Development Success Depends Upon Prospect Research!
I was fortunate to play on a high school football team in West Virginia during two of a three-year time span when they went undefeated and won three straight state football championships. If people watched the games, they would think we had the best players. In truth, we had the best players and coaches! No team during each week had the ritual we had to follow. Each day was scripted for a reason. The most important element to the team success was research and coaches that could utilize the research for us.
We knew when the other team lined up how many times statistically they would either pass or run and to what side of the field based upon their formation. We practiced plays over and over physically and mentally until we knew more about our opponents than they did. The same principle can be applied to the development process. To win victories with prospects and donors you need to have research on them. Without research, you will fail to maximize fundraising potential.
In an article titled “The Basics of Prospect Research,” Ryan Woroniecki, VP of strategic partnerships at DonorSearch, said prospect research is a “fundraising technique that helps uncover the personal backgrounds, philanthropic histories, wealth markers and charitable motivations of donors and prospects.” This technique is utilized by fundraisers, development teams and nonprofit organizations to evaluate a prospect’s ability to give and his or her affinity for an organization. He notes that the most common use of prospect research is to discover major gift donors because it allows staff to target the best potential prospects.
According to the article, here are the benefits of prospect research:
1. Refine major gift outreach.
2. Identify planned or deferred gift prospects.
3. Generate new prospects.
4. Assess fundraising opportunities.
5. Clean up your donor data.
DonorSearch’s blog post titled, “Five Steps to Fundraising with Prospect Research” suggests that identifying major gift donors is an important step toward maximizing your organization’s fundraising efforts. The following five steps are given as a basis to enhance prospect research:
1. Prepare a strategy for handling prospect research.
2. Clean up old prospect data.
3. Develop a solicitation plan.
4. Analyze prospect screening results.
5. Go get those checks.
The article also points out that conversations with major gift prospects should revolve around the organization’s mission and not the donor’s wealth. “Past philanthropy is a better indicator of potential giving than wealth. It is the hard work and process of cultivation that will drive gifts,” the article states.
Another blog post titled “No Tricks, Just Treats with Great Donor Prospect Research” explains how fundraisers find major donors and notes that there are three ways to do prospect research, which are doing it yourself, hiring prospect screening consultants or utilizing prospect research companies. Proper research provides a variety of information, but a diverse strategy of obtaining and using data is the best approach. The top five indicators of future giving are giving to your organization, charitable giving to other organizations, participation with a nonprofit, political giving and real estate ownership.
There are several companies that provide wealth data on prospects and donors. YieldStreet.com wanted to know which company is preferred between DonorSearch, WealthPoint and WealthEngine. Answers from this question ranged from recommending Raklet, DonorSearch, AffluenceIQ, Blackbaud to Google. The respondents stated that no tool is 100 percent accurate, but more like 95 percent accurate. The consensus was that nonprofits need to use tools that provide research information on prospects and donors. From my experience, you will use a variety of companies, all of whom will provide a mixture of success and failure to meet your research efforts.
As the Compass Group notes, the science of fundraising requires the identification of enough prospects at the necessary levels to reach your major gift objectives. That’s the beginning! Allocating time and resources to identify and qualify prospects is challenging for many organizations, but the return on investment is both important and necessary for fundraising success.
Just like my football team, it is up to the coaches (in this case staff) to use wealth information and prospect research wisely. At some point, you need to engage a development committee, key administration and community volunteers to review prospect research data and apply this data to develop a strategy for each prospect. The public information gleaned from wealth tools is a starting point.
You will then need to gather additional private prospect data gathered from an identification, rating and screening process. This process of confidential inquiry between a variety of engaged individuals will help determine if these prospects have the LAI (Linking, Ability, Inclination) to make a significant gift to your organization. At the end of the day, you need to stimulate each prospect to make a significant gift for an area of focus that resonates with them. This prospect research process is complex and must be handled in a team approach to ensure success. The key to winning on the football field or in a donor’s home depends on preparation, practice and research. Leave nothing to chance. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Make wealth research tools work for you!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.