Donor Research Basics – Identify (Part 1)

How do you find the right people with the capacity and heart to advance your mission? You have limited time and resources to cultivate relationships with your donors and must be strategic by fishing where the fish are likely to bite. Who in your database are most likely to support the mission, initiatives, and impact opportunities of your ministry? Where do you start? Begin with methodical research and move to appropriate segmentation activities and communications.

You have three research resources available to you:

Internal sources – your database/CRM provides historical giving records as well as notes on past involvement in events, activities, and volunteer engagement.

Advocate sources – your board members and key volunteers can offer confidential anecdotal input about prospective donors’ interests, capacity, and potential support for your mission. Great starter questions for board or committee members are:

•   “Who do you know on this list and how do you know them?”

•   “How long have you known them?”

•   “Do they know anything about our ministry?

•   “Are they aligned with our mission?”

•   “Who is not on our list that should be?”

External sources– third-party wealth screening resources can help you determine potential giving capacity.

The first two choices are great qualification opportunities that only cost your time and effort. Limited external research is also available at no additional cost through Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, or other social media sources. Wealth screening services such as Wealth Engine and DonorSearch can help you develop a clearer picture of your donors’ interests and capacity.

Donor Segments
Prioritize your current donors and prospects as major or general donors. First, define what a major donor is for your ministry. For smaller organizations, a major donor might be $500 or $1000 given in a year (one-time gifts or a series of gifts). In larger ministries, a major donor may give $10,000 or more annually. Many ministries also develop special mid-level donor strategies to reach those who fall between your general and major donor categories.

Donor Communication
Your ministry should be cultivating relationships with individuals, business owners, and foundation representatives using multiple tools like newsletters, appeals, event invitations, email, and social media. Some people in your database are lapsed donors that you need to reconnect. Many times, it’s easier to rewin a friend than to make a new one. Perhaps some in your donor base have never given. These could be current or past volunteers, past recipients of ministry services or family members of those recipients. You may not be able to invest lot of time cultivating these donors face-to-face, but you can cultivate them through your communication channels.

Look for creative ways to share your story. One ministry sends weekly prayer emails and occasional video updates. Recently, when the executive director met a new donor, the donor said, “I’ve never met you, but I feel that I know you because I read your emails every week and watch your videos.”

In part 2, we will discuss how to qualify those donors we’ve identified.

About the Author: Jody Fausnight, CFRE, has worked in the fund development field for more than 25 years serving as a director of advancement, a community/public relations director with four non-profit organizations, and as a consultant. Jody has expertise in Christian school recruiting, public relations, fund development, and major gift cultivation strategies. He has successfully raised many millions on behalf of numerous organizations and has grown ministry development programs from the ground up on more than one occasion.

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