8 Prospect Research Lessons From Year-End Giving Season
Lesson No. 6: Embrace the current giving mood of your donors.
To circle back to the point mentioned earlier in this article, much of the success of year-end giving stems from the fact that people are more open to donating during that time of year.
When it comes to asking for donations throughout the rest of the year, you probably won’t be able to recreate that same December magic. You will, however, be able to apply a similar logic to how and when you solicit gifts.
In other words, leverage prospect research to learn what makes your donors tick and then ask for contributions when they’ll be more likely to say yes.
Ways of determining an ideal asking time include:
- Reviewing a donor’s giving history and finding trends: Does one of your donors always give in February? That’s the ideal time to make an ask and think about upgrading the donor.
- Studying how a donor typically likes to give: Does that same February donor always mail in his donations? You should probably stay in touch through direct mail and other, more traditional communications channels.
- Thinking of less conventional factors that might influence your donors: For instance, this year is an election year. If your organization has any kind of political ties, now would be the time to focus on that side of things, while politics are fresh in the minds of your donors.
The bottom line: Try to recreate the momentum of year-end giving by finding the best times to reach out to your supporters about donating.
Lesson No. 7: Refine your donor profiles.
A lot of the advice that’s been provided up to this point has been about one specific group: prospects. And it is fairly apparent why that is.
But when it comes to year-end giving, much of the work your organization does is about more than suddenly acquiring a whole new set of donors. It’s about having one more interaction with the donors who regularly support you—your existing donor pool.
Prospect research can be a huge help when examining your existing donor pool.
More specifically, prospect research can assist you in refining your donor profiles, which should be a year-round priority.
As you add layers to the depth of information you have stored on your donors, you can develop a more tactful and effective approach to cultivation and solicitation.
Much of successful donor relations is about understanding what influences your donors and providing them with the kind of donor experience that best suits their interests. Refine your donor profiles so that you can see firsthand the results that come from having such knowledge.
There are three main areas where refinement will play a large role:
1. Finding major gift prospects among your annual fund donors.
With the information found in a prospect screening, you might just be able to uncover major-gift candidates in your midst.
Just because someone has the financial capacity to make a major contribution doesn’t mean that they are going to do so. For example, during a screening, you could realize that one of your annual fund donors is a major donor at another organization.
Use that information to your advantage! Investigate why he or she might not be donating as much to your cause and come up with a plan to change things for the better.
2. Improving how you reach out to major-gift prospects.
Once you’ve done the work of finding major-gift prospects within your donor pool, it’s time to actually reach out to them. And the more refined your profiles on those donors are, the more effective the process will be.
As far as cultivation customization goes, the sky's the limit. When you have a treasure trove of data in front of you, informing the decisions you make, cultivation and solicitation opportunities abound.
Think outside of the box, and find ways to engage with your major donors when and how they’d like to be interacted with.
You might, for instance, discover that one of your major-gift prospects is a big time volunteer, which implies that he or she likes to see the work you do and help with it at the ground level.
Next time you’re hosting a big event, ask that donor to volunteer.
It’s win-win-win. Your event gets a great volunteer. Your volunteer gains valuable experience with your organization. And your nonprofit forges a stronger bond with a high-quality prospect.
Everyone benefits when you use your advanced knowledge of your donors to design more impactful experiences.
3. Discovering candidates for planned giving.
Identifying candidates for planned giving is not without its challenges. Planned givers share some traits with major donors but can be drastically different in other ways.
If your organization uses prospect research to refine its donor profiles, you’ll be far better situated to make educated decisions about who among your pool would be interested in and open to contributing a planned gift.
Many planned-gift donors have long and storied histories with the organizations they choose to donate to. In fact, 78 percent of planned giving donors gave more than 15 gifts to the organizations named in their wills during their lifetimes. That kind of correlation cannot be ignored.
The more developed your donor database is, the better chance you’ll have of finding the unique markers that signify a planned-giving prospect in your list—starting, of course, with a strong tie to your organization.
The bottom line: If you have the resources available, you should be doing all you can to refine your donor profiles any time of year. You never know when that extra bit of information is going to make a big difference.
Lesson No. 8: Locate new donors.
While working from within your donor pool is important during year-end giving season, you have to keep yourself open to the possibility of a new influx of donors.
Locating new donors as a lesson has been alluded to at various points throughout this discussion, so we’re going to keep it short and sweet.
When looking for new donors, lean on prospect research.
- Subscribe to a screening service
- Hire consultants
- Perform the research in-house
- Or, some combination thereof
The bottom line: Whether you’re a small office or a large, established nonprofit, prospect research can illuminate your path to a growing donor pool.
Bonus! If your organization is new to prospect research and looking to dip its toes in the water, scan through this list of tools for some helpful suggestions and inspiration.
Now is the time to kick your fundraising into gear. Accelerate into this year with prospect research propelling your nonprofit forward!
Bill Tedesco is a well-known entrepreneur in the field of philanthropy with more than 15 years of experience leading companies serving the fundraising profession.
Bill has personally conducted original research to identify markers of philanthropy and has developed modeling and analytical products that use those markers to accurately predict future giving.
Since 2007, Bill has been the founder, CEO and managing partner of DonorSearch.