Tag Archives: major gift

Lowering the Prospect-to-Donor Ratio

Do you dream of creating the perfect prospecting system? A system so flawless that the ratio of prospects to donors drops to 2:1 or even (gasp) 1:1? I do! And yet, barring advances in ESP, a 1:1 ratio feels quite out of reach. We simply don’t have access to people’s complex, internal motivations for giving until they get visited and share. Even so, we still have plenty of room to achieve better prospect-to-donor ratios.

Interview with a Donor

I had the joy of interviewing Tim Horton, a venture capitalist for the Prospect Research Institute’s #ChatBytes podcast. About halfway through the interview he shared some of his philanthropic motivations with me.
  • Childhood sentiment – He gave to the March of Dimes as a child and still gives.
  • Family culture of giving – He was taught to give while young and now gives his time and money to mentor youth.
  • Political passions – He feels strongly that Africa has been left out of the capitalist economy and wants to remedy this.

Mr. Horton is a very private person and his giving is anonymous. If you research him you will find all of the usual public information, especially businesses where he is a listed officer. Isn’t it natural for us fundraising researchers to consider that given his venture capital history he might view his giving as an investment or wish to be involved in giving to entrepreneurial issues or causes? And yet, if we deduced his giving motivations from the data collected we would be all wrong.

Insights and Integration

Whether we are sourcing a fresh list of prospects or taking a deeper dive to qualify already identified prospects, achieving a lower prospect-to-donor ratio requires insights and integration.
As an instructor at the Prospect Research Institute I have introduced “insights” as a capstone project in any course where it makes sense – because crafting insights takes practice. Usually we researchers are happy to craft insights from community involvement information. We can look at patterns of giving, nonprofit board service, and family foundation histories and provide suggestions about where and how a prospective donor might want to make a gift. But we often stumble over providing insights from wealth information.
And yet, wealth information is where we researchers can really shine a light in the darkness! When we begin to learn and imagine how wealth and assets could affect a prospective donor’s ability to make a major or transformational gift we offer a tremendous service to the gift officer. Suddenly the multi-millionaire with 85% of her wealth tied up in her business becomes recognized for life stage and likely liquidity, opening up a long-term relationship that yields some major gifts now and an eight or nine-figure gift fifteen years later.
So if your gift officer comes to you asking for estimated net worth or a liquidity percentage on his prospect’s wealth, take a deep breath and resist the urge to say that it isn’t possible. Instead consider this the perfect opportunity to integrate prospect research into front-line fundraising. Open the conversation. Discuss how we collect wealth information and how we might better inform the gift officer. Look to other fields, such as financial services, to find out how they evaluate liquidity or other facets of wealth. And provide those insights in some evolving format.
Because once you become part of the team conversation around how a prospective donor’s wealth impacts ability and motivation for giving, you are providing the kind of insights your team desperately needs to bring the prospect-to-donor ratio down and to build deeper and more respectful relationships with constituents. You begin to drop the “cost center” designation and become integrated with the “revenue center” designation.
And even better, you get to learn. You get to hear what happened after that visit. You get to find out how right or wrong your guesses were and speculate with the team on why that might be. You get to discover great new ideas on how to perform even better in the future.
It’s time to step-up and lean-in to a new relationship with your data, your fundraising team, and your profession. It will take some practice, and perhaps a few mistakes along the way, but you’ve got this!

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Can You Trust Gift Capacity Ratings? 5 Things Fundraisers Should Know

capacityGift capacity ratings were a marketing moment for wealth screening companies. Suddenly thousands of records could be matched individually to wealth records and assigned a score. Your constituents could be assessed by their potential capacity – in the form of dollars. And everybody loves money. Have gift capacity ratings lived up to the hype? Yes!
With the sophistication of fundraising analytics we now have ever more ways to evaluate our prospect portfolios, but gift capacity ratings remain an important tool for the fundraiser. To get the most out of your gift capacity ratings, following are five things you should know.

1. Prioritizing your prospect pool saves you from yourself.

We are all human and that means we prefer to call upon and visit people we like – people who are more like us. Unless you are a major gift donor yourself, your prospects are not like you. Assigning numbers, gift capacity ratings, to your prospect pool helps you overcome your natural tendencies and allocate your time based upon the impact someone can have on your organization.

You will spend as much (or more) time on someone who can give $10,000 as someone who can give $100,000 or $1 million. If you want to excel in major gifts, capacity ratings will help you focus.

2. Ratings and scores are never exact unless it’s the Olympics.

Gift capacity ratings don’t have decimal points! Or at least they shouldn’t. Typically a gift capacity is expressed as a range, such as $250,000 to $499,999. The range should clue you in that this is not an exact science. The goal is NOT to pinpoint a solicitation amount. The goal is to categorize your prospects by their capacity or ability to give.

A successful solicitation strategy requires much more than a gift capacity rating. A $1 million+ capacity rating is exciting … until you visit and discover he believes philanthropy is bad for the economy. A $1 million+ capacity rating is exciting … until you discover she has been harboring fantasies of making a transformational gift to your cause. Then it’s a MIRACLE!

3. You must know your prospect types.

You and your prospect research professional are not high-net-worth-individuals (HNWIs). You are not usually doctors, lawyers, or investment bankers either. Recognizing and being able to categorize how different prospect types accumulate, manage, and give away their wealth is for you and your researcher to discover together.

Know that HNWIs are generally UNDER-valued by gift capacity ratings. The more wealth there is, the more likely that wealth is hidden from view. Prospects outside the U.S. frequently have wealth indicators that can’t be assigned a number.

4. Not knowing produces anxiety. Embrace the unknown.

Before you get frustrated with how little we can really know about the prospects we want the most – HNWIs – remember that gift capacity ratings were never meant to be the final word. As you evaluate your prospect pool by its capacity ratings and any other tools available to you, embrace what you don’t know.

Create a checklist of what clues you in to prospects of great wealth. Use this to create a strategy for your discovery and cultivation visits. Use what you don’t know as a roadmap to discover your prospect. If you know a fundraiser that came of age pre-internet, find out how s/he prepares for visits!

5. Your researcher is your best ally.

Prospect research professionals have as much fear of ambiguity as gift officers. Calculating capacity ratings fills us with anxiety and angst! This is also to your advantage. Engaging your researcher in conversations about gift capacity ratings, wealth indicators, and what you might discover in your visits will only make you both better in your professions.

Some of my best conversations have been with confident fundraisers who wanted to better understand how I arrived at a gift capacity rating or how a particular type of wealth factored in to the prospect’s ability to give. Prospect research professionals want the donor to give a major gift, too!

Gift capacity ratings are not going anywhere anytime soon. Learning to use them to your advantage will help you achieve success as a fundraiser.

Do you have advice for others on pitfalls to avoid, or tips on how best to use gift capacity ratings? I hope you’ll share!

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Join the Resource Collections online community to access this handout. Use it to facilitate discussion with prospect researchers, gift officers, and leadership



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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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.

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.

Forbes Billionaire List Alert: What you’re missing

dancingwomensmWomen may be just under half of the world’s population, but they represent 11% of the 2015 Forbes World’s Billionaires List. Of the 197 women on the list, 29 are self-made billionaires. These may not sound like inspiring numbers, but consider the women on the rise.

Elizabeth A. Holmes is the youngest self-made woman billionaire – ever.

And she happens to be female. And she founded a company using her scientific prowess. So if you’ve been reading all the nasty headlines about how women suffer from misogynists harassing them in the tech field, consider that some uber-successful women have simply stepped around that hot mess!

Ms. Holmes is 31 years old, has retained 50% ownership of her company Theranos valued at around $9 billion, and makes time for philanthropy:

  • Board President for Improve International, an organization launched by fellow Georgia Tech alumna Susan Davis, which is devoted to education, partnership, and monitoring the sustainability of water and sanitation projects worldwide
  • Active mentor for young professionals within Elavon, a payment processing company
  • Volunteer at Georgia Tech, participating annually as a judge for TAG’s Educational Collaborative
  • Member of Women in Technology and On Board
  • Financial supporter of Girls Inc.

The real question is this: If Ms. Holmes wasn’t on the Forbes list, would you even know she existed?

Because I bet there are many sweet major gift prospect gems inside your databases and within your organization’s social circle, but you have no clue.

How Do Women Hide in Your Database?

Of the 168 non-self-made female billionaires on the list, many inherited their wealth from fathers and husbands. But don’t let that fool you. They own it! Did you pay attention to those women before their fathers and husbands died? You should have.

Even before they are widowed these women are usually the influencers and even the drivers behind household philanthropic decisions.

In her debut publication What About Women? prospect research professional Preeti Gill suggests you take a walk through your database …as a woman.

  • When a couple makes a gift, do you credit them both?
  • When you have a couple as donors, do you create a separate record for the woman?
  • What salutation does the woman have?
  • Are you paying attention to how she wants her name listed?

How Do Women Hide Among Your Organization’s “Family”?

Perhaps the easiest way wealthy women are hidden and not recognized by the organizations they love is when they are never entered into the database to begin with. Way too many organizations do not track and include volunteers in their fundraising vision and plans. Your prospect research professional can’t find major gift prospects in your database if they aren’t in there.

And what do we know about women? They do their due diligence before investing! And part of that due diligence is often volunteering for the organization.

Wealthy Women are Still Women

Ignore women in your fundraising at your own peril! Women are different from men. They think about money differently. They want different interactions with your organization from men. And they might even give differently from men.

Fundraising with a focus on women will require adjustments and adjustments require time, money and resources.

But very wealthy women are on the rise and they bring rewards:

  • Quick to make referrals through word of mouth
  • Frequently give unrestricted gifts, small and large
  • Loyal donors who advocate to others within their network

Are you interested in learning more and staying current on women in philanthropy? Click here to sign-up for the What About Women? email list.

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Innovate or Die: Post-Recession Impact on Finding Donors

Broken LightbulbThe future has a way of entering slowly, day-by-day. But sometimes the writing is on the wall. The words I see on the fundraising wall are Data Analytics. Sure, you say, we all know that. But what does it mean to your organization? To you? Answer: Innovate or die.

That may sound extreme. And it is. But it doesn’t make it any less possible. Before you dismiss that answer, let me tell you how I arrived at it.

The economic environment is affecting our donors – dramatically.

My favorite magazine of all time is The Economist. Lately they have been writing frequently about the growing inequality around the world and in America. How capital is taking a far greater share of wealth and how income, in the form of wages, is stagnating. Companies froze wages pre-recession, but even though profits have returned wages have not risen.

In his blog post “Where have all the donors gone?” Mark Noll makes the case that the result of these economics is the missing middle donor. Post-recession, people may be employed again, but too often at a lower wage. Where will our gifts come from?

In her book, Nonprofit Essentials: The Development Plan (2007), Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE is but one of many fundraisers talking about how Pareto’s 80/20 principle has turned into the 95/5 principle or worse. Way too much of our funding is coming from a tiny sliver of very wealthy. And where do the very wealthy like to give their gifts?

According to the Million Dollar List maintained by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, fifteen of the twenty largest multi-million dollar gifts by value were from individuals to private foundations associated with their families. Higher education receives the highest number of million dollar gifts.

In the Agitator blog, Roger Craver writes:

“Giving USA 2013 is but the latest report to make pretty clear that sitting on the sidelines waiting for recovery [from the Great Recession] is a strategy only for the suicidally inclined…demands on charities [is] rising at the same time giving is nearly flat….”







It’s pretty clear that if fundraisers fail to innovate the organizations they serve will suffer.

So what does all this gloom and doom have to do with data analytics?

Data analytics is the cold method behind a warm philosophy: listen to people when they tell you something. And when thousands of people are telling you something, not only listen, but start digging deeper and ask more questions.

Data analytics allows us to “hear” from our constituents in ways we are physically incapable of hearing. If the data tells us that a large number of constituents click through on messages about one of our program outcomes regardless of where we put those messages (social media, print, etc.), but are not responding to messages about another program we planned to make our strategic direction for the next year – we should re-think that direction, right? Maybe.

Analytics alone is not enough.

It’s pretty amazing that we can “hear” our constituents through data, but don’t be mesmerized by all that glitters. We also need innovation in our approach to attracting donors, finding the “best” out of those and asking them for gifts. If the reality is that we will mostly have very large and very small gifts, how can we change our approach?

In 2012 the Chronicle of Philanthropy featured the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Missouri, which raised $416-million, in part by attracting modest gifts such as $1,000 multi-year pledges. This gave smaller donors the opportunity to express their interest and commitment and to be recognized. Crowdfunding is a similar approach, but might be improved upon to become less transactional. People want to give; people take pride in giving. It’s our job to figure out how to make it easy to give while building affinity.

In addition to gift size there are other changes we need to adapt to. Population changes cannot be ignored. Preeti Gill has written a provocative piece about identifying women philanthropists. In “Hey, Ladies! Thanks for giving. Sorry we missed you,” she notes that many multi-million dollar bequests come from women who are “outside of our databases and away from the corporate and media glare”. In other words, traditional prospect research techniques are failing to identify them.

International donors can’t be ignored either. Harvard University just announced a $350 million dollar gift from a wealthy Hong Kong family. Have you looked at population trends and predictions for your organization?

Are your donors from the local community? Are they international graduating students? You need fundraising programs that meet the needs of the constituents you have and will have in the future, not the ones you wish you could have. Data has to come from outside your organization as well as inside.

It’s All About the People

Data analytics helps us find answers and sometimes it can even help us ask questions, but most of the time data analytics requires someone with curiosity and creative problem-solving skills to direct it.

Fundraisers need to shake themselves awake from the traditional and begin interacting with the data so that they can better meet the philanthropic desires of (all) real people.

Organizations need to be willing to take risks, fail a little and ultimately win.

Ask Kodak or IBM about listening and innovating in the face of change. Innovate or die. It doesn’t sound so extreme now does it? And it is doable.

More Resources:

Top Secret! How to Bulk up your Prospect Pool

HappyKeySMIn this article I’m going to share the secrets of finding great prospects. Maybe you’re one of those fundraisers who is always reading the Business Journal scouting for a lead, but they don’t pan out. Do you wonder how those other organizations pull in the big gifts? Or maybe you’re new and all the best prospects are assigned to senior fundraisers. You can get great prospects too!

If you read a lot of blogs (like I do) now is where you get skeptical. Is she just going to give me theory I already know (and hasn’t yet helped me find good prospects) or will I get at least a couple of nuggets I can actually use? I’m aiming for the latter. The “trick” is that you still have to work hard!

Fundraising research theory tells us that you need to know who you are looking for so you can spot them. We use jargon like linkage, ability and affinity. And there are tools that give you a competitive edge with that. But you can do it even without bright, shiny tools.

The First Thing…

The first thing any good fundraiser (and prospect researcher) needs to do is learn what it looks like to be wealthy. Watching soap operas may seem like a good education here, but much better is reading through some of the wealth reports like the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2014. You’ll find links for other reports in the sidebar on your right.

And the second first-thing-any-good-fundraiser-needs -to-do is get in front of people, especially donors. You should read and get in front of donors at the same time. Start with known donors because they are the most likely to give (again) and it’s always better to get a gift, right?

Call, visit, and read.

When you are reading about the wealthy at the same time as you visit prospects you’ll start making the connections. When the prospect talks about how he and his wife are taking classes in gemology and he has a watch collection, you’ll remember what you read about this being an investment hobby for the very wealthy. And when a different prospect brags about taking regular trips to Europe on mileage points you’ll recognize that what you thought were luxury vacations probably aren’t.

You can do that without any tools except your eyes and ears. Well, I guess you need to use your mouth to place the phone call…and, okay, guide the conversation. But you get it, right? Recognizing the wealthy – the truly wealthy – takes an education.

Get Your Toolbox Dirty

Getting an education on spotting the wealthy still isn’t likely to fill your prospect pool with GREAT donors – those with linkage, ability and affinity. If you have tools that assign ratings to the prospects in your database, use them! Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out perfectly the first few times.

For example, you might pull a report of people who rate high for ability and likelihood to make a gift, but find most won’t take your phone call. You may need to add additional criteria depending on your organization. Maybe it’s “donor within the past two years” or “attended an event in the past two years” or some other criteria that makes it more likely they will let you visit with them.

Keep track of your efforts so you can repeat what works best. And, yes, this does mean you will have to make a lot of phone calls that end in “no thank you I don’t want a visit”.

It’s the same even if you don’t have tools that provide ratings. Without tools you have to get more of an education. You might use a free tool like the Washington Post’s interactive map** of the nation’s super zips to identify wealthy zip codes to search for in your donor database and combine that with “donor within the past two years” or other criteria that suggest a “warmness” toward your organization.

The Secret Weapon

If you are really lucky, you have a trained prospect researcher on staff. Use all your fundraising powers of relationship building to get this prospect research wizard on your side!

HOT TIP: your researcher is likely to get the most excited about searching out top prospects if you reward her with feedback from your calls and face-to-face visits.

With a prospect researcher on your team you are more likely to out-produce even seasoned professionals in the race for fundraised dollars. Really, really!

…and if you can’t support a trained prospect researcher full-time, you can always outsource. Just sayin’!

**Julie, Prospect Research Analyst in Pennsylvania and Groundbreaking Student at the Prospect Research Institute, shared this fantastic resource with the class!

Did you get a nugget or two?

I hope you found a useful tip you can apply in your office. Maybe you have great suggestions you’d like to share with others. Please comment and share!

Jenz Favorite Wealth Reports

Common Prospect Research Myths

For best results, rub vigorously!

I sent a request out to prospect researchers on the APRA PRSPCT-L list-serv asking them to share common prospect research myths. Following is a summary of my favorite responses!

Myth: Everyone over age 60 is a planned gift prospect.

Fact: While age is a factor, affinity is also an important predictor of planned giving and statistical data modeling is even better at predicting who is a likely planned giver.

Myth: Lots of real estate holdings makes someone a major/planned gift prospect.

Fact: We have a lot of real estate investors, large and small, in the Pacific NW.  People buy a few apartment or commercial buildings as a retirement investment and they accrue in value, so development officers think the prospects can give big.  I have to educate them that, unless they are giving us the building, capacity is based on income from the building and that I calculate capacity differently for personal real estate and income-generating real estate.

Myth: We need to know the prospect’s net worth.

Fact: Net worth is all of someone’s assets minus all of their liabilities. We can’t know all of either, because that includes a lot of private information.

Myth: Prospect researchers can find anything about anyone, including: how much is in their bank accounts; personal tax records; credit history; social security numbers; or wills.

Fact: Much information is private, like the examples above, and is not available to us legally or ethically.

Myth: Google. You can find everything on Google. Researching is really just Googling a prospect. “I don’t need you—I use Google.” “If you just look harder, you can find out everything about him.”

Fact: Internet search engines can only find about 20% of what is available on the internet. Just ask Mike Bergman who coined the phrase.

Myth: You can just get a report from the “database” with everything, right?

Fact: While software companies that pull information together for us have gotten very sophisticated, there is no “one” database.

Myth: A prospect can be fully researched in less than half an hour, especially with one of those fancy research services we subscribe to—just push a button and a complete profile comes out, right?. Or better yet, do a “quick 10 minute profile” on a prospect. (Sorry, but is this ever possible — ten minutes?)

Fact: Searched, verified, and synthesized information barely starts with an hour. Anything less risks being haphazard, which might help in a pinch, but is far from ideal.

Myth: Very little data about a prospect is needed in order for the researcher to produce a comprehensive profile (such as: name spelled correctly, address, occupation, how someone is related to our organization).

Fact: Names are far more common than most people suspect and a good match requires as much starting information as possible.

Myth: When asked for “a little more information about so-and-so,” true prospect researchers intuitively know exactly how much more information is enough.

Fact: Good communication is a two-way street between the requestor and the researcher. Some process or structure usually helps too.

…And the last MYTH? Well, it isn’t one really. It’s a FACT: In ancient times, before the discoveries of electricity, personal computers, and the internet, prospect researchers lived in lamps and responded to vigorous rubbing.

Other Post You Might Like:

Can you really trust prospect research? 10 things you should know

Do Your Own Research? You Bet!

An “Insider” Peek at Executive Compensation

dollararrowup.thumbI thought it might be worthwhile (and fun!) to explore a well-known public company executive’s compensation package to illustrate a few of the many and creative ways executives are compensated. Sometimes I forget that the Wall Street world of finance and juicy executive compensation packages is a mystery to many, even in prospect research. My career began as a legal secretary and included editing proxy filings just as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) transitioned to its electronic filing system called EDGAR. Filings can be tedious, but that’s partly because they are packed with information.

Public Company Insiders

Carol Meyrowitz is the president, Chief Executive Officer, and director of TJX Companies, which operates stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and Home Goods. TJX Companies’ stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the ticker TJX. Meyrowitz is both a top executive and a director, which qualify her to be a public company insider. If she owned 10% or more of the company’s stock, that would also qualify her. Any of those three roles qualifies someone as a public company insider.

For the most part, the only people who are required to report their stock holdings in public filings with the SEC are insiders. And when you stop to think about it, there are very few public company insiders compared to the large number of people who own stock. This means that many of your wealthy prospects who own substantial portfolios of stock will not be found in any SEC filings.

Incentive Plans in Public Companies

The SEC requires public companies to detail their compensation packages for top executives. Each company decides on its own how to reward executives for their performance. Especially since the 1970’s, theory has it that executives – and directors too – need much more than salary to keep them interested in the company’s success and achievements.

Below is a chart of Meyrowitz’ compensation in fiscal year  2013. We are going to walk through each type of compensation she received. Keep in mind that I am no tax expert! This is meant to be a big picture, brief explanation with tips on applying the information to fundraising.

Fiscal Year



Stock Awards

Stock Option Awards

Non-Equity Incentive Plan Comp

Change in Pension Value & Non- Qualified

Deferred Comp Earnings

All Other Comp










 Salary and Bonus

Just like you and I, insider executives receive a salary, paid in cash, for doing their job every day. They might also receive a bonus based upon their job performance, which may also called a short-term incentive. Notice how Meyrowitz has not received a bonus in the past three years? The word “bonus” took a real beating during the recession. Even though she didn’t receive a bonus, there are still some really big numbers in her compensation package.

Stock Awards

Stock awards represent the value of the stock Meyrowitz was given by the company when they gave it to her. The idea is that when she meets her performance goals, she gets to share in the rising value of the company through its stock. There may be all kinds of confusing language around this. She might be given restricted stock that do not vest (become fully owned by her) unless she meets certain goals. And she might be required to own a certain number of shares of stock as long as she is an executive.

HOT TIP: Just because this stock awards number is high, it does not mean that all of the stock is available to her to gift or sell. Her salary, the paycheck she cashes just like you, is $1.4 million. Some or all of the $10.9 million stock awards could be untouchable.

Notice how stock is the biggest part of her pay package? That’s no accident. Cash payments are taxed as income. Stock is not. When Meyrowitz sells her stock she will pay capital gains tax on money she makes as a result of the sale (the gain). Can you guess which tax rate is likely to be higher – income or capital gains?

Stock Option Awards

Stock options give Meyrowitz the option to buy stock at a future date. These options are valued in the compensation table, but that dollar figure is more of an accounting mechanism and is not the current value.

The idea is that Meyrowitz will be more focused on the company’s financial improvement if she stands to make significant financial gains if the company’s stock price increases. So she is given an option to buy stock at a future date (the exercise date) at a locked-in price (the exercise or strike price).

For example, today she gets an option to buy 100 shares of stock at $70 per share. The stock is currently trading at $62 per share. If she buys those 100 shares today, she would have to pay $70 but could only sell them for $62. She would lose money! But if we give her options today as an incentive, we’re going to tell her she can’t exercise her options until next year. Now she has a year to get the company’s stock higher than $70 per share.

A year later, she can buy the 100 shares of stock for $70, and hopefully, the stock is trading at $71 or higher. She spends $7,000 and can turn around and sell them for $7,100 ($71 per share), earning $100 on the sale. When the exercise price is lower than the market price and she can sell at a profit, we say her options are in-the-money. If we turned it into a formula, it might look like this:

($market price – $exercise price) x number of shares = $value
($71 – $70) x 100 = $100

HOT TIP:  When trying to determine if Meyrowitz might use her options to make a gift to my organization, I want to know when she will be able to exercise her options and if they are in-the-money. If she can’t exercise them yet or they are without value, we can’t get a gift.

Non-Equity Incentive Plan Compensation

Non-equity means that it is a non-stock incentive. For TJX Companies, this means it is part of its short-term cash incentive plan and its long-term cash incentive plan. So Meyrowitz receives cash for doing a good job in the current year, and even more cash if she keeps it up over a certain number of future years. It’s possible that she could get fired today and still be owed cash under the long-term incentive plan if the company continued to perform!

HOT TIP: You might be saying to yourself, “Cash incentive – isn’t that the same thing as a bonus?” Pretty much. But the word “bonus” has gone out of fashion.

Change in Pension Value & Non- Qualified Deferred Compensation Earnings

The IRS closely regulates retirement plans and there are many vehicles for stashing your cash for retirement. A pension is usually tied to the employee’s salary and years of service. I didn’t dig deep to find out details about Meyrowitz’ pension, but it’s in the SEC filings. Non-qualified money is money that does not receive tax-favored status from the IRS for retirement. Deferred compensation is owed but not paid to the employee until a later date, typically to reduce the amount of individual tax paid in a particular year. Changes in regulations have lessened its popularity.

All Other Compensation

These are the perks! And while some might seem extravagant to us ordinary folk, there are some good reasons behind a few. For example, having life insurance on a key executive provides a cash cushion if the company has to replace her on short notice. Very high-profile executives might need the personal protection a private jet provides. Below is a table from the SEC filing that gives us the detail behind the other compensation for Meyrowitz.


for Financial
Planning and

Legal Services

Contributions  or
Credits Under
Savings Plans

Company Paid
Amounts for Life

All Other






HOT TIP:  Other compensation is not cash and that means it doesn’t factor in directly to the prospect’s ability to make a gift.

Your Top 5 Take-Aways

If everything else about executive compensation was confusing to you, I hope you at least come away with these nuggets:

  • A public company executive’s total compensation is made up of many different items. The actual cash portion and number of shares of stock available for immediate gifting to your organization is likely to be much less than the total.
  • The current incentive plan fad is to not pay bonuses, and sometimes not even to pay a salary at all (see Meg Whitman), but you can bet the executive still receives hefty compensation in the form of stock.
  • Stock Options require the executive to shell out the cash to buy the stock first. The executive does not receive a profit unless she buys the stock at a discount and then sells it at the higher market price.
  • Stock Options might have zero value if the company stock price has fallen.
  • Other Compensation is not money available for gifting, even though it is reported as a dollar figure.

Do You Have a Proxy To Read?

Do you participate in a 401(k) plan at your work? Or maybe you own shares in a mutual fund. I hope this little bit of explanation has you really curious – curious enough to start reading some of the financial documents you receive in the mail. If you are new to SEC filings, the best one to read first is the proxy, also called SEC Form DEF 14a.

The proxy for TJX Companies is where I found all the information for this post. You can visit www.sec.gov yourself and look up that proxy online.

Do you have hot tips on executive compensation to share? Please add to the comments below!

Other Articles of Interest

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America’s Highest Paid CEOs