Neil Armstrong was on to something when he said, “Research is creating new knowledge.”
There might not be much overlap between the worlds of fundraisers and astronauts, but both can appreciate the importance of doing your research.
For Armstrong, that most famously meant preparing for his journey to the moon. For fundraisers, that means getting to know your prospects and donors before making an ask.
Well-informed communication strategies will get a nonprofit ten times further with their solicitation than a random, unspecific correspondence. The best way to reach that well-informed threshold is through prospect research.
During prospect research, nonprofits educate themselves about their donors and prospects. They then use the information to predict a prospect’s combined willingness and ability to donate.
Those predictions are critical in understanding how to communicate with donors. Below you’ll find three examples of why that is.
1: Segmenting Prospects into Different Giving Levels
Imagine you’re a journalist known for the interviews you’ve done with important people throughout your career. Think Barbara Walters.
Does Walters approach every interviewee in the same manner? That’s doubtful.
Just like a political figure requires a different questioning tactic than a music icon does, an annual fund donor and a major gifts donor need separate communication tactics.
Nonprofits can’t design communication strategies for each individual donor. They can, however, group like donors and target those groups with unique communications — that’s a purpose of donor segmentation.
Consider the various types of donor:
- major gifts
- planned giving
- annual fund
- monthly giving
Take planned giving.
For planned giving, you’re asking donors to decide to make a future gift in the present. Often allocated in wills, a planned gift is a legacy gift. Your communications need to reflect that.
Or, think about annual fund donors.
Annual fund donors are loyal donors, and loyal donors are often the best prospects for major gifts. Focus a portion of your communications with those donors on giving upgrades.
Each bulleted option could have its own mini-discussion, but we’ll stop with those two for brevity’s sake.
2: Identifying Prospects’ Networks
How would you respond if someone walked up to you at a party and said, “My name is George. I’m great. I’m one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet,”?
You’d look for a way out of the conversation, right?
What about if a friend of yours said, “This is George. He’s great. He’s one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet,”?
Suddenly, George is no longer self-aggrandizing and egotistical. He has the stamp of approval from a mutual friend.
We rely on recommendations from our peers and the people we know. Replace your organization with George and you with your donors and you’ll see the answer to a common question that fundraisers encounter.
How do we promote our cause and our organization in such a way that we appeal to prospects and don’t come across as patting ourselves on the backs?
Organizations do have to perform some tactful self-promotion in their communications, but it is also possible to incorporate the peer-reviewed element. Leverage your existing donors to spread the word about your cause and make a positive impression on their friends, families, and associates.
Prospect research can reveal significant relationships that your donors have with prospects. Ask those donors to communicate to the prospects on your behalf, or at the very least, provide an introduction.
It doesn’t have to be an extremely involved process. It could be something as simple as giving donors the option to post about their recent gifts on Facebook, thereby promoting the work your organization is doing and how others can get involved.
On a different note, but still one nonetheless related to prospects’ networks, your screening will highlight the professional life of a donor, like the name of his or her employer.
Many employers will have corporate social responsibility initiatives. They are a huge benefit if you know about them and are able to promote them to your donors.
For example, matching gift programs, often a part of corporate philanthropy, are quite common and just as commonly overlooked.
If you know that X donor works for a company with a matching gift program, you can send that donor a mailing with matching gift information, encouraging X to submit the paperwork to his or her employer. When the process is complete, your organization has an additional donation because you exposed a donor to matching gifts.
That’s easy to do once you have the employer data from prospect research.
3: Uncovering the Best Ways to Build Connections with Prospects
Traditionally, when we think of donor communications we think of:
- direct mail
- phone calls
- social media
Within those categories of communication, most correspondences involve asks, acknowledgements, and updates. Each has its own merits as far as developing the donor-nonprofit relationship, but there’s a fourth communication topic that can accomplish a lot as far as relationship building goes: event invites.
If handled correctly, fundraising events can be incredibly successful. Not only do the events bring in necessary funds, but they provide an interesting outlet for fundraisers and other nonprofit staff to bond with prospects and donors alike.
Ensure that you’re sending out the right promotional materials to the right people. To determine that intersection, look to prospect research.
The research will give a complete enough picture of your donors that you can estimate the kinds of events they’d like to attend and the kind of language that would get them there. Galas are good for major gifts donors, fun runs are good family friendly days, and so on.
Keep these three methods in mind as you plan for prospect research. If there’s one underlying theme to all three points, it’s this.
Getting to know your donors better always helps.
The “new knowledge” that comes from prospect research is a game-changer for donor communications.
This guest post was contributed by Sarah Tedesco of DonorSearch.
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.