5 Key Points of Prospect Research to Improve Donor Response

Aside from helping to identify prospective major donors, boosting your nonprofit’s rate of donor response is the key purpose of donor research. If you’re struggling to secure a prospect’s support, it’s time to double down with your data!

You already put careful thought into your communication strategies to keep your messaging donor-centric, relevant for your broader base of supporters, and targeted to attract support from specific segments of your donors. When it comes to more major capital campaigns, you put even more hard work into your prospect research strategies.

But how successful are your invitations, discussions, and solicitations once you’ve researched your prospect and made a first move?

If your donor response rates could use some improvement, taking a close look at your data is the best way to refine your communication, development, and solicitation strategies!

Leverage these key points of effective prospect research to find new solicitation insights:

  1. Existing relationships with your nonprofit
  2. Relationships with other organizations
  3. History of charitable and political giving
  4. Engagement with communication channels
  5. Meaningful professional connections and info

If you’ve used a donor research consultant or team to help you refine and flesh out your prospect list, they’ve likely already explored most of these points. Familiarizing yourself will be essential for taking the next steps of prospect development.

If you conduct prospect research in-house, make sure you and your team have a firm grasp on all the most important points of the topic using our introductory Donorly guide to donor research!

1. Existing relationships with your nonprofit

If you found your prospective major donor within your donor database, then their existing relationship and history with your organization should be scrutinized. These insights can easily guide the development and solicitation process, and they’ll greatly increase the odds of a positive response.

Look through your own records on this prospect and draw out some key markers:

  • Past donations. Make note of all their dates and amounts.
  • Rate of engagement. Has this prospect offered steady but low- or mid-level support, or do they go through cycles of larger donations and prolonged inactivity?
  • Event attendance. What kind of events best engage this prospect and get them into the giving mood? Have they ever attended one of your major events?
  • Relationships with other major donors or board members. Personal relationships can go a long way to make conversations feel more organic and relaxed.

Of course, an intuitive and fully functional donor database or CRM platform plays a huge role in making all this data truly actionable. Once you understand your existing history with your prospect, it’s much easier to refine your communication and solicitation strategies as the relationship grows.

For instance, if an existing donor who you’ve identified as a viable prospect has steadily provided mid-level support and attended your annual events for years, extend a personalized invitation to your next gala.

This personal touch might be the perfect way to start growing your relationship!

2. Relationships with other organizations

A prospect’s relationships with other nonprofit organizations is another key point of donor research that you might have used to identify them in the first place.

Even without a history of engagement with your work, a prospect’s history of supporting other nonprofits provides an excellent angle to refine your solicitation or development strategies for them. Look for these markers:

  • History of giving or volunteering with other nonprofits
  • Membership in another organization’s programs
  • Types of events that regularly engage the prospect
  • Commonalities between the missions of their favorite organizations

Here’s an example: A prospect regularly supports another organization in your city whose mission is related to your own, not exactly the same but similar. You research has shown that the prospect has been part of the organization’s membership program for several years and has even upgraded their membership level during that time.

Study that organization’s membership program. What perks, benefits, or opportunities are attracting the prospect and keeping them so engaged?

This will be a great launching point as you develop a more in-depth strategy for building a relationship using the connections-based donor research that you’ve compiled. Analyzing the other organization’s programming, projects, and mission can give you immediate insights into what motivates and interests that prospect.

3. History of charitable and political giving

This is one of the more self-evident points of your prospect research to examine, but a prospect’s detailed history of giving can guide your strategy in essential ways. Most importantly, their history of giving will help you determine what size of gift to reasonably solicit later.

There are other ways that a prospect’s comprehensive giving history can inform your strategies, though, some of which you might not initially consider. Take note of these markers in your research on the prospective donor:

  • Amounts donated to your organization in the past
  • Donations made to other nonprofits in the past
  • Any other significant gifts made to nonprofits or associations
  • History of political contributions

Political contribution history can be a particularly useful, but often overlooked, means of developing a winning solicitation strategy!

Here’s an example: Let’s say you’ve identified a key prospect who has made a major gift to another nonprofit in the past, but they’ve yet to respond to any of your emails or calls to discuss your own mission.

Research their political giving history to find a new angle! Political contributions indicate a prospect with the desire to see their support in action, and they can give a useful glimpse into the issues that motivate a prospect on a more personal (or at least political) level. Explore this rundown of top political contributions search tools from Double the Donation for more context.

By identifying these driving issues, you could find a new, more effective way to reach out to the prospect. If they’ve donated to the campaign of a candidate focused on a specific issue, inviting them to get involved in you or your partner organization’s related advocacy project would be a very smart move.

4. Engagement with communication channels

This tip is fairly straightforward but always worth the effort to put into practice. From your experience with marketing fundraising campaigns and promoting your projects to your base of support, you know that communication is crucial.

You’ve already tried to get in touch with your prospect, most likely through one of these main channels:

  • Phone calls
  • Email
  • Personal letters
  • Conversations at events

How effective have your efforts been so far? Keep track of that information! Understanding a prospect’s preferred methods of communication is the easiest way to boost your chances of developing that relationship further.

Just as you carefully consider your broader messaging and communications to avoid wasting the time of your newsletter subscribers or pestering donors with too many updates, you need to closely examine your one-on-one communications with key prospects.

Look over your data and consider what you know about the prospect’s work or daily schedule. A business executive might be quick to respond to calls or emails during working hours, but they might be unwilling or unable to talk for long. A retiree might respond well to a personal invitation to an event, but they might not hold a sustained conversation over email.

Start with this question: What has worked well with major donors in the past? Find the most successful communication methods and draw some connections between your data points.

5. Meaningful professional connections and info

Lastly, examine the professional connections that you or your team uncovered during your initial prospect research. You already know your prospect’s profession and employer or business, but have you identified more meaningful and actionable connections from this information yet?

Expand your professional research with data points like these:

  • Their employer’s corporate philanthropy programs
  • The prospect’s main colleagues and peers
  • The prospect’s full employment history, including dates and titles
  • The prospect’s current clients or partners

Let’s say you’ve identified a prospect with a relatively high capacity to give, a history of interest and support for missions like yours, and involvement in another organization’s membership program.

If you see that their employer offers generous matching gift and volunteer grant programs, develop a strategy to build a relationship around that! The opportunity to have their support matched can be a major motivator for new donors. It’s also an extremely effective way of convincing your existing donors to upgrade their support.

Alternately, if you’ve found a strong prospect but can’t seem to catch their attention, look over their professional history. A younger prospect with a high giving capacity and an interest in your mission could be a great supporter for your cause.

However, if they’ve only recently taken on a new executive-level title and salary, they might be uncomfortable pledging a major gift just yet. Focus instead on growing a more organic, lower-pressure relationship with this prospect instead.


Building your relationships with prospects and ultimately soliciting their support requires a great deal of strategy. As with any strategic endeavor, research and planning goes a long way!

Walk through these important data points with your prospect research consultants or in-house research team, then discuss how they relate to (and can later inform) your development strategies. You’ll see a marked improvement in your rate of donor response in no time!

Author Bio

This article was contributed by our friend Sandra Davis, President of Donorly.

Decades of nonprofit work left me with the awareness that time is a commodity too precious to waste. I have a talent for developing efficient and elegant solutions and processes that lead to results. I like to get things done right. What gets me excited is providing the building blocks that allow nonprofits to create and deepen connections, not just completing donor transactions. When I am not in a client meeting, I’m traveling with my history-loving husband and going on New York City adventures with my two intrepid teenagers.

Author information

Kristen Hay

Marketing Coordinator at Bloomerang

Kristen Hay is the Marketing Coordinator at Bloomerang. She serves as Chairperson on the Blog & Social Media Committee for PRSA’s Hoosier chapter.

The post 5 Key Points of Prospect Research to Improve Donor Response appeared first on Bloomerang.

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