Enhance Your Prospect Research Process: 3 Key Things to Know

Enhance Your Prospect Research Process: 3 Key Things to Know

Julia Claire Campbell Fundraising, Nonprofits, Online Fundraising

Guest post by Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President of DonorSearch

As a nonprofit professional, there have likely been many times when you’ve taken a look at your nonprofit’s fundraising results and wondered, “How could we do better?” 

Of course, there are a variety of ways to improve your fundraising strategy, from tracking and evaluating campaign metrics to experimenting with new ways of standing out on social media. But one of the most effective methods to get better fundraising results is to improve your major donor selection process through prospect research. 

Prospect research, also known as prospecting, is the process of reviewing individuals’ affinity and capacity markers to identify viable prospects who your nonprofit can then cultivate relationships with. 

Too often nonprofits let their approach to prospect research go stale. Don’t let this be the case for your organization—instead, make an effort to consistently learn and implement new strategies to find more valuable donors. In this post, we’ll help you get started by covering three things to know if you want to enhance your prospect research process. 

Ready to get better fundraising results by refining your prospect research efforts? Then let’s begin! 

1. There’s a distinct relationship between prospecting and wealth screening. 

In discussions about prospect research, you will often see the term “wealth screening” or the more general “screening” come up. Some organizations treat the two processes as completely different, with wealth screening focused on donors’ financial capacity alone, but this is an outdated way of thinking about them. 

In reality, wealth screening is a form of prospect research, and both processes take into account: 

  • Capacity or wealth markers: Capacity markers tell you that a donor is in a financial position to give a large gift. These include salary, net worth, real estate ownership, business affiliations, SEC transactions, and political giving history.  
  • Philanthropic markers: Philanthropic markers show the donors’ history of giving to philanthropic causes, indicating they’re people who care about charitable causes. These markers include things like previous donations to nonprofits (hopefully nonprofits with similar missions to yours!). 
  • Affinity markers: Affinity markers tell you how likely it is a donor will give to your specific organization. These include the individuals’ nonprofit involvement history (like volunteering or board service) and their personal information, such as their values or interests that are connected to your cause. 

The reason you’ll look at capacity, affinity, and philanthropic information when prospecting or screening is that capacity alone doesn’t necessarily indicate that a prospect wants to give to your nonprofit, just that they’re able to give a large gift. You need all three types of information to learn whether or not your prospect is inclined to support your specific cause and is a philanthropically-minded individual. 

Ultimately, your goal when researching your donors through these processes should be to get a fuller picture of who your supporters are and how you can strengthen your relationships with them and encourage giving. 

2. AI can help you qualify prospects. 

You’ve likely heard the recent buzz about AI with the rise of tools like ChatGPT and Bard. But did you know that there are also prospect research tools out there that leverage high-quality AI capabilities to help you find, qualify, and reach out to prospects? 

According to DonorSearch, the right tools can help you prospect effectively by:

  • Enriching your existing data with more information
  • Identifying and segmenting high-affinity prospects with high accuracy 
  • Predicting the time of year that an individual is most likely to give
  • Predicting how much someone could give using capacity information 
  • Predicting the most effective approach to engaging each prospect based on individual preferences      

Consider the prospect research AI solutions on the market and find the one that best fits your organization. You’ll want a tool that is precise, scalable, and user-friendly, and that comes with many other capabilities, such as the functionality to help you find out more about your donors’ social media presences so you can get to know them on a deeper level. 

In addition to prospect research solutions with AI functionality, you’ll likely use many other tools to identify prospects’ capacity and affinity markers, like SEC investment records and your nonprofit’s CMS

3. Data from prospect research can help you build long-lasting relationships. 

Prospect research produces a wealth of information that can help you get started reaching out to newly-discovered prospects. After all, once you’ve found a prospect, you already know a little bit about them, including their interests, giving capacity, and philanthropic history. But data points alone won’t lead to donations and sustained involvement—only strong relationships will! 

Here are some tips for kickstarting your relationship-building efforts using your prospect research data: 

  • Personalize your outreach. Everyone has different communication preferences. Some of your prospects may want to interact with you via social media, while others might prefer a call on the phone. Use what you’ve learned about their communication preferences to ensure you’re sending your communications through a channel that resonates with them.  
  • Spend time getting to know prospects as people. Prospects are people, not data points. Reach out to them with the goal of getting to know them as individuals with families, social lives, and careers. Ask them what they enjoy reading, how their children are doing in school, and what hobbies they love doing on the weekends. Doing so will help your organization come across as more genuine. 
  • Tailor your donation asks. Once you’ve developed your relationship with a prospect to the point where it’s time to make a donation ask, you should spend time carefully catering your asks to individual prospect preferences. For example, you might draft a donation ask that aligns with your prospect’s passions, or plan to issue your ask on an important anniversary like their two-year mark of volunteering with your nonprofit. 
  • Add to your donor prospect profiles as you go. Donor prospect profiles are your nonprofit’s source of truth for each prospect interaction. This is where you store all the information you gathered in the prospecting process. But you can also add to them as you build relationships with those prospects, making notes on important interactions and new insights. This means that anyone at your organization can quickly get up to speed on individual prospect progress in the donation pipeline. 
  • Express gratitude throughout the process. That’s right—even before you’ve secured a donation from a prospect, you should make sure they know you’re grateful for their time and effort spent getting to know you and your organization. Fundraising Letters recommends sending digital cards. These highly-visual and customizable cards can be a quick way to communicate how much a prospect is valued by your nonprofit. 

As you work to build relationships with your prospects, remember that retention and continued involvement is the goal, not just a one-time donation. Do everything you can to invite your prospects to get involved in multiple facets of your mission, from your volunteer program to your planned giving society. This will ensure that their connection to your cause deepens and they become more and more invested in the success of your mission. 

A fine-tuned prospect research process is one of the best tools your nonprofit can use to improve its fundraising results. After all, major donations are a big source of nonprofit revenue, and prospect research can help you identify more major donors. 

Use the three insights we’ve walked through today to get started improving your approach to prospect research. Doing so will pay off as you raise the revenue needed to do more for your mission. Good luck!

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.