Nonprofit Expert
From Prospect to Donor
Home » Nonprofit Questions & Answers » From Prospect to Donor

From Prospect to Donor

Most small nonprofits are clueless when it comes to attracting donors! Also, sadly once they do in fact find a donor many lack the discipline to do what it takes to keep the donor interested and the cycle starts all over.

The term prospect research can be defined as the process of selecting and reviewing information gathered in order to identify potential donors. While people would like you to think this information is magical and the process itself is mysterious, the truth of the matter is that the data is gathered from public records. This information can include but is not limited to biographical family information, which gives you a snap shot of a family philanthropic history as well as a possible clue as to personal interests. Also, information can be gathered showing past and current addresses as well as the career background of an individual including his or her education. Other information such as real estate, stock ownership and ownership in items such as planes, boats, horses or art might also be obtainable.  There are many firms that can perform this kind of nonprofit prospect research analysis.

However, let’s be totally honest! Small nonprofits can’t pay to get this information and even if they could what does it really tell you about a person other than that they have the potential to give you money, not that they want to.

So, this is where YOU come in! But first, I want you to read the following story of Sally Jenkins:

Sally was excited when her mother told her she would help her have her very own flower garden in the backyard. She was warned that she needed to start small and have a plan! Sally loved flowers and knew she might want to start planting before the snow melted but really look forward to spring. She decided to plant mostly perennials because she knew they would come back next year but also wanted some annuals as well. In picking her spot Sally knew having good sunlight was important and she wanted to make sure she has at least six hours of exposure. After finding her spot Sally made sure the soil was moist and dug down ten inches and then mixed it with special potting soil her mother gave her to establish her flower bed.

A lot of work has been done so far hasn’t it? Yet, she has not seen the first bloom and won’t for quite some time.

Sally focused mainly on plants that would come back each year i.e. current donors. However, she also wanted to make sure she has annuals as well i.e. possible new donors. A lot of Sally’s time was spent thinking about her surroundings and conditions. Likewise, you would do well to make sure where your program is located is not only inviting but also ready to receive donors so they will be impressed. Regardless, you should remember that Sally was extremely patient with her flower bed and she wanted to make sure it had six hours of exposure. I hope by now you realize that the process we call development is a long one!

In order to cultivate donors you have to start with a plan, just like with anything you do with a purpose, and realize that there has to be certain steps you will need to take in order to be successful.

Let’s look at three easy steps that will help you move from prospect to donor.

Step One: Be honest, what are your real motives?

If your only motive is to “get money for your organization” then you will be limited in what you will be able to accomplish. People with or without money can spot a fake or plastic person a mile away. Donors are not stupid and understand that you are getting paid to work at your organization i.e. that is your job. However, what they don’t know is if this is a passion or not. I’m sure you have at some point in time been infected with the contagious passion passed on from another. The excitement in a person’s voice and seeing their actions literally made you excited as they were as well. You felt like you were part of something bigger than yourself and you knew that by joining them big things would happen! Your motivation needs to be true, and I am a firm believer in that you yourself, the paid staff person, need to personally give if you are going to ask others to give.

In all giving, it starts with you and your commitment must come first!

Step Two: Scattering the Seeds

Finding like minded people can be difficult and at times the shotgun approach is needed. Yet, in order for someone to find you they have to first learn about you!

Unfortunately, nonprofits generally do a poor job at promoting themselves and providing opportunities for the general public to really come out and learn what their organization is all about. One of the best ways to do this is to have an open house and conduct organizational tours, coffees and even lunch meetings.

Likewise, you can’t expect people to always come to you but you have to go to them. In every community there are civic groups that have monthly meetings and most would love to have a speaker come in and talk to their group. This is a great opportunity not only to tell people, many you have never met, about your organization but also give them an opportunity to volunteer or help with specific needs your organization might have.

Step Three: Make Sure Your Board is Working

Nothing is more frustrating than to feel like you are doing it all alone. It is important for your board of directors to not only set policy for the organization but also play an active role in fundraising to help your organization grow.

Part of this growth occurs when board members are active ambassadors in both giving money and time as well as telling others about the great things the organization is accomplishing. In order for a board member to be “the best they can be” they must themselves be taught all about what goes on within the organization. A brief organizational history and a current copy of your by-laws and current financial information are just a few of the items needed in order to be able to speak intelligently about the organization they now represent.

With all this said, it is important to remember a truth in fundraising, which is: “People give to people first before they give to an organization.”

Each and every board member has a sphere of influence that includes people they work with, friends and family members. These connections will help you in finding additional prospects and donors.

Now is the time to get your hands dirty. It may take a rake or it may take a shovel, but you have the tools needed to get it done.

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.