Identifying Donor Prospects

The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

Step #4: Identifying your Donor Prospects

One of the most critical steps in achieving improved development and fundraising for your organization is also one of the most energizing—putting down on paper for the first time a list of actual names that represent potential donors. And truth be told, there are as many ways to identify potential donors as there are donors themselves. While there are a handful of consistent characteristics found in each prospecting model, what is most important is whatever process you choose to identify potential donors, embrace it, use it, work it, and measure the results.

I have found that no matter the fundraising effort, capital campaign, or major gift effort, there are three fail-safe questions to ask to determine if the potential donor is truly a “prospect” rather than a “suspect”:

1.   Does the name in question have the financial ability to donate?

2.   Does the name in question have the willingness to participate?

3.   Is there someone on staff, or do we know someone, who can initiate?

There are situations where a certain person may be a HUGE fan of your organization and the work you do—but they are not in a financial position to donate at the level you may be seeking. Or, on the other hand, the person may have HUGE financial resources but has either shown very little interest in your organization in the past, or perhaps has never been exposed to the great work you do. In both instances, and while this is no reason to exclude them from your target list, it means the solicitation/donation process will be harder and take more time.

Once you have formulated your potential donor list based on the preliminary qualifications of one, they do the financial ability to donate, and two, they do have the willingness to participate (meaning the person seems to have a pre-disposition and affinity for your organization or cause), the third and final filter questions is this, “Is there someone on staff, or do we know someone, who can initiate an introduction to this person, or better yet, help initiate a presentation meeting with the potential donor? Is there a supporter of your organization (Board member/Advisory Board member/existing high-level donor/corporate sponsor) that would be willing to provide an “I know this organization and you will want to know them, too” introduction on your behalf?

With myriad organizations doing splendid work, and an endless array of opportunities for donors to contribute and make a positive difference, what becomes the game-changer in prompting a high net-worth individual or a philanthropically-minded family to choose to investigate and explore your organization? Time and time again that game-changer is the potential donor is familiar with, does business with, or admires the person who makes the call or sends the e-mail on behalf of your organization.

As you further refine your list of potential donors, remember Step #3 (Information is Currency), and begin to search out as much information as you can about those names that have risen to the top of your list. What charitable organizations have they supported in the past? What are the nonprofit boards they currently serve on, or have served on in the past? When they support an organization, is it in name and contribution only, or do they become actively engaged in furthering the mission of that organization?

Finally, if you are the person in your organization who leads the development effort, or you are a member of the fundraising team, remember that you have no greater ally than your active, researched and confidential list of potential donors. As charitable giving is most oftentimes a very deep and personal process and experience for the donor, you must also view the very formulation of your prospect list as not only essential and invaluable, but it must be handled with sensitivity and discretion.

While there obviously comes the moment when the time for preparation is over and the time for action and results begins, the focus, energy and care spent in formulating your list of potential donors will undoubtedly yield positive fundraising results—now and in the future.

Next Installment: Step #5: Get Inside the Door!

This is the fourth part of a 10-part series The Only Difference is Zeros: 10 Steps to Improved Nonprofit Development and Fundraising

-Don Stirling

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2 Comments

Filed under Better Fundraising and Development, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

2 responses to “Identifying Donor Prospects

  1. Excellent points! I’m always reminding the organizations that we work with to remember “TOMA” – Top Of Mind Awareness. People are much more likely to do business with, volunteer for, and donate to organizations that they know and trust. You should know your donor prospects, and then make sure that they know you!

  2. Thanks for your insights on this critical element to successful development and fundraising. Charitable giving is truly a deeply personal process for the donor, thus the relationship with that donor is paramount. Who a person gives to, and in what amounts, says much about that person–what they value, hold dear, and believe in. Consequently, the depth of trust that is built up between the donor and recipient organization, and the person representing the organization, is very, very important.

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