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How to launch a donor prospecting campaign in 6 easy steps

Learn how to identify potential donors, craft a compelling pitch, and hit your campaign goals with this guide to successful donor prospecting.

Jayme Klein
September 4, 2023
July 1, 2021
Nerd Mr Butter

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To hit your campaign goals, you need to broaden your supporter base. But how can you reach new donors if they have yet to interact with your organization in the past?

Below, we explain what donor prospecting is, how to begin, and the tools you need to make your donor identification and solicitation a success.

What is donor prospecting, exactly?

Donor prospecting is the process of reaching out to new donors to support your cause. When it comes down to it, donor prospecting is no different than sales or marketing and involves the research, outreach, and (hopefully!) conversion of new donors.

The Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA) defines prospect development 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).

How do you know which donors to approach during donor prospecting?

Gifts from individuals—not corporations—make up the vast majority (72%) of charitable contributions. In order to identify the right donors to approach, donor prospecting typically involves:

  • Research 🧐 Gathering ethically sourced public information to learn more about potential donors for a variety of factors, such as their ability to give (typically discovered through wealth screening), their interests, affiliations, and philanthropic history.
  • Relationship (or prospect) management 🤝 Organizing and tracking information and running reports on donor interactions (such as gifts, meetings, mailings, etc.) to help the development team stay focused on the best possible prospects.
  • Data analytics 📈 Identifying trends in an organization’s prospect pool through both internal (giving, contact, wealth capacity, etc.) and external data (assets found, age, zip code, etc.).

How does donor prospecting work?

Once you've identified the appropriate donors, most donor prospecting follows one of the following approaches.

One-to-one conversations (sales) 💬

One-to-one conversations include cold calling, handing out flyers, knocking on doors, sending texts to friends, and emailing neighbors about your cause.

✅ Why it works: Having a one-to-one conversation with someone is more personable, thereby creating a higher conversion rate.

One-to-many conversations (marketing) 📣

One-to-many campaigns involve social media posts, paid advertising (like Google Ads), email drip campaigns, and mass direct mail campaigns.

✅ Why it works: One-to-many marketing is easier, more cost-effective, and has the power to reach more people in a limited amount of time.

Start a donor prospecting campaign in 6 steps

Donor prospecting, at its core, is about forming relationships. With this in mind, use the following fundraising strategies to reach new donors.

1. Craft your pitch ✍

Before you begin any outreach, pause to write out your pitch. If your supporters fall under different segments (i.e., you’ve identified multiple donor personas), you might want to write several versions to best peak their interest. 

To write your pitch, consider questions like:

  • What attracted you to your organization’s cause in the first place?
  • What change or impact does your organization wish to make in the world? 
  • How will your organization use donor contributions in the future?
  • Who does your organization help the most, and why is that important?

2. Conduct prospect research 📈

When it comes to donor prospect research for nonprofits, there are two different ways that organizations go about it: DIY and with the help of tools!

👉 DIY: If you prefer the do-it-yourself approach and do not want to invest in too many tools or a donor prospect research consultant, start brainstorming individuals or groups of people who might be willing to donate to your cause. When conducting your donor research, consider:

  • Geographic location
  • Relevant interests associated with your cause 
  • Demographics
  • Education level
  • Philanthropic history
  • Affiliations
  • Ability to give (or wealth capacity) 

👉 Prospect research tools: For organizations that want to use a few tools to help with their research, here are some resources to keep in mind:

  • Donorsearch: Use robust wealth screening tools from Donorsearch to learn more about the giving capacity of prospective and existing donors.
  • Lexis-Nexis: Find real estate, addresses, and phone numbers, possible past employment and education information, company details, newspaper and magazine articles, and more.
  • iWave: Search for foundation and corporate giving, individual donations, property and stock transactions, board affiliations, and business information.
  • Foundation Directory Online: Set up alerts, track grant opportunities, and search for funders using a variety of criteria such as name, location, and areas of interest.
  • Google Alerts: Receive push notifications to keep track of industry and prospect news.

3. Write a potential donor list 📒

With your research done, it’s time to identify donor prospects and compile one comprehensive list. When writing your list, separate:

  • In network 🤝 In-network donor prospects are those whom you know personally or have a direct connection with. They are low-hanging fruit and may be easier to convert into donors.
  • Out of network 👋 Out-of-network donor prospects are those with whom you don't share a direct affiliation, making them a bit harder to reach and convert. For these prospects, you may need to put in some extra leg work.

4. Ask for referrals 👯

Each year, poll your current donors and most loyal volunteers to ask for donor referrals. Do they know people in their network who might connect with your cause?

Your current supporter base and volunteer group share a passion for your organization. They likely know people who share your core values and would be happy to donate.

5. Track your progress 📌

Donor solicitation requires multiple team members and communication channels. To track your progress and avoid asking the same person twice for donations, log all data within a donor database. There, you can track:

  • Donor activity
  • Donor communication (emails, texts, etc.)
  • Donor contact information 
  • Donor communication preferences

💪 Pro tip: Use Givebutter to consolidate your donor database, email marketing, and fundraising platform into one place. This way, all your communication with prospects is automatically tracked in a single, centralized location.

6. Don't forget to follow up 📲

When conducting prospect outreach, remember to follow up. Typical follow-ups might include:

  • Email
  • Text
  • Message on social media 
  • Phone call
  • Letter 

Sending a follow-up call or email is not annoying or rude (if done right). People are busy, and they might not have noticed, read, or had time to respond to your first touchpoint.

Top donor prospecting tools to try

Once a connection is made, make it as easy as possible for the new donor to research, understand, and ultimately give to your organization. Below are some of the most popular donor prospecting software to convert potential donors into long-standing supporters.

1. Create a beautiful landing page 🎉

To attract new supporters, create a branded donation landing page to rally your donor base that includes:

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • GIFs
  • Unique branding 
  • Active supporter feed
  • Contact information
  • Seamless sharing

💪 Pro tip: To make your landing page more easily accessible, consider embedding donation widgets directly onto your nonprofit’s website.

2. Make it easy to donate 💸

One of the best ways to meet your fundraising goal—and maybe even attract some major donors—is to make giving as seamless as possible. You can do this by:

  • Accepting a wide variety of payment methods (major debit/credit cards, Venmo, PayPal, ACH, or even mailing a check)
  • Including QR codes in letters and printed collateral
  • Embedding donate buttons and donation forms directly on your website
  • Automating matching gifts

💪 Pro tip: Givebutter offers all of these features and more to make donating to your cause smooth like butter.

3. Spread the word 👋

Share your mission near and far using:

  • One-click social sharing
  • Custom branded emails
  • Mass text messaging  
  • Fundraising events

💪 Pro tip: When sharing your message, personalize all your communications with merge fields and donor segmentation tools.

4. Turn a one-time donation into a lasting relationship 🚀

Research shows that donors who receive a thank-you note within 48 hours are four times more likely to make a second gift. That means your organization should use automated donation receipts to thank new donors as quickly as possible.

Lastly, make it easy for supporters to make monthly, quarterly, or annually recurring donations toward your cause.

Givebutter makes donor prospecting better, for everyone

When it comes down to it, donor prospecting is all about reaching potential supporters where they are and leaving a lasting impression.

With Givebutter—the all-in-one, free fundraising platform—nonprofit organizations get access to hundreds of free tools and features, plus 1,000+ third-party integrations through Zapier. From automated thank yous to text-to-donate functionality and a built-in CRM, Givebutter helps you bring in more donors than ever before.

Take donor stewardship to the next level

Ready to reach your fundraising goal? Sign up for a free Givebutter account today and see why thousands of nonprofits choose Givebutter as their fundraising hub.

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