metrics to form the best donor profile.

Donor profiles are essentially based on commonalities between your donors. Incorporate these commonalities into your next outreach efforts. For instance:

  • Are your donors active on certain social media platforms? Screen your donors with your social discovery tool and figure out where the majority of your donors are. If your supporters are big on Instagram, it makes sense to increase your Instagram activity in order to attract other like-minded prospects.

  • What generation are your supporters in? Say your biggest supporter base is Generation Z. Take advantage of this by offering ample volunteer opportunities or establish a school club to meet other prospects.

Finding these traits and creating donor profiles is a great tactic to attract prospective donors with similar values. Don’t be afraid to initiate engagements with them and introduce your mission! You never know, they might become lifelong supporters.

The best way to find new leads for your nonprofit is to take a look at your current donors. Invest in a capable prospect research tool now and continue to screen your donor database, even as your nonprofit grows. Good luck!


 Sarah Tedesco Author: Sarah Tedesco

Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.