Why Small Nonprofits SHOULD Conduct Donor Research

Plan on holding a fundraiser soon? Sweet! We know you have a grasp on writing compelling email appeals to your current donors. But how are you on locating and cultivating new potential donors?

This is where donor research comes in. We think Alfred A. Blum, Director of Institutional Advancement at Boston College Law School, said it best: “The best solicitation occurs when the right prospect is asked for the right gift by the right solicitor at the right time in the right way. One of the most important elements in the fundraising process is determining all of these rights. For that to occur, research is essential.”

Think your small nonprofit organization won’t reap the same benefits of researching donors that larger organizations do? Think again! Read on to learn how donor research can make the difference in your organization’s fundraising abilities and a step-by-step tutorial for getting your feet wet.

Why Perform Donor Research?

Conducting donor research allows your nonprofit to build long-term personal relationships with local businesses and individuals in your community. Some view donor research as a means of compiling only biographical and financial data on potential candidates. But as the quote above states, knowing the right time and right way to ask is essential. Your research must include what and when previous donations were made by potential candidates. This provides your organization with an outline of when to make your move.

Although larger organizations may have a researcher on staff 24/7, smaller organizations have the advantage. Larger organizations run the risk of letting first-rate potential donors slip through the cracks. Size proves beneficial to small nonprofits considering you are able to spend more time nurturing leads on a more personal level.

Now comes the fun part: Locating a designated a researcher and learning who your perfect potential donor is.

Make it So!

What makes a good researcher? For starters, someone who can utilize the internet and local newspapers to the best of their abilities. small nonprofitHowever, performing donor research is a two part process; One part is active research while the other is personal judgement. Below are a list of steps to get you going:

  • Donor research is a learning process. If you have someone in-office who has exhibited reputable research or decision-making skills, they could be your guy or gal for the job. However, budget permitting, you may need to consider temporarily hiring an agency or consultant.
  • Have a set system in place to easily manage your research efforts. Use either a spreadsheet or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software you have, to build your donor research list.
  • Begin with those already in your organization’s database. Focus on individuals who annually donate. Check when and how much they normally give to determine if it would be best to reach out during your current fundraiser or a future fundraiser.
  • For potential donors, try using paid donor research database services, such as Donor Perfect and DonorSearch, to look-up prospective donors recommended by the board, events, and potential board members. Make an effort to acquire any information you can, including a donor’s name, contact info, occupation, income, age, marital status, and alma mater.

Alrighty. The research is done and you’re left with a long list of potential leads. Here’s how you can sort this list to determine who would be best to contact now.

Criteria is based on who has donated to what organizations in the past and how much they’d hypothetically be able to contribute to YOUR nonprofit. Consider attributes such as:

  • Annual Income
  • Interests
  • Community Connections
  • Charitable Intent

Implement a 1 – 5 rating system, 5 being most likely to donate, for each party of interest. To help determine this, ask the following questions about each potential donor:

  • Does this individual have the capacity to donate?
  • From what we know of his or her interests, prior giving, and other affiliations, is this person likely to be interested in our cause? Why?
  • Is this someone who could donate on a regular basis?

If an individual normally donates only during certain times of the year, have a separate list handy to place their information on. This will prepare you for future fundraisers.

In closing…

…donor research is not beyond the reach of small nonprofits! Use the provided tips to identify potential donors prior to your next fundraising campaign. Get to know the general research process and over time you’ll be able to more easily identify the best donors.. Happy Hunting!

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