“Show me the money!” is a well-known phrase from the 1996 film Jerry Maguire. Many fundraisers feel like shouting this phrase as they sit in their offices and ponder where the funding will come from for their organization’s next big project. Prospect researchers have access only to information available in the public domain. Credit reports are never accessed and, therefore, liabilities against those assets are unknown. As a result, a true picture of net-worth is not easily attainable.
To learn about donor prospects, keep various data needs in mind. Here are the components typically found in individual profiles:
Sources of information
There are numerous places to go to find out more about a potential donor or one who you think might be a great target for an upgrade. Knowing where to look in the hiding places is just as important. Here are some ideas.
Public Records. Public records such as property values and insider stock ownership, have become much more accessible.
Social Media. Sites publicly available, such as LinkedIn, can be a goldmine of information. In addition to researching specific individuals, it can also be proactively mined to develop lists of new prospects. To do so, try the Advanced Search page. Visit Nonprofits.LinkedIn.com to get started.
SEC Documents. Focus on Proxy Statements (DEF14A) and Forms 3,4, and 5.
Political Donations. Contributions of $250 or more to political campaigns are filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). It is possible to search www.FEC.gov by an individual’s name to see if contributions have been made to political parties. Note that the FEC prohibits using their data to develop a commercial mailing list.
Library Resources. Nonprofits with limited funds for research resources will benefit greatly by using nearby libraries. Many libraries now have public databases available for use offsite simply by using the bar code on the back of a library card.
Internal Sources: Staff, Board & Volunteers. Don’t discount the value of people close to the nonprofit, especially those with a long history with the organization. They can be a great resource concerning important factors like marital status, number of children and ages of children. In addition, they might serve on several nonprofit boards together, enabling you to better determine where their charitable interests lie.
Steps To Consider
Determine the organization’s budget to see how much can potentially be allocated to fee-based resources, thereby greatly speeding up the research process. And, don’t forget to see what online databases are readily available through libraries.
Staffing your nonprofit’s prospect research function can be part-time, full-time, or outsourced to an outside consultant as intermittent need arises. The Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA) will help them keep current with new resources and trends in prospect research.
If you already have a considerable database and think there might be some great major donor prospects in that database, it might be helpful for you to do a screening. There are a number of vendors who specialize in helping nonprofits find those “millionaires next door” buried in their databases. These vendors have the capability to screen every donor name in your database against a series of databases holding the names of high net-worth individuals, corporate executives, prominent people and the like.
Confidentiality of Donor Records
It is imperative that nonprofits safeguard donor records — those in print and in databases — so that sensitive donor information is only shared with the development staff and fundraising committee as needed. User-friendly fundraising software helps fundraising offices become more efficient by storing important pieces of information regarding donors and prospects, helping to track them through every step of the development cycle.
It is important to use the donor research in a timely manner. Development staff and the development committee can review the profiles to determine:
Regular development committee meetings will help ensure that these questions are consistently reviewed and answered so you can grow your fundraising capacity, and ultimately, grow your organization’s ability to expand programs and services. Prospect research is just one component in your overall development cycle and as you research and cultivate your prospects, you will watch your gifts grow.
Maria Semple is founder and chief executive officer of The Prospect Finder LLC., Bridgewater, N.J. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
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