Improving Fundraising
through Research

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

Today, there are many sophisticated tools for prospect research, but Rockefeller’s advice is as good now as it was back then. An authentic relationship with donors is often built upon our knowledge of their interests and philanthropic intent.

How can you best manage prospect research in your nonprofit organization, especially if you have no dedicated research staff?

  • Be selective. The best prospects for large gifts are those already giving to you. To start, research the donors who have made a commitment of at least $250. If you have very few donors, then focus on prospects most likely to be interested in your work, such as donors to similar organizations.
  • Have a plan. What are you going to do with the research once you’ve compiled it? Often it ends up on our computer desktops because we don’t know how to integrate it into our cultivation and solicitation strategies. Are you going to mail different appeals to high-wealth prospects? Are you going to try to arrange face-to-face meetings? At the very least, prospect research should be discussed at regular development meetings.
  • Create a research profile. What do you want to learn? I would suggest the following: Capacity to Give (Research: Assets, Age, Career, Education, Family Background); Interests (Research: Religion, Politics, Board Service, Memberships, Known Philanthropy); Relationship to Your Organzation (Research: Existing relationships with board members, staff, or other donors).
  • Preserve research in your donor database or files. As you begin meeting and talking with donors, you will gradually augment your research as you learn more about them. Keep the data in a place where you can readily access it now and in the future.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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