5 ways prospect research can strengthen fundraising events

By Sarah Tedesco, guest blogger
Executive Vice President of 

Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.

Fundraising events can be a fantastic way to give your donors the opportunity to get to know one another and connect with your organization — all while raising money for your cause.

Whatever type of event you’re hosting, prospect research can help you strategize so that you make the most of your valuable face-to-face time.

Prospect research helps nonprofits find out more information about their donors and prospects by analyzing basic information, like names and addresses, as well as more complex data like past giving histories and affiliations with other organizations.

If you’ve already done things like maximized your fundraising strategy with robust online donation tools or hired a fundraising consultant to optimize your campaigns, prospect research can really take your organization’s fundraising event efforts to the next level.

To help you and your nonprofit benefit from this incredible resource, we’ve compiled a list of ways to make prospect research work for your cause.

Here are five easy ways to use prospect research for your next fundraising event:

  1. Determine which donors to invite to events.

  2. Optimize your communication strategies.

  3. Make donors’ interpersonal connections work for you.

  4. Leverage your donors’ affiliations.

  5. Connect with donors after an event.

If you’re ready to maximize your nonprofit’s impact with more effective prospect research, read on!

1. Determine which donors to invite to events.

Deciding on a guest list for a fundraising event can be a difficult task. You have to consider venue size, cost per person, and numerous other factors. While it would be nice to invite all of your donors, that isn’t exactly ideal. How can you pare down the list without unintentionally excluding a key donor?

With the help of prospect research, your organization can better manage your guest list and ensure the inclusion of a variety of supporters, from lower-level to major gift donors. Researching prospects ahead of time can make sure that your organization includes a healthy balance of all types of contributors on your guest list.

So how can you use prospect research to identify your most likely giving candidates? You’ll want to analyze various data to uncover their capacity and affinity for giving.

For example, to identify a donor’s capacity to give, you can check things like their: 

  • Property ownership, including real estate holdings or boat ownership.

  • Political giving history.

  • Stock holdings.

  • Employment.

While these identifiers are reflective of wealth, they do not always indicate whether or not a prospect is willing to give to a nonprofit organization.

To identify a donor’s affinity for giving, you can check their: 

  • Past giving at your nonprofit.

  • Past giving at other nonprofits.

  • Volunteering history.

  • Membership on nonprofit boards.

All of these characteristics can give you a better understanding of your prospect’s values and priorities. You will be more successful in raising money for your organization by seeking out those with histories of giving than those without.

If you know what types of nonprofits they like to be involved in, you can also emphasize the aspects of your own organization that align with their views while you talk to them at your event. Make sure that they understand that your organization shares their values!

All of these elements should be analyzed in tandem to gain a more comprehensive picture of your donors. If you don’t know where to begin, consider taking a look at Donorly’s article, Donor Research: 5 Key Concepts and Tools to Get Started.

By gaining a greater understanding of your event’s attendees before they even come through the door, you can pinpoint the donors who aren’t just able to give a major gift, but who are connected enough to your cause to want to provide the funds in the first place.

When you invite these candidates to your events, you have the chance to pitch your latest campaign, learn more about the donors’ interests, make a deeper connection, or even ask for a donation in person.

2. Optimize your communication strategy.

Have you ever logged onto Facebook after a few days away from your computer and realized you missed an invitation to an event? Have you ever lost your mailbox key, only to realize that a letter from someone has been sitting in there for weeks?

You don’t want that to happen to your donors!

By analyzing the information that you have about your donors, you can make some informed assumptions about how they best receive information. Younger supporters may be more receptive to online outreach due to its efficiency, while older ones may respect the effort that direct mail takes.

While you should absolutely cover all your bases by inviting donors on multiple platforms, you should keep in mind both traditional and innovative communication strategies.

Some donors keep their calendars digital, and will respond best to emails or social media campaigns. Other donors may prefer the older system of doing things, and will think highly of your and your organization after receiving a printed invitation to your event in the mail.

Some different vehicles for communication are:

  1. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

  2. An online newsletter

  3. A dedicated mail campaign

  4. A phone call follow-up

If your organization uses a CRM (constituent relationship management) service, you can use this program to your advantage. Keep track of your donors’ preferences in this database so that all of your information is centralized and accessible.

By applying these different strategies to your supporters based on what you already know about them, you’ll create stronger relationships and improve your retention rate.

3. Make donors’ interpersonal connections work for you.

Prospect research can help you decide how to seat donors at events. If you’re hosting a gala, dinner, or auction, you will need to develop a seating chart.  

Doing some research ahead of time can help you group donors together who will interact with one another and talk positively about your organization. If you place an important gift prospect alongside an existing donor, you might be able to raise more money than if you randomly placed donors in their respective seats.

Use your previous understanding of your donors to make connections between current donors and potential donors. People who both own boats might share a love of fishing, or people who live in the same neighborhood might share a taste in architecture or design.

By encouraging donors to make warm connections at your events, you are creating a friendly and inviting environment. This atmosphere will encourage donors to enjoy your events and be more likely to return, or even look forward to future events as fun social gatherings with like-minded people.

4. Leverage your donors’ affiliations.

Prospect research can provide you with a goldmine of information. It can reveal anything from a donor’s age and marital status to employers and other business associations.

Prospect research can help you manage your donors’ extensive personal and professional networks, so that you can leverage the connections that will be most advantageous.

By making connections between your existing donors and potential donors, you can promote your fundraising event to more people and potentially gain new supporters in the process.

The following affiliations can all be used to extend the reach of your organization:  

  1. University or alma mater

  2. Employer

  3. Board of director service

Say that you learn that one of your current donors serves on a board with someone with a history of donating to organizations like yours. Ask if they can connect you with that person, or invite them to your next event! In fact, your current donor could even be the one to invite them.

A new contact is much more likely to attend if they know someone else who will be there.

In your research, you may also identify employees at top matching gift companies. In this scenario, employers will double the amount of an employee’s donation as long as it’s eligible. Identifying matching gifts opportunities can help your team steer donors toward applying for a matching gift.

Many people are unaware of their employer’s matching gifts policies. By knowing where they work and approaching them directly, you can increase the impact of your donors’ gifts without your donor having to empty out their wallets!

Business connections can also be leveraged for corporate philanthropy, which can support your event or future campaigns.

For example, businesses can provide: 

  • In-kind donations.

  • Cause marketing.

  • Sponsorship.

  • Advertising channels.

Some companies will even give money to your organization based on hours of volunteer work that their employees do for your organization through a volunteer grant. By recognizing which of your contributors work for these companies, you can reach out to them regarding these opportunities.

All of these contributions can be used to support your fundraising event. By doing the legwork before your event, you can maximize your time with the donors and make sure you don’t miss any valuable potential connections.

5. Connect with donors after an event.

Staying in touch with donors after an event can not only boost donor retention, but it can also encourage donors to give more at the next fundraiser you invite them to. A great first step would be to send a donor acknowledgement letter.

Again, remember your supporters’ preferred communications method, and follow up with them that way. This method will show your appreciation for their support.

Remember, some donors require additional attention. If you invited a major gift donor who contributed a significant sum to your fundraiser, make sure you don’t just thank them. Check in with your major gift donors in between fundraising events to keep them posted on the projects and missions that your organization is accomplishing with their donations.

Did any new faces attend your event? Gather some information on them when you meet them!  

Some important information to learn immediately is:  

  • How did they learn about your event?

  • Did they attend with someone already connected, or did they come of their own accord?

  • Do they have a connection to your mission?

This information, along with basic demographic information, will help you hone your marketing and communication strategies as well as allow you to perform prospect research on them once the event is over.

If you do identify potential major donors, you’ll want to begin cultivating them with carefully crafted follow-up materials. Tell your nonprofit’s story. Show the impact of their attendance.

A great way to involve new supporters in your organization’s mission and ongoing projects is to show them what your organization has been up to in the past year.

If you don’t know how to build the perfect annual report or have never done it before, take a peek at this list of annual report best practices from DonorSearch to get started.

The first step in building any relationship with a donor is ensuring that you and your organization are on their minds, even after the event has ended. The key is to use the data you have to maximize your chances of success before, during, and after your event.

Prospect research can be an invaluable tool when planning your next fundraising event.

By doing the research necessary ahead of time, you can create a strategic plan for communication and networking before, during, and after your event.

You can not only determine which donors to invite and where to seat them, but you can also leverage existing donor connections and discover which donors should receive extra attention after a fundraising event has ended.

By applying these five tips, you’re sure to maximize your organization’s potential and ensure its continuing success. Put on your researching hat and get to work!

Wayne GurleyComment