July 23, 2014


Ideas that work: Building a strategy for prospect research

Erin McHugh Saif

Erin McHugh Saif

[Publisher's note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

Fundraisers everywhere are being asked to implement bold strategies to ensure program stability.

Add to the mix the fact that donor and prospect information changes at lightning speed, and you can understand why fundraising professionals are feeling anxious.

Organizations that have implemented analytics and prospect research best practices are weathering this environment better than most.

Good use of analytics brings stability to the development office, builds accountability with leadership and board members, and successfully uncovers new prospects with strong affinity for your mission.

Here are some ideas that can help you reach your long-term fundraising goals:

Lead with donor and prospect facts.

Use data to make your case - whether increasing funding for a new resource or adding prospects to your portfolio. Under pressure to retain more donors? Arm yourself with historical facts about why your program has performed the way it has.

Identify prospects with characteristics similar to your major donors. It is your job to understand what donor segments perform well and poorly so that your strategies have real impact.

Internal data is a gold mine.

Internal data is a precious commodity that will uncover crucial information about your best prospects -- that is, if you collect and store it systematically. Prospects who proactively call you or ask their employer to match gifts likely have elevated affinity for your mission.

Best of all, internal data is unique to your organization and can be used to build statistical models to find prospects with likelihood to give.  

Invest in tools that build your pipeline and alert you to data changes.

Fundraisers report they are under increasing pressure to uncover the next big prospect. There are research tools available that proactively alert you when prospect wealth changes.

Invest in smart technology that acts as an additional resource in your office - your tools should deliver the right data to the right fundraiser at the right time.

Create and deliver an implementation plan.

The most important phase of a project is analyzing the data received and implementing results. Create an organization-wide plan and define clear milestones and success metrics to track progress and hold your team accountable. Use your results to make the case for future projects.

Smart reporting builds credibility.

Successful fundraising teams utilize reports that track every stage of a gift transaction, donor relationship and more.

They analyze planned-giving programs by model score, message, mail package and interest code to understand which strategies delivered the most bequests, annuities or charitable remainder trusts.

They know how many leads a particular campaign generated, number of in-person visits completed and volume of proposals received. Do you have the same details at your fingertips?

Be creative in your data gathering.

External nonprofit performance reports such as those published by the Indiana University Center for Philanthropy, Giving USA and Target Analytics provide historical and forecasted fundraising performance critical to share with your leadership and board.

Bill Gates reiterated the importance of analytics in a February 2009 letter.
He said, "As we execute our [foundation's] strategies, we need to share what we learn, because the biggest leverage is in getting many others to adopt best practices...we need to develop credibility by the strength of our evidence."

Erin McHugh Saif is product manager for Target Analytics, a Blackbaud Company.


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