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How to Research Prospective Donors to Your Nonprofit

Professional fundraisers will tell you that the three keys to raising money for nonprofits are research, research, and research. To see what they mean, consider this scenario: You know that your next-door neighbors’ child plays music. After all, her band rehearses at all hours in the garage.

That leads you to put them on your list as good prospects for your community music school. But you may not know what your neighbors’ other interests and hobbies are or where they work (which may be for a business that matches its employees’ charitable contributions). A little research can go a long way!

Professional list brokers and services can provide data about donors, but you don’t need to follow that expensive, formal route. Local news media, the Internet, social media, and informal conversations can tell you a great deal about your neighbors’ affiliations and interests. You just need to pay attention and take notes.

After you’ve brainstormed a list of individual donor prospects, go back through your list of names with board members, volunteers, and trusted associates. Mark which of your prospects seem to be highly likely, somewhat likely, and not very likely to donate to your efforts, based on what their interest appears to be in your organization’s purpose, whether someone you know can contact them, and how much they’ve given to nonprofits.

Research institutional sources

If you want to raise money from foundations and government agencies, you’ll likely begin by using the directories, databases, and websites specifically geared toward helping grant applicants. However, if your brainstorming session uncovers institutions as prospects, be sure to check out their websites or printed annual reports for info on their current guidelines and giving priorities.

You can find details about institutions that don’t have their own websites by subscribing to the Foundation Center’s online directory. Search for federal government agencies and programs at the Grants.gov website.

As you conduct your research, you’re likely to uncover other prospects that you didn’t think of when brainstorming, and you may also eliminate many that you discover are inappropriate.

Estimate how much your prospects will give

Identifying names of possible donors is just the beginning of the puzzle. You also need to estimate the amounts your prospective donors may give. For this estimate, you have to continue your research. For example, you may find clues by tracking down the approximate amounts of their contributions to other organizations that publish their donor lists.

For your foundation prospects, you can look up sample grants awarded to similar projects in the “Grants” section of The Foundation Directory book or online version. This book lists grants of $10,000 and higher. You can find grant lists for foundations that award smaller amounts by downloading their IRS Form 990 tax reports from the Foundation Center or GuideStar websites.

Estimating how much money you’ll receive requires research into each type of donor. They’re also based on overall goals that you set, including attracting new donors, sustaining many of the contributors your organization has had in the past, convincing some donors to increase their gifts, and continually expanding your contacts and resources.

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