4 Tips for Finding Major Donors for Your Next Capital Campaign

Guest Post by Ryan Woroniecki, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at DonorSearch

Before we dive headfirst into tips for finding major donors for a capital campaign, let’s briefly back up and discuss capital campaigns on the whole.

On a very general level, “A capital campaign is a combination of fundraising and outreach strategies that is designed to raise money for a specific need.”

On a more practical and concrete level, capital campaigns are most commonly associated with funding such projects as:

  • Building renovations
  • Purchasing pricey equipment and/or supplies
  • Acquiring new land
  • Fresh construction
  • Adding to an endowment
  • And other similar, large-scale endeavors

Needless to say, you can’t really think about organizing a capital campaign without having a strong system in place for securing major gifts. And that’s when you need prospect research.

This site is already brimming with excellent information about prospect research, so we’re not going to retread well-covered territory here.

Instead, we’re going to propose four key tips to help your organization find and cultivate major donors for your next capital campaign.

The four tips are as follows:

  1. Look to your annual fund.
  2. Reach out to your feasibility study participants.
  3. Seek out donors whose interests align with your campaign.
  4. Come up with creative ways of engaging your candidates.

Let’s get started.

1. Look to your annual fund.

DS_Aspire_Look to your annual fund

For the first point on this list, we’re going back to the basics.

We know that past giving is the greatest indicator of future giving. In fact, DonorSearch’s research found that a donor who has made a gift between $5k-$10k to a nonprofit organization is 5 times as likely to donate in the future as an average person is.

That correlation trickles down to donors of all giving levels, including your annual fund.

As you embark on your campaign’s quiet phase and attempt to secure roughly 70% of your goal before going public with your efforts, you should start your search by looking inwards. The proof is in the data.

Loyal, annual fund donors might be just the prospects you’re looking for. Cross-reference your list of annual fund donors with databases that can clue you in on donor wealth, and you could discover that some of your best major giving candidates were right under your nose.

For instance, someone who donates $500 regularly to your cause might have donated $5,000 to a political campaign. You won’t know until you look.

And once you find those donors, you can leverage the momentum behind your capital campaign’s timeline to encourage them to make those kinds of contributions towards your organization.

2. Reach out to your feasibility study participants.

DS_Aspire_Reach out to your feasibility study participants

A feasibility study is performed prior to an organization ever launching a capital campaign. During the study, the nonprofit surveys a group of around 40 community members to test the interest in and likelihood of success of their possible capital campaign.

What does this have to do with major donors?

A portion of the people you’ll be surveying for your feasibility study will be major giving prospects.

After the report is complete and you’ve decided to move forward with your campaign, consider reaching out to the study participants who:

  • Had a positive reaction to your campaign.
  • Are high-quality prospects.

In order to sift through the group and figure out whom your major gift officers should reach out to:

  • Perform a screening of your participants.
  • Find out who meets the wealth and affinity requirements.
  • Complete prospect profiles on those donors.
  • Pass the information along to the right fundraisers.

The donors on that list will have already given you affirmative feedback; don’t let their enthusiasm go unchanneled.

3. Seek out donors whose interests align with your campaign.

DS_Aspire_Seek out donors whose interests align with your campaign

One of the biggest benefits of fundraising for a capital campaign is that you are fundraising for a very specific purpose.

That specificity can make a huge difference in your ability to sway donors to contribute.

Take stock of your major donors and prospects. Then, use the information you’ve collected about them to segment them into groups that would or wouldn’t be interested in supporting your capital campaign’s particular cause.

Once you’ve done that, solicit major gifts from those who are most likely to be open to contributing to your campaign.

There are two benefits to this kind of selective segmentation:

  1. You’re making better use of the limited time and resources of your major gifts team.
  2. You’re offering support opportunities to those who are most likely to want to hear about them.

If you study your donor data with an eye for past giving patterns such as:

  • Frequency of giving
  • Average gift size
  • Common reason for giving
  • And so on

You’ll be able to piece together a solid list of prospects for your capital campaign’s major gift efforts.

Just remember, in order for this kind of selection to work, your prospect profiles are going to have to be top notch!

4. Come up with creative ways of engaging your candidates.

DS_Aspire_Come up with creative ways of engaging your candidates

The truth of the matter is, even when you find major giving prospects for your capital campaign, you’ll then have the challenge of cultivating and soliciting them.

You should certainly employ the standard solicitation best practices, but, as well all know, you really need to go the extra mile when it comes to major donors.

Especially with a capital campaign, where you’re under a strict timeline and chasing a firm goal, major gift solicitation is of the utmost importance.

That’s why this last tip emphasizes the need to find inventive ways of engaging your major donors.

What qualifies as creative is in the eye of the beholder, but suggestions include:

  • Asking your major donors to volunteer.
  • Seeing if they’re open to advocating for your cause.
  • Inviting them to special events.
  • And generally, any step you can take to make their time with your organization more meaningful.

When you go out of your way to engage with your major donors in a manner that other nonprofits aren’t taking the time to do, you set your capital campaign apart from the crowd.


Capital campaigns take careful planning and a strong focus on the future. And your capital campaign simply won’t survive without a strong major gift showing during the quiet phase.

Take these tips, mix them with the ideas you’re already using, and go forth to secure that 70% of your fundraising total!

About the Author

ryanRyan Woroniecki is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at DonorSearch, a prospect research, screening, and analytics company that focuses on proven philanthropy. He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits and is a member of APRA-MD. When he isn’t working, he is an avid kickball player.


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Donor Research: A Two-Way Street

motorway-1033322_1920Guest post by James Gilmer, compliance specialist for Harbor Compliance

Just as fundraisers research prospective donors and new sources of funding, experienced donors also seek out worthy causes and charities in their communities. Your donors care about where their money is going, and they do extensive research before making a gift. One clear way to demonstrate your charity’s worth is through fundraising compliance. By staying on the right side of the law, and having the right people on the ground, you may find greater fundraising success!

The first thing to remember is that your donors research your charity and mission as much as you scout them (and their capacity to give). Experienced and first-time donors alike want to know their gifts support the cause you advertise, and make a difference in the community.

In other words, while prospect research is vital, it may not be enough. Your nonprofit has to look its best to prospective donors.

Your success begins with your cause, your people, and your “pitch.” Your fundraising researchers have done their homework, created comprehensive donor profiles, and have many tools at their disposal. At the same time, your frontline fundraisers probably have a packet of materials with your nonprofit’s work in the community, history, and reasons to give. Chances are, these individuals are enthusiastic go-getters with compelling stories (and a heck of a sales pitch). This human element can certainly win donations and recurring gifts from engaged individuals, yet you could find yourself losing donations and not even know it.

Charitable solicitation compliance is the backbone of your fundraising efforts. Many fundraisers and nonprofit executives believe that being 501(c)(3) tax exempt is enough to fundraise limitlessly. This misconception can lead you to lose out on grant funding, corporate donations, and your credibility. Forty-one states require your charity to file an additional registration before you solicit donations. Without registering, you could find your charity in violation of state and IRS law, but also in hot water with your donors.

Most states have an online database of charities, where anyone can research registered charities before they give. Experienced donors will do their research, as will corporations making their planned annual gift. If they see your charity is not registered or is delinquent, your chances of earning their donation and trust are lowered. When you apply for foundation or government grants, you’ll have to submit proof of registration along with your grant application. Without it, you may find your grant application held up or denied.

Charitable solicitation compliance may not be sexy, but it will help your nonprofit look its best to potential donors. Compliance affects everyone in an organization, so if this topic is new, be sure to review this Fundraising Compliance Guide. Your state has unique requirements in place to protect its citizens from unregulated charities. By staying on the right side of the law, you make your donors research, and their decision to give, that much easier.

James Gilmer is a compliance specialist for Harbor Compliance, which establishes 501(c) nonprofits and helps them stay compliant. Harbor Compliance assists charities in every state and several countries abroad. James serves on the Board for two nonprofits in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Connect with us: @HarborComply

3 Steps To Social Media Major Gift Prowess

Were you aware that social media is a competitive edge in major gift fundraising? You must have heard by now how organizations are leveraging giving days and crowdfunding as well as incorporating social media into annual fund drives – but what about major gifts?

As a fundraiser who asks wealthy individuals to make gifts to your organization, deliberate and professional use of social media will not only separate you from the pack, it could put you in league with your prospects. It’s time to own your participation in social media!

Start with Prospect Research

If you have a prospect research professional on staff, it’s time to have a talk about social media. Agree on the social media sites you want to know about and ask your researcher if channel participation and user ID can be added to the profile, or better yet, put into a database field that can be pulled into a report.



To get on the same page with your colleagues, you could order copies of the Prospect Research Perspectives: On Social Media and have informal discussions about articles over lunch or coffee.


Every organization has a unique constituency. Global and national statistics on social media use may or may not apply to your donors. As your prospects get researched, you will begin to see which social media channels are preferred.

Audit Your Personal Social Media Presence

You are probably on social media already. It’s time to audit your presence. Accept that there is no privacy online, no matter how diligent you are with your privacy settings. Decide how you want to be perceived – what your personal brand is – and make that uniform across every platform from LinkedIn to Facebook and beyond. Don’t underestimate the power of a professional head shot.

Consider what would happen if a seven-figure prospect invited you to connect on Facebook. What will your Facebook presence communicate to the prospect? You should also expect that prospects will explore your work history in places like LinkedIn.

You can get ahead of the requests and craft an action plan that will best demonstrate your personal brand and interests and your organization’s brand and giving priorities.

What does that mean? Take one channel at a time. Following are two easily accomplished examples that demonstrate channel-appropriate activity:

  • LinkedIn: Liz picks two days a week when she catches up on industry reading, posts about something she has read, and links to the article or commentary. Whenever she learns new information about a giving priority, she shares the related press release, video, or other content. She decides to write a short article this year about integrity in major gift fundraising to post on Pulse and have it show on her profile page.
  • Facebook: Liz uses Facebook to connect with friends and family, but colleagues and donors have requested to friend her. She’s a foodie and a country music fan so she decides that each time she goes out to eat or hear music she will find something unusual about the experience to share on Facebook. She also shares related articles, videos, and pictures on those topics. She still shares things like family and vacation items, but she’s careful not to share deeply personal information, saving that for offline. She posts occasional pictures from work events and office fun, too.

Now Get Your Edge On!

Once you know which social media channels have a critical mass of your prospects and donors, make sure you have an account on those social media sites. You can’t be everywhere, so choose carefully based on the data.

Now you are poised to use social media for cultivation. Many fundraisers successfully reach prospects through LinkedIn, but you could do much more.

When you discover a prospect is very active on one or more social media channels, connect with him or her there and regularly post content that is of interest to the prospect, as well as engage the prospect by sharing his or her content and making comments. This builds trust and rapport through genuine interactions – and all from your laptop, tablet, or smart phone.

Social media isn’t the way to reach out to every prospect, but if you polish your online brand and use prospect research to guide your social media activity you can sharpen your major gift edge.

#ResearchPride, Advocacy, and Me

researchpriderainbowAre you proud of the work that you do? Do you get excited about solving information challenges at work? If so, why not take the opportunity this month to share your #ResearchPride?

Because I am proud of the work I do to support not-for-profit organizations, I advocate for the profession in many ways. But I wasn’t always an advocate. It happened over time. My hope is that by sharing my advocacy story with you, you might realize that you, too, have been an advocate for prospect research – probably without really thinking about it. And just maybe you will be inspired to share some #ResearchPride this month with all of us!

I am a Professional

Prospect research has given me a profession where I can utilize the variety of skills I have acquired and apply them to making the world a better place. I have been able to hone my talents with the help of fundraisers and prospect research professionals around the world. It has been extremely rewarding and a tremendous amount of fun!

Being a professional is about more than excelling at work, though. It’s also about being prepared for work and keeping up with trends. I consider myself a fundraiser who specializes in prospect research. Because of this it’s important for me to understand what is happening in philanthropy around the globe and the many ways that impacts my work in research. I also endeavor to keep up with information technology and the changing attitudes to privacy.

My work is more than a j-o-b, it’s a profession. When I am excellent at my work I am advocating for the profession. Staying interested and informed also makes it easy to engage with others about what I do.

I share and engage with the public about my work

When I first began speaking in front of fundraising groups nearly ten years ago, I made a habit of mentioning the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement or APRA (pronounced “APP-rah”). I would ask the room if anyone knew about it. Rarely was a hand raised. When I moved to Tampa Bay, Florida from the mature fundraising environment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I was challenged – not only did people not know about APRA, but most fundraisers didn’t know what prospect research was either. Yikes!

Those were the pretty early years of electronic screenings. I often think of those first vendors such as P!N, Blackbaud, and WealthEngine as early advocates for the prospect research profession. Their marketing efforts were very successful. Suddenly fundraisers had heard about prospect research – and they thought it was a software product!

While that was annoying, at least it opened the doors to better conversation. I love what I do and enjoy telling people all about it – anyone in fact! People greet my explanations with curiosity and frequently more questions. Sometimes they share stories with me about their interactions with a charity of choice. By sharing my profession with others, I’m also encouraging people to have positive relationships with not-for-profit organizations. Advocacy is awesome!

I collaborate with and support the growth of my colleagues

While I was growing Aspire Research Group, I volunteered with APRA Florida, including serving a term as president. I would also volunteer at APRA conferences and it was a great way to meet new people. All of that felt pretty comfortable – almost easy. But then two big choices came my way that threw me out of my comfort zone and changed the way I viewed my role as an advocate for the profession.

First, two people at my local Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Suncoast chapter encouraged me to answer a call for authors to write about prospect research for the Wiley/AFP Fund Development Series. This was an amazing opportunity to share my profession with the more than 30,000 members of AFP. It was also quite terrifying. Sure I was an excellent researcher, but I had very little experience with really large organizations or higher education.

That’s when I decided I would collaborate with someone. Although I barely knew her, I called up Helen Brown. She was the biggest name I knew in our profession and she had the complementary experience. She said “yes”! We had some of the best discussions as we aligned our experiences under a shared philosophy about our work. As we each wrote our chapters there was continued discussion. It was an exhausting and exhilarating experience. And eventually there was a book, Prospect Research for Fundraisers: The Essential Handbook.

The second event was as the result of success. Aspire Research Group was growing and I reached out to other independent and freelance researchers. It didn’t always go well. Sometimes I knew things they didn’t, sometimes they knew more than I did, and often they did not have access to the paid tools needed to do their best work. Should I invest in those relationships? Should I share knowledge and tools with -gasp- my competitors?

What would you do?

Recently I saw something like this on social media:

  • CEO: We need to get training for our employees
  • CFO: But what if they get the training and then leave for our competitors?
  • CEO: What if they don’t get the training and they stay?

That captures my final decision. I did share knowledge and tools with colleagues that I developed a close working relationship with and I have never regretted it. A small group of us are now exploring ways in which we could more formally work together and retain our autonomy.

I want our profession to be full of highly-trained, well-resourced individuals! Prospect research professionals are some of the most intelligent, creative, and collaborative people I have ever had the privilege of working with.

A big THANK YOU to Helen Brown for launching #ResearchPride month two years ago and for inviting bloggers to share the love!

Now it’s your turn… consider engaging with the #ResearchPride hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any other social media platform where you participate. Comment on this blog post or visit the other blog posts listed below and share your thoughts there.

But most importantly, find your voice and speak. Practice your explanation of your work. Test it out on everyone who looks remotely interested. Share your #ResearchPride!

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3 Steps to Building a More Comprehensive Prospect Profile

By Jill McCarville, Marketing and Communication Manager, iWave Information Systems

head-746550_1920It’s almost lunchtime when a fundraiser comes to you with a new assignment:  They have a meeting with Suzie in two weeks and need to know who this person is – does she have a history of giving, does she have a connection to your cause, how much does she have to give?  Next stop, your prospect research tool.

The 3 fundamental steps to building a prospect profile remain the same: Create, customize, complete.  Okay, so those may not come as a surprise to you.  But from a software company’s point of view, there may be some profile building features within your tool that you haven’t been leveraging.  Use these features to gain deeper insight into your prospect and make your job easier. At iWave we recognize that there are many different research tools, each with different functionalities.  However, some of the features highlighted below may exist in your tool and you just didn’t know about them or haven’t had a chance to try them.  Try these steps to make your profile building easier and faster and -who knows- maybe even in time for lunch.


Our data tells us that the majority of users begin with a general integrated search (360search) across all datasets at one time.  In fact, in our tool, there were over 1.3 million 360searches done last year alone.  This broad search will help you identify which datasets/categories contain lots of information on your prospect and in which datasets you’ll need to dive deeper.  Now you can start painting the picture of your prospect’s employment, income, real estate holdings, board affiliations, net worth, stock holdings, history of charitable giving and political giving, etc.  Simply start selecting the records that you know, or are pretty confident, are your Suzie and add them to her profile.

Now, you might be saying, “But what if it’s a common name?”  No problem.  Once you’ve done a broad search across all of your tool’s datasets, you can narrow your search to find more information about your prospect, their spouse, and even their private companies or trusts. Exploring individual datasets with additional filters might even uncover key information you weren’t able to find using a broad, high-level search.

For example, if you’re trying to find Suzie’s real estate holdings, but your initial search didn’t turn up any property, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t own real estate.  As you know, it’s much more likely that she does.  After all, real estate accounted for about 20% of a HNWI’s total assets globally (CapGemini World Wealth Report 2013).  It’s possible that the property is listed in someone else’s name, a trust, or LLC.  Time to check the real estate database.  Try reverse searching by Suzie’s mailing address (rather than her name) because in many cases people link all of their properties to a primary residence for billing and other mail.  You can find additional search tips for other datasets here.

As you explore each of the datasets and “tease out” real matches to your prospect, select those records and add them to the profile you created in the broad search.  But first, ensure your tool automatically filters out duplicate records to maintain the accuracy of your scores and ratings.


A common perception we hear in the industry is that profiles must be created externally because tools simply don’t deliver the quality of profile you need.  For some tools though, this isn’t the case.  In our tool alone, researchers create over 40,000 profiles each year containing over 1.8 million records.  One of the keys to creating so many profiles is customizing your research tool.

In the first step, you chose which records to add to Suzie’s profile.  Now, you need to add and delete records as you validate them.  This will eliminate false positives so you can be confident in the accuracy of the profile and the scores/ratings within it.  Depending on your tool’s features, you’ll also want to select your own capacity ranges (used to determine Suzie’s capacity rating), and the proper affinity ranges (so the score accurately reflects Suzie’s connection to your specific cause).


Almost there!  Once you’ve sketched out the prospect profile, it’s time to add the finishing touches.  Consider adding Suzie’s picture to the front for easy identification.  Then add any articles you may have found on her from other sources.

Jen Filla, along with other industry leaders, also suggests you add additional value to a profile by synthesizing the data you’ve gathered.  As a researcher, you are the expert on your prospects.  This is your chance to analyze the records and provide observations.  For example, what do Suzie’s SEC transactions tell you about her?  Do you see any patterns or trends in her charitable giving?  What clues can you find from her board affiliations?

Use the front page lead summary section to summarize your prospect’s current situation and provide recommendations.  In fact, in our tool, this lead summary was created based on the requests of researchers. A front and center spot to highlight the one thing the fundraiser needs to know about Suzie.  You can then use the built-in notes sections to tell the full story about Suzie as a prospect – who she likes to give to, when she likes to give, and how much she can give at one particular time.

Many people like to create and use the profile, score, and notes built within the tool.  However, this isn’t the only option.  Feel free to export the profile in a Word document for further treatment, or print a short summary profile to share right away.  And don’t forget to set an alert on the profile so you receive updates when there are any changes to Suzie’s records.

You are the expert at creating prospect profiles for your organization, and hopefully these tips will help you leverage your research tool to build better, smarter profiles.  Happy profiling!

Now, what’s for lunch?

About the Author
jill color

Jill McCarville is the marketing and communication manager at iWave Information Systems, a company that delivers software solutions to education, healthcare and nonprofit organizations to help them raise more major gifts.  iWave’s solutions are an asset to fundraising departments of any size. From Ivy league schools like Yale and Stanford, to healthcare and arts organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the Smithsonian Institution, iWave has assisted organizations in the United States, Canada, and overseas.

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5 Reasons Public Company Insiders are Great Prospects

Unless you are fundraising for a prestigious business school, you probably don’t come across a whole lot of private company insiders as prospects. Maybe you wonder what all the excitement is about. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings are complex. Why bother understanding that world if you have those prospects so infrequently?
Apart from the noble pursuit of continual learning, following are five reasons public company insiders make such good prospects.

1. The wealthy get and keep great wealth through capital, not income.

Have you heard about technology companies like Yahoo! or Oracle paying their CEOs a symbolic salary of $1? It’s true! Earned income – the salary or cash paychecks you and I take home – is taxed at a much higher rate than capital gains.
Capital gain is the “income” or value received when you sell capital, such as stock, at a profit. If I am awarded stock at the market price of $10 and it is $25 when I sell it, I have made a capital gain of $15 on that share of stock.
Any self-respecting public company CEO would much prefer to have the bulk of their compensation subject to lower capital gain tax rates AND have it grow in value. Wouldn’t you choose to lower your taxes and watch your paycheck rise in value? Especially if your million+ cash income covered your living expenses?
If you have been reading about rising income equality, this article in The Economist magazine helps to put the rise of capital into historical perspective:  To those that have shall be given.

2. There are so few public company insiders, and they keep good company.

In 2015 there were 3,700 public companies traded on a major stock exchange in the U.S. Compare that to nearly six million private U.S. companies in 2012 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Publicly traded companies are an exclusive club. To be listed on the NYSE or the NASDAQ you need revenue in the multi-millions. This means there are fewer top executive and board positions. Not just anyone gets asked to serve on a public company board!
And if your prospect does sit on a public company board, who else might s/he introduce you to?

3. You can find out if they have gifted stock in the past.

What a wonderful philanthropic indicator this is! You might not know who was the beneficiary of your prospect’s goodwill, but when you view your prospect’s insider transactions in MarketWatch, it clearly indicates when stock was gifted.
Watch this 2-minute video to learn how to find whether your prospect has a history of gifting stock.

4. All compensation is public, which can help with strategy.

When you have a well-trained prospect research professional on staff, she will know how to tease out all of the important bits of an insider’s compensation. Ask your researcher for her suggestions on gift timing and she can tell you when the prospect is likely to receive stock awards, have stock options in the money, or receive cash awards from derivatives (such as performance stock units (PSUs) based on the stock price, but which are not actual shares of stock).
Combined with the rest of the prospect’s wealth and philanthropy picture, this information goes a long way toward informing your cultivation and solicitation strategy.

5. Even retired public company executives are public.

Whether your prospect retires, gets merged out of a job, or gets fired, if it is a public company you can know everything about the financial and other benefits the prospect received from any separation package – even many years later. It can often be difficult to assess a retired prospect’s capacity to give, but with public company data you have some actual numbers from which to begin estimating.

Success is Preparation Meeting Opportunity

Those words of wisdom have been spoken many times by many people and I couldn’t agree more. If you ever doubted the value of a well-educated and well-trained prospect research professional, find yourself a public company prospect and you will doubt no more!
The Wall Street world of high finance is complex and opaque. It is also an extremely exclusive club of individuals capable of making transformative gifts to your organization. Whether you are hiring a prospect research consultant or considering continuing education for your in-house professional, make sure an understanding of the world of public companies is on the skill list.

Why a Really Good Prospect Profile Isn’t Good Enough

chess-454098_1920I don’t know if this has happened to you, but all too often I find an amazing product – a special soap or leak-proof mug – only to discover a few years later that the company is out of business and the amazing product is gone forever. Good products perform, but successful companies steward their customers.

We researchers provide great products – such as prospect profiles – that perform, but are we stewarding and listening to our end-users? All too often we are not.

We complain that our end-users think we can press a button and print a profile; that people tell us we should just Google it; or that gift officers demand every prospect be deeply researched before making the first phone call.

You are not going to want to hear this, but I’ll tell you anyway. It’s our own fault!

We accept work requests without any conversation. Sometimes we even create complicated forms to avoid contact. If we really fall down the rabbit-hole we obsess over the process of requesting, completing and delivering. And then we deliver as if we dropped the profile over the cliff never, ever to be seen again.

Okay, I am being dramatic.

But imagine if we did things a little differently…

  • We talked to the requestor. “Gosh, Jan, this prospect just made a $10M gift to us two years ago. Was there something specific you were hoping I’d find? Oh, you are looking for planned gift opportunities. Sure thing.”
  • We talked to the requestor. “Hello Josh. Do you have a few minutes to talk? Great! I wanted to ask you about Mr. Bucketloads. I had so much fun researching a hedge fund manager. It doesn’t happen every day. So I wanted to be sure I presented his information clearly. What did you think of the occupation section?”
  • We talked to the requestor. “Liz, thank you for taking time to meet with me. Another year has passed and as I was reviewing my work I realized that you have asked for twice as many profiles as anyone else. I’d love to know what you like best, what we could change to make them better, and how you feel it helps you raise more money.”
Are you noticing a pattern here? Talk to the requestor.
Mass Produced vs. Fine Art Masterpiece
When we ignore our end-users, our prospect profiles become a mass-produced item. We are training end-users to ask these kinds of questions:
  • This is cookie-cutter stuff so why can’t I get more faster?
  • Why are we spending so much on research? I bet we could find a way to do it cheaper.
  • A specific piece of information is missing. I’m not sure we’re even getting quality.
  • There is an error here. How many other errors are in the work?

When we talk with our end-users – creating relationships where questions are regularly asked, ongoing dialogue occurs, and improvements are made to the product – trust builds and our prospect profiles become perceived as fine art masterpieces!

We are training our end-users to ask these kinds of questions:

  • I really want to see a specific item on the first page to help make decisions in the prospect meeting. I wonder if the researchers can add that?
  • The vendor at the conference says many research departments use their tool. It’s amazing! I have to ask our researchers about it. They would know if it’s hype or not.
  • This profile is fantastic! I feel so much more confident about my gift proposal.
  • Geez. There is an error here. It’s probably just a mistake, but I’d better mention it.
This is Chess, not Uno.
Building relationships and trust is a slow process with setbacks and triumphs along the way. You need the focus and attention required for a game of chess, not the immediate gratification from a card game of Uno.
And the reality is that sometimes our ability to build relationships is complicated by the hierarchical staffing structures of our organizations. If we have no contact with the vice president, it’s tough to build a relationship.
We can find a million (mass-produced) reasons why we can’t build relationships. It’s the top performer who collects (fine art masterpiece) relationships. Make no doubt about it, you can too. One conversation at a time.

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3 Strategies to Choose a Research Tool

austria-sign-2-1489248Whether I’m teaching the Introduction to Prospect Profiles course at the Prospect Research Institute or talking to an Aspire Research Group client, I get asked the impossible question: “What’s the difference among research tools and which one should I buy?”

Information technology has been good to the prospect research profession and that means we have a wild array of tools from which to choose. And equally wild can be the price ranges! This makes it tough to assess the value of each and if they will meet your needs.

My crystal ball is in the repair shop so I can’t predict the perfect suite of tools for you, but I can give you three strategies to approach your decision-making challenge.

Strategy 1: Linkage – Ability – Inclination (“LAI”)

In prospect research it boils down to three key categories of information you want a tool to help you with:

  • Linkage: How can we connect to this prospect through peers? How is our organization linked to this prospect?
  • Ability: Does this prospect have enough wealth to make a large gift or increase her/his giving?
  • Inclination: Is this prospect philanthropically inclined? Is s/he willing to give her money to nonprofit organizations and institutions?

You already know about LAI, right? But have you considered narrowing down your research tool choices by those three categories? If you had to number them in order of priority in your fundraising efforts and/or weakness in your ability to research, how would those categories shake down?

Whether you need a tool to help you with all three LAI categories or just one can help you narrow the field considerably.

Strategy 2: The Five Profile Building Blocks

Once you know how the LAI categories rank in importance, you can begin to dig into exactly what types of information you want to find in a particular category.

This is where the five building blocks of the profile come in handy. No matter how your profile template is organized, there are five major categories of information a fundraising profile might have. Check out the Anatomy of a Profile illustration below to see if you agree.


  • Linkage would fall under the Institutional Information Is the prospect an alum, donor, or volunteer? Is s/he serving on the same company board as your trustee? Vendors you evaluate might include ProspectVisual, RelationshipScience, and WealthX, among others.
  • Ability can be found in the Occupation and Assets What kind of wealth is being earned and how is acquired wealth being held? You might evaluate vendors who aggregate sources such as iWave PRO, Lexis Nexis, DonorScape, DonorSearch, ResearchPoint and WealthEngine, as well as specific vendors for ability such as LinkedIn or J3DonorWatch.
  • Philanthropic Inclination is in the Biographical and Community Involvement Did her child die of the disease you are on a mission to eradicate? Does he make gifts to other organizations or organizations like yours? You might evaluate the same vendors above who aggregate sources, as well as specific vendors such as Foundation Center Online, Guidestar, NOZA, and NewsBank.

Examining your needs in more granular detail through the profile building blocks will identify whether a potential product can give you the information you need most. For example, if you have a lot of public company insider prospects you may need a subscription tool that can make your research faster and better. On the other hand, if you are a lawyers’ association, you might shell out for the current AM Law 100 from The American Lawyer to make better estimates of capacity.

Strategy 3: Free Trials and Peer Review

Even after you know exactly what you want in a tool you will want to evaluate its usability. Taking advantage of free trials and asking your peers for their candid comments is a great way to test the user-interface of a product and what information you will really get from its sources. One of my favorite places at conferences is the exhibit hall so I can learn about new products and tools on the spot.

You might have questions such as:

  • Will it integrate with my donor database?
  • Can I print a reasonable looking profile right from the tool?
  • Can I look at the “raw” search results or will it only show me results matched with its proprietary filter or algorithm?

And, of course, you always have to consider what kind of learning curve users will likely have. Is it easy to figure out? Is there live and DIY training available? What is customer service like?

The Process of Choosing Never Really Ends

Choosing the right product or suite of products doesn’t happen just once and then you are finished forever. Instead, it’s more like eating. Sure, you have your favorite recipes, but you go to restaurants or cook new dishes. Sometimes the new meal – or the new research tool – becomes a new favorite.

Information technology is an ever-growing field globally, not just in fundraising research. We can’t hope to keep up with every tool that enters the market, but we can be strategic about evaluating whether a tool is likely to be a good investment.

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Click here to get your copy of the Profile Search Tool Comparison Chart. Be smart. Choose well.





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The Devil’s in the Data! When should you get an audit?

binary-503598_1280Guest post by Darrel Spacone

Stop and think about the health of the data in your donor database.  When was the last time any cleaning or maintenance was done? Is it part of a normal routine?

We all run into situations on an almost daily basis that scream “Dirty Data”, “Duplicate Data”, “Useless Data”, etc.  But what are you doing about it? Do you know what to do or how to do it?  There are always issues with data that will creep up over and over again until they are addressed.

Your donor database is highly complicated and detailed. Over the course of time, how many staff and volunteers, with different skill sets, have been allowed to edit your data in some way and contribute to the less than stellar shape that it is in?

Most organizations face the same issues, but how they deal with or ignore them separates them. An audit is the starting point to finding out exactly what and how much is amiss, addressing it, and then making maintenance and cleaning part of your normal routine.

In my career I have had direct experience with wearing many hats and having heavy workloads thrust upon me as a nonprofit employee. Sometimes there is little or no time to navigate the data trail, finding and fixing common, glaring issues.

You know or suspect you have problems, but how and when can you tackle it?

If you don’t have someone on staff with the expertise to clean up your donor database, consider hiring a consultant to provide you with an audit. An audit will identify what you are doing right, what is going wrong, and what steps you need to take to get back on track.

So, when should you get an audit?  NOW of course!

Following are some of the benefits of an audit:

  • Mailings: An audit will expose missing titles, names, addresses, addressees, salutations.  Are you mailing to or soliciting minors? What about your service area or state? Do you target solicitations to certain counties? Is the county field populated?
  • Duplicate records: Do you have the same person with multiple records?  Are they necessary?  Are you mailing to spouses or other household members separately? Should you?
  • Duplicate addresses: Every time you add a new, preferred address, are you checking the address tab?
  • Merged records: Duplicate information can be copied over during this process.
  • Security: Are you lazy when it comes to security?  Does everyone have the same access regardless of their job function and capabilities?  Often this is the single largest problem and causes the most damage.
  • Deceased constituents: Are you mailing to or soliciting dead people? Have you overlooked the surviving spouse?
  • Record archiving: How long do you solicit a prospect? How long has the record been in the system without any activity?  Do you know how to keep your history, but remove from your mailings?

Data underpins all of your development efforts from gift acknowledgement, invitations, prospect identification, stewardship and beyond. When your data becomes a tangled web, your ability to fundraise suffers. Donors are not thanked and renewed. Major gift opportunities are lost forever. When you add up the losses incurred from bad data, the return on investment in your data skyrockets.

The Devil’s in the data! Make it Good.

darrel.spaconeAbout Darrel Spacone, bCRE
Darrel Spacone is the Chief Information Officer at Donor-Data-Done, LLC, a Blackbaud Certified Raiser’s Edge Consulting firm. With thirteen years of experience with Raiser’s Edge, he has helped healthcare, arts, child welfare and social services organizations identify problems and fix their donor databases. He provides audits and solutions, so that you can focus on your day-to-day tasks without missing a beat, saving you time and money while you are raising money.
Connect with Darrel:

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Let’s Talk Research Life, Not Your Job

Many of the important decisions about your life are made when you are not in the room.

Don’t believe me? Tell me, were you there when…

  • Your spouse decided whether or not to keep dating you early on?
  • The sellers decided to accept your bid on the house?
  • Your mortgage company decided to risk a loan on you?
  • Your boss decided to hire you over other candidates?

Who is going to be in the room when you go for a pay raise or a promotion? Who decides whether your department has enough in the budget to send you to an industry conference?

The recent APRA Prospect Development conference in New Orleans demonstrated with gusto that our field is alive and thriving. Many in our profession have become a driving force for success in their fundraising departments. How did those individuals get to the place where the decision makers felt really good about fundraising research?

Maybe you feel a bit like Dorothy when she first approached the Wizard of Oz – a little intimidated by leadership. But let me take you behind the curtain…

The Influencers

In social media we hear a lot of talk about finding the influencer – the person with the biggest following and the highest engagement.  In your office, many of the same rules apply. Influencers are those who interact with a lot of people and have direct control or influence over decision making.

Make a list of how many people you interact with. How many of them directly control or influence decisions that are important to you?

You might be surprised who turns up on your list. What about the president’s assistant? She might interact with a large number of people, including you. Does the president listen to her when she has an opinion?

The Plan Man

Now that you have the list of people you interact with in your organization, pull out a fresh sheet of paper and make a list of all of the people who influence the decision that is most important to you. Maybe that’s training and using analytics tools, attending a conference, or implementing a new process.

Take your two lists and identify a few people that are on both lists – not too many – that you could develop a better relationship with. Treat them the same way you know how to treat donors. Create a cultivation plan that builds rapport, engages the person on relevant topics of interest, and gives the person more of what s/he wants. Ask good questions. What is her biggest pain point? Help her somehow.

You might also find that by developing a deeper relationship with a few key people, you meet more of the decision makers in your office.

Now that you have your cultivation plans, decide what three words you want people to think of when they think of you or your department. Think it through carefully. Now use those words when you talk about yourself and your work. I don’t mean to go bragging on yourself, but in regular conversation consciously use those words.

Not only will people begin using those very same words to describe you and your work, but you will begin more closely aligning your behaviors with those descriptors.

For more than 15 years , my three words have been:
Integrity | Accountability | Growth

And, yes, I need to be reminded to use them more!

Relationship Time

At conferences like APRA’s Prospect Development conference, the visionary ideas presented, the cross-pollination of ideas and sentiments with colleagues, and the new skills learned can be transformational.

But this year, my biggest takeaway was how important it is to choose time spent on relationships very thoughtfully.

We all know in life that not everyone will like us. But making decisions about who to spend our precious time with is never easy. If there are people in your life who energize you, who excite your curiosity by being different, who bring out the best in you (add your own criteria), then invest in them. If there are people who don’t do all those good things for you (or you for them), then gently step away.

When you deliberately examine your social networks both inside and outside the office, strategically choose the people to invest your relationship energy with, and understand and promote your own core values, you will succeed. Paths will illuminate. Opportunities will arise you couldn’t have dreamed up.

Your Job or Your Research Life?

It’s up to you to define success in all aspects of your life. For me, research infuses almost every part of my life. Methodically approaching any kind of problem – treating it like a research project – has been my modus operandi since I was a child. Back when it felt like I could learn about anything just by reading books in the library. Nothing is too difficult if you have a method, an approach.

If you want more out of your research job, consider tweaking the phrase to research career – or even research life!

More Resources

Takeaways from other APRA peeps:


Carla Harris has been inspiring my career for years! Maybe she will inspire you too.


Speaking of methodology, check out Marianne Pelletier’s resource: What Analytics Can Do for Your Fund-Raising Shop