Tag Archives: donor research

5 Reasons Why You Can’t Find a Prospect’s Giving

When meeting a new prospect, it’s quite exhilarating to find out that they are philanthropic and have given generously to other organizations. Perhaps the prospect will be interested in focusing some of that philanthropy towards your organization. But occasionally, fundraising professionals may find a gap between what the prospect says and what is publicly available.

It can be very frustrating to learn that Jane Doe has given extensively to ABC KidsCare but prospect research has no philanthropic gifts listed in the donor profile! Or John Smith talked about his family foundation and it is not even mentioned in their profile! 

Let’s talk about the top five reasons why this information may not be available, even in this day and age of seemingly infinite data.

Reason 1: Not All Nonprofits Publish a List of Annual Donors

This might be the number one reason that a prospect’s giving is not available. While foundations are required to file tax filings that list their grant giving, nonprofits do not have the same requirements.

Many nonprofits publish an annual report that provides information about an organization, its successes, its programs, and much more for the past year. Many include a donor list, often by giving range. These annual reports are a great marketing tool to show off an organization and encourage other donors.

However, that information is up to the discretion of the nonprofit organization. If the nonprofit does not decide to publish it on the website and/or supply it to aggregators like iWave and DonorSearch, that information won’t be available. That means that research and other fundraising professionals may not find that information.

Reason 2: Anonymous Giving

While a prospect may be telling you about their giving to nonprofits, they may be shy about having that information publicly available to anyone. Many organizations allow donors to be anonymous in their honor rolls and sometimes even in their own databases.

There are many reasons why someone might want anonymity. It could be they don’t want the whole world to know how much money they have or to know that the they and their family are philanthropic. Some people want to protect their privacy and fear that they will be deluged with requests for funds if the information is public. Others may not want the public to know where their donations are going.

Obviously, this information is not available for prospect research professionals to find in the public domain. This makes the conversations you have directly with your prospects an important to fill in the picture that no amount of research can find.

Reason 3: Giving through a Third Party

Another reason that a prospect’s giving may not be easily findable is that they are giving through a third party, notably a donor advised fund, an LLC, or a trust. Similar to Reason 2, people can pick and choose how much information is available through these third party entities. In Fidelity Charitable’s most recent  donor advised fund report they share that 81% of Fidelity DAF holders share their names and addresses with a gift; 15% share only the name of the fund; and 4% give anonymously.

Similarly with LLCs, trusts, and funds, people can give as much or as little information as  they want. You might find just a surname, like “The Connor Family Charitable Fund.” Sometimes you find an LLC that does not appear to tie to the prospect at all, such as “123 ABC LLC.”

You may be able to infer that the Connor Family Charitable Fund is likely to be the prospect’s fund based on geographical location and areas of interest, but it’s not a certainty. Sometimes there just isn’t enough information.

Reason 4: Their Giving is International

One thing for certain is that the US has a lot of information publicly available, from real estate to SEC filings to foundation tax filings. We can find out a lot just from official databases. We also have a society norm where nonprofits tend to publish annual reports with donor lists.

But outside of the US, the situation is different for pretty much every country. Some places like Canada may have some giving information available but many countries do not have the same expectation or rules even for their foundations. So, the prospect could be giving extensively overseas but we may not be able to find it because the information is not public. There are some giving search sources for different countries, but even then, the prospect’s giving might not be in that database either.

However, there are workarounds that can help. Fundraising research professionals at Aspire make a point of researching how different cultures give back so we might understand general ideas about what people generally feel about philanthropy in the country in question. Additionally, there may be press releases about the prospect if the prospect commands a high profile.

Reason 5: That’s Not Really a Foundation

Sometimes prospects will tell us about their foundation, which is a huge sign of capability (foundations are expensive to start and maintain!) and affinity (they give!). But for whatever reason, the fundraising professionals cannot find heads or tails of any foundation in the name of the prospect. This is because using the name “foundation” is not regulated.

Anyone can name their donor advised fund, trust, or another fund a foundation. The best way to figure that out is to search for an incorporation record. A grant-giving foundation must be an incorporated entity and receive IRS designation as a foundation. If the organization isn’t found in Foundation Center, Candid, or the other IRS Form 990 databases, such as the IRS Search for tax exempt organizations, it is likely that it is not a foundation.

However, watch out because if a foundation was recently incorporated, it may not have its information publicly available yet.

Appreciating Information We Can Find

While these are just five reasons that someone’s giving may not be found in public information, it is pretty amazing that there is so much information that is made available.

There are many organizations throughout the US that do publish their annual reports. Press releases about philanthropy are published in the media. Foundations file tax returns which the IRS makes available in machine readable format.

All of these sources and others allow prospect researchers to find new major gift prospects and confirm affinity and capacity for existing donors.  

Additional Resources

Giving Opportunities

Will a Wealth Screening Really Help Me?

by Julia Bojarcik

Yes! Wealth screenings really can help you raise larger gifts and even identify major and transformative donor prospects. When you are looking to find qualified major gift prospects in your database, want to segment your donor database for targeted asks, or want to realign your fundraisers’ portfolios for optimum performance it can seem daunting — especially if your database has thousands of records. It isn’t a magic bullet, but a wealth screening can take you pretty far, even in this age of A.I.

What is a Wealth Screening?

Wealth screenings provide information about philanthropy and wealth markers that are matched to individuals from public data. When you submit the names, addresses, and any additional data to the wealth screening vendor, the vendor then takes that information and matches it with external data, and creates numerical or alpha ratings for wealth and/or inclination for each record. The ratings can be sorted and segmented, which is useful in developing fundraising strategies.

If your database or CRM has the capability, the ratings can be uploaded to your system for additional segmenting and reporting. Depending on the vendor used, you may receive additional data points such as property values, stock holdings, family foundations, and giving to other charitable organizations.

Why do a wealth screening?

Wealth screenings enable you to look at your donor database in a new light and highlight donor prospects who have the potential to make larger gifts. Below are a few examples:

  • Easily segment donor database by wealth and philanthropy: Donor prospects can be prioritized based on wealth scores, enabling your gift officers to focus their time and energy on those that have potential instead of cultivating prospects with little or no potential or inclination to give to your organization. Conversely, donor prospects with lower wealth scores can be reevaluated for possible removal from portfolios. If you are planning for a capital campaign, a wealth screening can help you build your campaign gift table.
  • Find ‘hidden gems’ in your database: Maybe you have a donor who gives very little or gives sporadically to your organization. That type of donor may not be on your radar. But when a screening indicates that he owns multiple properties in wealthy neighborhoods or runs a multimillion-dollar business, you may just have found a winner!
  • Create tailored lists for your fundraising events or visits: Say for example, you are planning a major fundraising event in Naples, Florida and want to invite your most promising prospects from that area. Where to start? You could pull a list of Naple prospects based solely on giving to your organization. But what about people who made small gifts or haven’t given recently? Should they automatically be discounted? Maybe not! Considering wealth capacity scores along with giving may highlight untapped potential donors in your database, thus creating a stronger invitation list.
  • Create Strategic Direct Mail Appeals: Direct mail appeals are expensive, especially if mailing to your entire database. Plus, the return on investment (ROI) can be low. Screening data can help your organization be more efficient and cost effective by segmenting your database by wealth and inclination. Therefore, instead of mailing to everyone in your database, you can strategically segment your donor database to create targeted appeals. This strategy will reduce the cost of direct mail appeals and increase your ROI.  
  • Opportunities to upgrade donor annual giving: Wealth screening vendors often provide an estimated annual gift range, which indicates the amount a donor is likely to give to your organization in one year. By comparing that data, you can find opportunities to upgrade donors to a higher gift amount through targeted appeals. This strategic approach is another way to reduce costs and increase ROI for direct mail appeals.

Wealth Screening Limitations

Wealth screenings sound like a magic bullet, don’t they? However, like any technology, they have limitations.

  • Garbage in, Garbage out: Screening data is matched to individuals based on the names and addresses from your database. The cleaner your data, the better the results. This is a good incentive to get your data in top notch shape!
  • False Matches: Even with the best data, there may be errors. There is always the possibility of false matches. This is especially true with common names. Say you happen to have two John Smiths who live in the same large city. It is conceivable that the screening could have matched data to the wrong John Smith. Another example along those same lines would be in the case of a father and son who are a Senior and Junior. And if there is a III or a IV, the chances of that happening increase. A good practice is to validate the results, especially in the case of common names.
  • Overestimating Wealth:  Screenings look at visible wealth, such as property values, business ownership and stock holdings, to determine the ratings. But there are some caveats to be aware of. Screenings tend to overestimate the wealth of those in the lower wealth tiers since most of their visible wealth is the value of their home. However, donors are not likely to sell their home to make a major gift.
  • Underestimating Wealth: Conversely, screenings tend to underestimate the wealth of those in the higher wealth tiers since their wealth can be tied to LLCs, trusts, and other non-public assets that cannot be found by screenings. People in the middle wealth tiers can have more visible assets such as multiple properties, insider stock, and evidence of larger gifts. Wealth screenings tend to be the best and most accurate with this group. Something to keep in mind as you review the results.

Since screening results have raw, unverified data, the results can be subject to error. The scores are great for segmentation. However, when looking at individuals the results should be validated for the reasons mentioned above.

It is also important to remember that to make use of all that wonderful data, it must be incorporated into your overall fundraising strategy. Too often organizations let that data sit there unused, due to either staffing or scheduling issues, or they just don’t know what steps to take.  Screenings are an investment in your program. Don’t let that happen!

Beyond the Wealth Screening

Wealth screenings are one piece of the fundraising puzzle. They are a fast and economical way to sort and segment large files. They are a way to prioritize prospects and help create strategic fundraising efforts, thus saving you time, money, and energy.

However, the ratings don’t tell the ‘story.’ This is where Profile Research plays an important role. Prospect Profiles can often uncover the story behind the donor prospect. Was their wealth made or inherited? How do they view philanthropy? What types of organizations do they tend to support? Are they more likely to respond to an emotional need or to a ‘good return of their investment’? These insights paint a more complete picture of the donor prospect which is vital in tailoring a cultivation strategy for a specific prospect.

Wealth screenings are only the beginning of a solid fundraising strategy. Remember that the key to securing very large gifts is building strong relationships with your donor prospects, and that takes time.

Are you considering a wealth screening and wish you had a research partner you could count on? Schedule your free consultation with Aspire today!

Fishing for Prospects The Promise of Validations

Fishing for Prospects: The Promise of Validations

By Elisa Shoenberger

Finding new prospects is often compared to fishing. You throw out a proverbial net and hopefully get an incredible number of fish in return. Some are going to be bigger than others; hopefully, you’ll throw the smaller fish back into the water to grow and thrive.

Continue reading Fishing for Prospects: The Promise of Validations

Introducing Volatile Opportunity: A Guide to Cryptocurrency and Fundraising 

It’s been a bumpy road for cryptocurrency over the past year. In 2021, cryptocurrency did not seem to have any limit to its heights but in 2022, the crash came. Many predicted it was the end of crypto. But 2023 has been an interesting year with the price of Bitcoin rising again. The Giving Block, a full-service crypto exchange solution provider, predicts that over $1B in cryptocurrencies will have been donated by 2027. Boston Consulting Group forecasts that the crypto market will grow significantly by 2030. 

What does this mean for the fundraising world? Opportunity! It’s a chance to raise additional funds, engage new donors who may not have been interested in philanthropy anymore, and find new ways of fundraising. It’s volatility and risks. But there are ways to mitigate and manage risk. 

Continue reading Introducing Volatile Opportunity: A Guide to Cryptocurrency and Fundraising 

Strategic Research for Transformative Gifts

By Elisa Shoenberger

Asking for a major or transformative gift is a little bit like asking someone to marry you. You’ve (likely) been dating one another for a while and know quite a bit about your respective interests. Maybe you’ve discussed marriage; perhaps you haven’t. Ideally, you have an idea that the other person will actually say “yes.”

But timing is everything. You probably don’t want to ask your beloved to marry you when they are dealing with their dying father or in front of a crowd of people if they’ve told you that public proposals are not their thing. Maybe you want to ask their father and/or mother for their hand in marriage. The way you approach the proposal may say a lot about the response.

Continue reading Strategic Research for Transformative Gifts

Finding the Right Cheese for the Cracker: Using Research to Create Strategies and Tactics for Cultivating Prospects

By Elisa Shoenberger

Most of us have eaten cheese in our lives. Some of us may have grown up with American cheese, string cheese, and cheddar cheese. Maybe you’ve tried mozzarella, spreadable goat cheese, and a bleu cheese. While all of those cheeses are delicious, it can be a little intimidating to walk into the cheese aisle or a cheese shop. Suddenly there are tens, even hundreds of cheeses in all different colors and shapes. So how do you figure out what goes best on a salad or on a steak?

That’s what it might feel like when you’ve met with prospects in your portfolio. You know something about them; maybe you even requested an Aspire Snap Bio on them before meeting them. But what do you do next? How do you cultivate them towards a major gift in the next few years or so? How do you fit the cheese to the cracker or side?

Continue reading Finding the Right Cheese for the Cracker: Using Research to Create Strategies and Tactics for Cultivating Prospects

Learning to Drive: Using Prospect Research for Early Cultivation Meetings

Remember the first time you got behind the wheel of a car? Maybe you had taken your learner’s permit test or not; maybe you had watched your parents closely as they drove. But when facing the wheel, pedals, and all those buttons for the first time, it might have been really daunting. I was frustrated the first time I got behind the wheel; no matter what I did, I could not get the car to go. I soon realized that no one had told me to push the brake while starting the car!

Naturally, if someone is getting a donor profile for the first time, it can be a bit daunting. There are lots of sections; some filled with charts and graphs while others have lots of information. And what’s with the “likely” and “possibly” speculation?

Continue reading Learning to Drive: Using Prospect Research for Early Cultivation Meetings

Neon One’s Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving – Part 2

NeonOne set out to understand what individual giving looks like in the post-pandemic world. By reviewing many sources including academic journals, industry reports, blogs, and more, they have synthesized six questions:

  • Who are our donors?
  • What do our donors support?
  • When do our donors give?
  • Where are our donors?
  • Why do our donors give?
  • How do our donors give?

In Neon One’s Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving – Part 1, we focused on the first three questions. In this Part 2, we are focusing on the last three questions.

Continue reading Neon One’s Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving – Part 2

Neon One’s Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving – Part 1

What is this Report?

NeonOne set out to understand what individual giving looks like in the post-pandemic world. By reviewing many sources including academic journals, industry reports, blogs, and more, they have synthesized six questions:

  • Who are our donors?
  • What do our donors support?
  • When do our donors give?
  • Where are our donors?
  • Why do our donors give?
  • How do our donors give?

Due to the length of the report, Aspire will focus on the first three questions. The second part will be published in 2023.

Continue reading Neon One’s Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving – Part 1

How to Unlock the Major Gift Magic in Profiles and Capacity Ratings

It happens. You get that profile and say to yourself, “Well, I knew all THAT,” or you take one look at that capacity rating and say, “In my DREAMS they’ll give that much!” — or worse, you say, “They could give so MUCH MORE than that!”

Where do profiles and capacity ratings go wrong and how can you unlock the major gift magic for you and your organization?

At Aspire Research Group, we prepare a lot of profiles, and we spend a lot of time fretting over capacity ratings. We also spend a lot of time with our clients, asking and listening to what information serves them best.

Following are three things we’ve learned that anyone can implement to unlock major gift potential in your prospect research efforts:

1 – Say “Yes!” to prospect strategy reviews with your researcher

Every new client at Aspire gets a brief follow-up profile review after the first delivery. This is a critical juncture in making sure we are delivering the right information. When we get a request, we know you trust us to sort through a treasure trove of data and deliver the right bits to you. But how do we know which bits are the best?

Some of it is standard, but if you want major gift magic, we have to talk to you and learn more about what matters most to you and your organization. That first conversation leads to more conversations. Sometimes we have questions at the time of your request, or right in the middle of doing the work!

Making the time for periodic prospect strategy review meetings pays off with better information being delivered in the profiles. But if you really want to up your major gift game, you have to do more to get the most out of prospect research.

You have to push back, question, and – dare I say it – complain. We recently had a client get frustrated with the way we’re delivering information he found critical to his success. What if he had kept quiet? Grumbled to himself and spent twice the time finding it on his own?

Now we are back on track, supporting him on the research path he has discovered works really, REALLY well for his campaign. At Aspire we WANT our clients to be successful!

2 – More is better – but more of what?

Aspire clients are probably a lot like you. Fundraising operations that do not have a prospect researcher on staff, but are either raising millions every year or on track to cross into 7-figure territory. What we’ve learned over the years is that confident fundraisers are BOLD.

Research is expensive. But NOT getting research is devastating. It means no new building. No programs for people who are suffering.

If you know how to build relationships with your donors and ask for larger gifts, what is holding you back from asking for more profiles? Why wouldn’t you want to know exactly what your experience indicates will lead to a deeper relationship faster?

Yes, information on prospects does go stale over time — but not if you are out there cultivating and asking for gifts. Bold and confident fundraisers make the investment – and generate the return they need to fund their mission.

3 – Capacity ratings are like weather forecasts

There are so many types of gift capacity ratings or ways in which to calculate them, that it’s no surprise when development officers throw up their hands and give up on them altogether!

The primary purpose for a capacity rating is to help you prioritize and segment donor prospects. Does that surprise you? If this is true, then why are they on every profile?

When you see the capacity rating on your profile, think of it more like a weather forecast. You know it has a high level of unreliability, but it is correct often enough that you bring your umbrella when there is a high chance of rain.

If you have a relationship with your researcher, make sure you understand something about how they are creating, verifying, or updating the capacity rating. This will go a long way to helping you unlock some major gift magic from them.

Once you have some confidence in the gift capacity rating, you will have more confidence in using it as an important consideration when crafting your major gift proposal amounts. At this point, the gift capacity rating might validate what you were already thinking, or it might give you the confidence to ask for even more.

Fundraising is hard work.

Major gift fundraising is even more hard work. It’s not your fault that you are pressed for time and struggling to pay attention to yet another thing – prospect research. We get it.

That’s why we created a new 30-min webinar series this year – Research Rocks!

In 30-minutes you get the “why” of profiles and capacity ratings and tips on how you can implement better practices easily and immediately. If you show up live, you get to interact and connect with others. But there’s always the replay.

WARNING: At Aspire we really do LOVE prospect research and by the end of 30 minutes, you might get hooked, too.

1 – Can you really trust gift capacity ratings? | 8/9/2022 from 2-3pm ET | $49

Gift capacity ratings are touted as one of the best ways to segment for major gift prospects, but just how reliable are they? And why are they based on a 5-year pledge? Veteran researcher, Jen Filla, tackles the topic, diving right into what works and what doesn’t for development officers responsible for major gifts. Walk away knowing the different types of capacity ratings, how to leverage them for maximum impact, and how gift capacity ratings are changing with emerging technology.

2 – Build better relationships – and ask for more – with profiles | 9/13/2022 from 2-3pm ET | $49

Not all donor prospect profiles are created equal – and that’s a good thing! In this session, prospect research professional, Jen Filla, demonstrates how you can navigate the prospect profile continuum to build faster, better relationships with your donors and feel confident asking for larger gifts. It all hinges on getting the right information at the right time – and using it.

If you have any questions about how you might use this training opportunity with your team or elsewhere in your organization, please contact us.