Tag Archives: EffectiveFundraising

The 4 Levels of Prospect Research

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First things first. At MJA, we start 95% of our engagements with a prospect research screen. This is not our only diagnostic tool, but for today, let’s focus on understanding the people in your database. And getting to know who your donors are, their estimated capacity, and how much they give, is a good place to start.

Level 1 – The AI Screen

The initial prospect research screen uses AI to scrape the web for public information. We currently use iWave but we have used DonorSearch and they are both good products with different advantages. This is not a review, simply an acknowledgement of what I have found to be two solid products on the market.

A recent iWave client screening returned 167 columns of data for each of the 2,782 names that we screened from their CRM. That is a lot to review.

That’s why I never return the data to a client without a tutorial on how to pare down the columns to discover the findings that I think they will find most valuable. I will delete, highlight, and hide columns and then show them how to find their most interesting prospects. At this point, a large prospect research screen can be a truly useful way to prioritize your organization’s next prospects and donors.

Level 2 – The AI Profile

Both software programs allow you to automatically create an individual profile of each name screened.The profile gives additional information and details on the data in those original 167 columns. This is useful when you want to check for accuracy, or you want to determine whether there is capacity for a major gift or capital campaign gift.

For instance, a profile can provide the specifics of a giving history which would tell you:

  • How much they have donated in recent years
  • How many gifts
  • To whom they have given
  • If there was a planned gift that placed them into a Legacy Society

Or you may want to know more about their house that is worth $2,500,000. Did they buy it

  • for $400,000 in 1985 and it is now worth $2,500,000, or
  • for $2,500,000 in 2019 with no mortgage?

Level 3 – The Deep Dive

This is the research shift from AI to human research. A prospect researcher will take an iWave profile as a base and learn as much as possible about a person/couple/family. This is very useful if you are going to ask someone for a million-dollar gift. Especially if the solicitor(s) don’t know them very well.

This research will include online searches and often follows small trails to learn everything about the immediate and extended family, publications in which they have been mentioned, and specific interests that might help make a connection to your nonprofit.

Keep in mind, this can take hours for a complicated family. This is the reason large nonprofits hire multiple prospect researchers for major donors.

In general, I would use a:

  • Level 1 Screen to determine an annual ask
  • Level 2 Profile to consider a multiyear commitment, or 
  • Level 3 Deep Dive to prepare for a 7-figure or significant ask

Level 4 – Anecdotal Information

With all this data, anecdotal information will often be the key to your success.

Conversations with your volunteers, staff, and board can tell you the essential information that may encourage or stop your ask. Did the person(s):

  • Sell a company or have a company go bankrupt
  • Celebrate the marriage of a child or get divorced
  • Donate $1,000,000 to a different organization or tell someone that your nonprofit is their philanthropic priority right now

You get the idea. There is some information that is too new to be available or too personal to be publicly available. But this anecdotal information will change how, when, and for how much you will ask a prospect.

This means that each campaign for your nonprofit may utilize more than one levels of research. If you do not have a prospect researcher on staff, the key is to prevent yourself from over-researching a prospect for a $5,000 gift when you already know they have the capacity for $500,000. And the data enables you to make sure you don’t miss essential information when you know you are asking for $500,000.

If you need help with your prospect research email me. I love strategically using data to help our clients raise more money.