Usually around the time of campaign planning when a financial goal is set, a fund development team at one point asks itself:
“Great! Where do we get the prospects?” While some charities have in-house researchers to comb through the database and find prospects for the new goal, most fundraising shops do not, so it is a frequent question I receive from my clients.
There are several questions that need to be asked before prospect identification including:
What is your CASE for Support (what are you raising money for)?
How much do you have to raise?
Do you have the human resources to do this campaign?
Who do you have now?
Once you have (more or less) defined your direction, goals, and current viable donors, there are some basic areas where you can start your Prospect Identification:
1. Qualification – of your current donors (individuals, foundations, and corporations)
2. Identification – of new potential donors who may have an affinity to your CASE/Cause
3. Linkages – Use your own network of current donors, senior volunteers, and key stakeholders to broaden your pipeline. Traditionally called a peer-to-peer approach in the hopes that your key stakeholders will then reach out to these new prospects on behalf of your organization.
Qualification of current donors
When qualifying your current donors for the new campaign goal, you need to do some internal work in addition to using external research resources to get the full picture of your donors’ current status.
Is the donor still active (and in some cases, still alive)?
Is the donor still engaged with the charity?
Is the donor able to able to give more than in the past?
Can you do some in-house RFM (recency, frequency, monetary giving) data mining to prioritize your top prospects?
Have you established a scoring system?
Prospect Identification of new donors
Because most campaign goals are much higher than what an organization normally brings in annually, or over five years, the prospect pipeline needs to be expanded with new potential donors. Often past donors are not retained for one reason or another (they were not well stewarded, they have other charities they support instead, and/or they have passed on) and these have to be replaced.
There are several ways a researcher can look for new donors:
1. Search for foundations, corporations, and individuals that support similar initiatives to your own.
2. Look at individuals, corporations, and foundations that may have an affinity to your organization but have not yet given.
While prospect identification may look at affinity to your CASE/Cause and capacity of current or potential donors, linkages are also vitally important.
I often get a request from charities to look at the networks of their new incoming board members. But current board, staff, and committee members all have networks as do your current major giving donors, vendors, sponsors, advisory groups, professional groups, and social groups. That’s a lot of linkages!
When researching prospects though, remember capacity ≠ philanthropy. Just because someone has wealth, does not mean they will give to you. Linkages are great, but there must be an affinity too.
When you are doing your own research and profiles on prospective donors, don’t forget what linkages (human to human) they have to your organization. This could lead to a key strategic step of finding that “door opener” for you.
Prospect Identification can be time consuming and difficult, but it is wonderful when you start to expand your pipeline and find some real gems either in your own donor base or outside of it. Remember that whether you are looking for individuals, foundations, and/or corporations to add to your pipeline, it really is all about individuals so connections and relationship-building is equally important.
Remember, research can get stale! Activate your research into cultivation and solicitation as soon as possible. People change positions, foundations change directors, and corporations change executives and giving pillars.
Prospect Identification should be ongoing. Don’t do your prospect identification at the start of a campaign and then wipe your hands and say “that’s that!” It’s rare to have a completed pipeline at the start of a campaign. New prospects emerge every day and of course not all will gift to you. Keep adding to your dynamic pipeline as prospects will continue to shift during your campaign and steps to your goal progresses.
Best of luck and have fun!
Note: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of additional prospect identification resources compiled by Tracey for this article.
Tracey Church has been a professional researcher for over 20 years and is the Past President of the Association of Professional Researchers in Advancement (APRA-Canada). She is the Principal, Researcher and Consultant with Tracey Church & Associates. Tracey is proud to be the Co-Editor and Co-Author of APRA-Canada’s first book “Prospect Research in Canada: An Essential Guide for Researchers and Fundraisers.” Tracey has worked with over 400 organizations in the fields of healthcare, education, social services, the arts, research, international, Indigenous, and the environment. She is a part-time faculty member at Western University (London, Ontario) teaching the Prospect Research in Fundraising course in the Master of Library and Information Science program (MLIS). Tracey loves to see her students and trainees succeed in the exciting field of prospect development!