2 Methods to Incorporate Prospect Research into Your Organization’s Fundraising

A post as brief as this one will not even be able to scratch the surface of the multitude of ways prospect research can be incorporated into your fundraising. 

However, what we can do is focus in on a few key strategies. This article, in particular, is going to look at how prospect research can inform your donor stewardship practices. 

Prospect research, especially given its name, is often thought of as a technique to employ during donor acquisition. While it’s true that prospect research can be an invaluable tool in scouting for strong giving candidates, it is equally true that prospect research can help you get to know your current donors better and keep them around longer.

One survey investigating why donors cease giving to a particular organization stated that 68% of those questioned cited over-solicitation as an influential factor in their decision to stop donating to certain organizations.

That’s unfortunate to hear and an avoidable problem, but the real issue arises when you try to determine how much a donor wants to be solicited or in what fashion. That’s when prospect research can help. You can use it to get to know your supporters better and refrain from making avoidable mistakes in your future stewardship of them.

Follow these two tips to leverage prospect research to improve how you steward your generous donors.

Before you start using prospect research, test out your stewardship-related fundraising success metrics. Then, you’ll be situated to evaluate and continue to get better once prospect research has entered the equation. 

1. Fill in and update any relevant and necessary personal data.

Your team cannot be expected to provide exemplary stewardship if they are not equipped with the basic information needed to properly communicate with donors. Although, in an ideal world, each time a supporter contributed all relevant data would be immediately entered into your system, that doesn’t always happen.

Even when you do have a complete set of personal data, its accuracy is not guaranteed.

Use the capabilities of prospect screenings to make sure you have the basic information on your donors down pat. With the help of research, you can learn a donor’s:

  • Full name: This is especially useful if a donor gets married and changes last names after an initial donation.
  • Address: You need the correct address for your direct mailing. You don’t want to waste the postage on an acknowledgement that will never reach the donor.
  • Spousal details: When you know a donor’s marital status and information about the spouse, there is a lot of fundraising potential. You can invite the couple, rather than solely the donor to events and/or make new connections based on the spouse’s affiliations.
  • Email: Email is the most convenient way to reach your donors and stay in touch. Make sure you have a way to land in their inboxes.

You can uncover even more details like birthdays and telephone numbers, each of which could be beneficial in your stewardship activities. Part of providing tip-top stewardship is making your donors feel recognized and included. Prospect research gives you the means to do so.

2. Better predict a future trajectory for your donors’ giving.

In addition to discovering the personal details about a donor, prospect research can reveal other information that is more relevant to philanthropy and the donor’s future with your organization.

You should be stewarding donors according to their giving level.

Major gift prospects require a different kind of stewardship than small gift prospects. Both are important and have significant roles in the ongoing success of your fundraising, but they have unique qualities that make universal stewardship practices difficult to impose on your team.

Nonprofits are constantly battling against limited time and resources, so while it would be worth it to have an in-person meeting with a donor who could give you a $15,000 gift, it might not be worth that time sacrifice to give a presentation to a donor that falls into the $20-$30 gift range. The latter donor should be segmented into a group of similar donors to receive communications largely through email and social media.

By comparing your donor pool to a series of databases, a screening will help you find all types of supporters hiding in plain sight, from candidates for major giving to candidates for planned giving. Leverage that information to use your staff’s time and your organization’s resources in the best way possible.

When you incorporate prospect research into the donor stewardship process, you get to know your donors considerably better. In turn, your organization, your supporters, and most importantly your mission, all benefit. It is win-win-win.

Stewardship and retention are significant, but they are only one side of the process. Check out this article to study up on acquisition and work prospect research into that half of your efforts, too. 

Sarah Tedesco
Executive Vice President, DonorSearch

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.


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