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3 Ways Prospect Research Can Increase Your Organization’s Capacity 

Your nonprofit’s capacity refers to your organization’s ability to accomplish its mission and deliver programming and other services to its beneficiaries. Your capacity includes your nonprofit’s financial resources, internal team, physical and technological infrastructure, working culture, and more. Thus, your capacity is something that you should grow over time so you can focus on what matters most and do more good for more people.

A strong prospect research strategy can play a large part in helping you increase your nonprofit’s capacity. Also known as prospecting, this is the process through which you identify new major donor prospects for your organization. But it can also play additional roles in capacity-building, which we’ll explore in this guide.

As you review the roles that prospect research can play in growing your organization, consider working with a nonprofit consultant that can help you refine your prospecting process, identify further opportunities to improve your nonprofit’s operations, and put you on the path to sustainable growth. Let’s begin.

1. Prospect research helps you identify new major donors.

The main purpose of prospecting is to help you identify new major donor prospects that aren’t currently part of your donor pool. You can do this by using tools like prospect research databases, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, and real estate property records to identify individuals who exhibit capacity, affinity, and propensity markers that indicate they are in a position to give a major gift to your specific cause.

According to Donorly, major donor fundraising is critical because your major donors can help your organization increase its capacity in the following ways:

  • By giving gifts that make up a large portion of your fundraising revenue. Fundraising dollars fuel your mission and your ability to deliver that mission to your beneficiaries. Large gifts can also provide the financial security your organization needs to focus on growth-related initiatives. Rather than fundraising just to stay afloat, you can turn your attention to projects that will empower you to do more.
  • By helping you get a start with major projects, like capital campaigns. Capacity building for nonprofit organizations often involves taking on major projects, like a capital campaign to build or expand a facility, purchasing major equipment, or establishing an endowment. Major donors typically provide the majority of the funds for your project and can also give your team feedback on its project plan early on in the process to ensure you’re on the path to success.
  • By being enthusiastic ambassadors for your organization. Major donors are deeply invested in your nonprofit’s success, which makes them great ambassadors for your cause. They can encourage their professional colleagues, family members, and friends to all get involved with your work, expanding your community of support.

To increase your nonprofit’s capacity, you need to be in a healthy financial position and able to consistently grow your donor base. Major donor fundraising backed by a comprehensive prospect research strategy can help you do just that.

Many organizations work with a prospect research consultant to ensure they’re making the most of their prospecting efforts. This can be a great way to get expert guidance on prospecting and cultivating new major donor prospects.

2. Prospect research provides insights you can use to fine-tune your fundraising strategy.

Fundraising is a critical part of capacity building. It’s the main way you secure the resources you need to serve your beneficiaries through your programming and other projects. Plus, each fundraiser you hold gives you the opportunity to grow your donor base. More revenue and supporters provide your organization with more stability, empowering you to design and deliver your programs and services more effectively and take on additional projects to increase your organization’s reach.

Clearly, regular and intentional prospect research can lead to improved fundraising by identifying major donors. But the data you collect can also empower you to fine-tune your major gift asks. As you collect information about your prospects, you’ll have foundational knowledge upon which to build genuine relationships. Then, when you feel your prospect may be ready to say “Yes!” to a donation ask, you can design an appeal that will align with their philanthropic priorities, favorite aspects of your cause, and financial capacity.

Additionally, prospect research data can help you create targeted campaigns and events that effectively speak to your major donors or your community at large. For example, you might discover nonprofit involvement details about a few donors that indicate you should try out some fresh fundraising ideas. Consider what you know about your prospects and donors to design fundraising campaigns, events, and volunteer opportunities that will resonate with them and encourage them to get involved.

As you identify improvements you can make to your fundraising work, make sure to set up a process for evaluating those improvements. Donorly’s fundraising strategy guide suggests setting specific goals and choosing and tracking specific key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your progress. These pieces of data will give you concrete evidence that will indicate if your improvements were successful or if you need to go back to the drawing board.

3. Prospect research empowers you to better understand your community through broader donor research efforts.

As stated above, prospect research helps you identify major donors. But the research muscles you’ve developed in your prospecting efforts can also help you understand different segments of your supporter base.

After all, to grow your organization sustainably over time, you’ll also need a solid understanding of all the people who care about your cause and how you can better meet their needs—from donors who give $5 each month to the donors who give your largest gifts. Learning more about the individuals at each level of giving will help you build stronger relationships with your supporters, resulting in their long-term engagement with your nonprofit.

So, how can you use the research experience you’ve gained from prospecting to learn about other segments of your supporter base besides major donors? Here are a few tips:

  • Dig into your donor database to look for trends in giving behavior and demographic information for more targeted marketing messages. 
  • Survey or interview your supporters about why they give or what your cause means to them.
  • Interact with your supporters on social media by creating content that sparks conversation and responding to comments and direct messages.
  • Review your website analytics to better understand how people are using your website. What can you learn about their giving habits and what they value about your nonprofit?
  • Research recent mid-level donors to identify those who may be in a position to level up their giving.
  • Develop donor personas representing distinct segments of your supporter base to guide your outreach and fundraising efforts.

Conducting donor research that will provide insights about multiple segments of your donor pool will require you to target your efforts and know what you’re looking for. This is what makes your experiences with prospecting for major donors so valuable—as your team gets better at identifying major donor prospects’ capacity, affinity, and propensity markers, you’ll get better at identifying important information about all of your supporters through broader research efforts.

When it comes to nonprofit success, you’ll want to right-size your practices and processes so you can do good now while also preparing your organization to grow and expand its influence so that you can do more good tomorrow.

Prospect research is a foundational practice for increasing your organization’s capacity—it can help you identify major donors, optimize your fundraising strategy, and develop research habits to understand your larger community of supporters. Tap into the power of prospect research today and consider working with a prospect research consultant to make your efforts more effective.

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Founder and President Sandra Davis leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts, and managed board development and recruitment efforts, planned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.

Profile Photo of Sandra Davis