Prospect Research Must Include Regulatory Records

You might be tired of all the political ads and election hoopla but all that activity and political giving can be a road map to future gifts for savvy fundraising executives.

In-depth examination of political giving, coupled with traditional forms of prospect research, can provide organizations with the foundation to effectively carry out virtually any fundraising program, according to William H. Miller, president and CEO of the Kean University Foundation in Union, N.J. “This, in turn, delivers a pipeline of highly qualified, prioritized, and segmented prospects,” he wrote in a paper titled, “Prospect identification in an election year.”

In the current philanthropic environment, proper prospect research cannot be conducted without reviewing political giving, Miller emphasized. “Today’s fluid economic times mean a lot of nonprofits are looking for new ways to raise money. Smart organizations realize that assessing the political giving of prospective donors presents a huge opportunity,” he said.

Political giving is known to be an excellent marker of philanthropy. Nonprofit fundraising professionals have access to information that can help uncover new sources of funding. For instance, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) Political Giving Database includes virtually every contribution of $200 or more over the past 25-plus years, approximately 15 million records.

When evaluating a prospective donor, the presence of regulatory records can be one of the most powerful predictors of an individual’s inclination to give. Most records also include individuals’ occupations or employers and new data is available monthly. The IRS’s 527 political donor database is also an often overlooked source of giving information. Best known for the role they played in past presidential elections, 527 organizations can collect contributions of any size and new data is available on a quarterly basis.

Financial disclosure reports are also filed by House, Senate, and presidential campaigns, political parties, and political action committees.

Some observations made by the wealth screening firm DonorSearch that relate to political giving and philanthropic inclination:

  • A single FEC gift of $250 is regulated;
  • Employer, recipient campaign, home or business city, state and zip, date are reported;
  • Only about 6 percent of Americans make a political gift;
  • Gift sizes are suppressed because of regulatory limitations; 
  • Some 0.10 percent of Americans make a single political gift of $1,000; and,
  • In a study of 1 million records, 70 percent of all non-estate giving was attributable to FEC donors.

Cumulative political giving of $5,000 for an individual is considered large while $10,000 and above is exceptional. This year’s presidential election provides an excellent opportunity to qualify current prospects and uncover new potential stakeholders, according to Miller.