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Nonprofit Strategies

9 things you might not know about prospect development

Identify your best future major donor prospects and board members, focus in on the right major gift ask amounts, and meet your fundraising goals.

Jayme Klein
March 24, 2021

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Now that you’ve used Givebutter to find donors for your organization, what else can you learn about them? You know that they care about your cause, but what else is important to them that aligns with you?

Here’s where prospect development comes in.

Prospect development professionals are analysts that look carefully at specific data and trends to see how a donor or group of donors might fit in to fulfilling an organization’s larger fundraising plans and goals.

What is prospect development? 🤨

Per the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA), prospect development is helpfully defined as

“the strategic arm of an organization’s fundraising operation, focusing on prospect pools and pipelines. Prospect development professionals collaborate with gift officers and development leaders to ensure fundraising efforts are focused on working with the right donors for the right gifts at the right time (and in many cases, with the right initiatives).”

This includes the following roles that many of us balance at once!

  • Research: We uncover and use ethically-sourced public information to learn more about potential donors (also known as prospects) for a variety of factors, such as their ability to give (wealth capacity), their interests, affiliations and philanthropic history.
  • Relationship (or Prospect) Management: We work hand in hand with fundraisers to organize and track information and run reports on donor interactions (such as gifts, meetings, mailings, etc.) to help the development team stay focused on the best possible prospects so that the organization can meet its fundraising goals.
  • Data Analytics: Through statistical analysis, researchers identify trends in an organization’s prospect pool through both internal (giving, contact, wealth capacity, etc.) and external data (assets found, age, zip code, etc.) to guide leadership to the best possible donors.

How can I use prospect development at my nonprofit? 🤓

Your recent fundraising event with Givebutter was a success. Congratulations! You have lots of new donors. But now what do you do to find information about those who can make even larger gifts, or who might be interested in a larger role at your organization (like becoming a board member)? This is where prospect development comes in! We look at your list of donors and use publicly-available information to identify the best future donors on your list. Who rises to the top with the most donor potential? We’ll find that information and help you prioritize who to start building closer relationships with so you can strengthen your major donor program or board.

What can researchers find? 🧐

Prospect researchers can use a variety of different publicly-available data sources to look at things such as: contact information, mentions in the news, property ownership and value, employment and title (if self-reported or on the company website), educational background, board or foundation affiliations, boat or airplane ownership, donations to other organizations and more.

What resources do prospect researchers use? ⚙️

There are lots of great resources out there to compile this public data, point us in the right direction and make our research work a lot easier.

If you ask a group of researchers about their favorite resource, you may get lots of different answers! However, one of the most comprehensive is Lexis-Nexis- it has all sorts of great search features, including real estate, addresses and phone numbers, possible past employment and education, company information, newspaper and magazine articles and lots more.

Another powerhouse resource is iWave. It gives us the ability to search foundation and corporate giving, individual donations, property and stock transactions, board affiliations and business information.

Foundation Directory Online is one of the best if you are focusing on foundation and corporate giving. Often accessible through public or university libraries, it lets users set up alerts, track grant opportunities and search for funders in a number of ways (name, location, areas of interest).

One of the most useful ways to keep dibs on an organization or individual is a news alert. There are lots of options on how to set these up, including Google or some of the resources mentioned above. They send push notifications right to your inbox and link you to the article of note.

Is prospect development invasive or creepy? 🕵️

No. Our work is guided by very strict ethical and legal guidelines, and everything that we find as researchers is publicly-available data. At the Helen Brown Group, each of us has agreed to uphold APRA’s ethical standards and you’ll find that most prospect development professionals are up to date on data privacy laws and donor protections. We follow all rules of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for the European Union, the Data Protection Act (DPA) for the UK, as well as HIPAA, FERPA, the California Consumer Privacy Act and other US privacy legislation.

Is prospect development right for every nonprofit? 🤷🏻

Yes and no. There are always exceptions, but generally speaking, smaller nonprofits may not be ready quite yet. To take full advantage of prospect development, your organization needs to be able to raise major donations, as well as build long-term relationships with regular and major donors. Once you have a fundraiser in place who is responsible for building and maintaining donor relationships, you’re ready for prospect development.

Proactive versus reactive research🔬

A request for research can take two forms: proactive research is when prospect development professionals look at things such as wealth lists, database queries, annual reports, etc. in order to identify new prospects for your organization. This often helps to feed the “prospect pipeline,” a list of individuals or organizations that fundraisers can cultivate towards a gift. Reactive research is when we get a request from someone at the organization to find out more about an individual, company or foundation prospect.

What do research reports look like? 📊

At the Helen Brown Group, we offer several different profile formats depending on what our client is looking for. Some focus on wealth and philanthropy, some are more comprehensive and include information on family history, business background and other factors. Some are shorter memos or briefings. Each organization compiles their research differently, but it typically includes narrative or bullet-pointed sections on a prospect’s contact information, wealth, giving history, affiliations and information about someone’s ability to give a major donation.

Analytics or other reporting will usually be presented as a spreadsheet with customized columns, depending on what you are looking for from the data, but we always have a conversation to be sure that you understand the results and know what steps to take next.

What can I do to get the best results from prospect research? ✨

Share information with the researcher before they begin! Nothing’s more frustrating than trying to find the right John or Jane Doe or starting out with half of an address. Anything that you know about a possible prospect, no matter how insignificant that it may seem, is helpful. Middle initials, hometown, a family member’s name, company that they may work for, a hobby that they have- it all helps guide our work and provide the best information for you. Prospect development is all about collaboration and teamwork, one part of the larger goal to make your organization’s fundraising a success.

Want to learn more? Visit our Verified Partner page! We’d love to help you identify your best future major donor prospects and board members, focus in on the right major gift ask amounts, and meet your fundraising goals.

Givebutter made a $100 donation to Jayme's campaign of choice, The Fund for Local Journalism, for this guest blog.

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