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Donor prospecting: A crash course in donor research

March 23, 2020
Kick off your donor prospecting process with these research tips.

Nonprofit organizations need donors to be sustainable. For small nonprofits with limited staff and resources, finding individual donors can sometimes be a challenge. That’s where donor prospecting comes in. Donor prospecting is the process of researching and evaluating potential donors according to their capacity and affinity to give to a nonprofit organization. 

Prospecting helps nonprofits not only to find new potential supporters, but also to convert them into donors. By developing targeted, cost-effective communications, you’ll be able to create long-lasting donor relationships.

How to identify prospective donors

As a first step to identifying new prospective donors, you’ll need to source a comprehensive list of possible supporters. Luckily, you can leverage your existing resources to find these giving prospects. To generate an initial list of prospects, look to your: 

  • In-house network. Your board, staff, volunteers, and customers all have friends, family, and contacts that would love to support you. Start by giving your in-house team the tools to be nonprofit advocates. Don’t just tell them to spread the word. Show them how to do it. One of the best ways to overcome this challenge is to launch a peer-to-peer campaign where your supporters can create a personal fundraising page and share it with their networks. 
  • Social media pages. Building a following on social media takes time and dedication, but it’s essential to connect with new audiences. Regularly post content that speaks to your purpose. Image-centric posts tend to perform better than text-only ones, so include a variety of images to help grab attention and break up blocks of text.
  • Fundraising events. When events are free and related to your purpose, you can attract many new attendees. Auctions, raffles, and on-site giving kiosks are just some of the ways you can raise money during your events. Spread the word through email and social media, and ask people to bring their friends. After your event, follow up with attendees to start building relationships and turning event attendees into donors.

Once you have a pool of prospective donors, you’ll want to focus your attention on those with the greatest likelihood and capacity to give to your nonprofit. Organize your list of prospects according to two main types of indicators: philanthropic indicators and wealth indicators. Let’s take a look at each.

Philanthropic indicators

Philanthropic indicators tell you how likely a prospect will be interested in supporting your cause. These indicators include:

  • Past giving history to your nonprofit
  • Previous giving to other nonprofits
  • Volunteer history
  • Board service at other nonprofits

Use these indicators to focus your prospect list (and outreach efforts) on those most likely to give to your nonprofit.

Wealth indicators

Wealth indicators tell you how much a prospective donor is able to contribute to your nonprofit. These indicators include: 

  • Real estate ownership
  • Stock ownership
  • Business affiliations
  • Income
  • Political giving
  • Age

Individually, these indicators will tell only part of a donor’s story. Using in-house and third-party data, collect this information in your donor database to consider it holistically when assessing a donor’s propensity to give to your nonprofit. 

How to turn prospects into donors

With your finalized list of potential supporters, you can begin turning these prospects into actual donors. While there are numerous ways to tackle this process, most nonprofits focus on developing strong, long-lasting relationships. 

Building a relationship with a potential donor is a lot like making a new friend. After identifying a potential donor, hold off on making an immediate ask for donations. Instead, take steps to learn more about them, discover common interests, and keep them invested. You should: 

  • Find out why they chose to engage with you. Why, for example, did they attend your event or sign up for your email newsletter? Ask them personally with a survey or a question at the end of your donation form so you can leverage this information in the future.
  • Share more information about your cause. While they may know a bit about your purpose, leverage data and personal anecdotes to demonstrate your impact on the community. Consider sharing a resource like your annual report to pique their interest in your nonprofit. 
  • Invite them to interact again. You might suggest that they attend a fundraising event, take a tour of your facility, or take part in a volunteer opportunity.

Once you are ready to make a donation appeal, however, ensure that your potential donors can easily find and support your nonprofit—starting with your website and online donation page. If potential donors land on your site and can’t figure out how to donate, you’ve missed out on acquiring a new donor. 

To make your donation page donor-friendly, we recommend:

  • Matching the look and feel of the page to your brand. People who feel like they’ve left your site can get confused or lose interest.
  • Providing an option to donate monthly. Being a monthly donor is a convenient way for your supporters to regularly give to your nonprofit. After signing up for a recurring gift program, their donation will be automatically disbursed to your account each month. 

Ultimately, for your prospecting to be successful, your website needs to be clear, concise, and user-friendly. Ideally, within thirty seconds of looking at your homepage, a donor should know your nonprofit’s name, your purpose, and how to support you. 

Keep the conversation going

Whether you’re starting a new nonprofit or you’ve been at this for a while, there are always new ways to build and strengthen relationships with donors and prospects. But managing communications with potential donors can get complicated if you don’t have the right tools. A donor management system like Bonterra Donor Engagement’s Guided Fundraising solution (formerly Network for Good) makes it easy to keep all of your donor notes and activities organized and quickly accessible. 

As time goes by, remember to incorporate donor communications best practices into your donor prospecting plan. Check in with your donors periodically, and not just with direct asks. If you keep donor conversations going with your software and treat them with respect, these prospects will become your nonprofit’s champions and loyal donors.

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