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Creating a Donor Prospect Profile

 

Here are six of the steps to creating a donor prospect profile.

 

1. Start in your own database

The best place to start your research is in your own database. Look at:

  • Their basic address information — You’ll need their home and work address, as well as their phone numbers and emails, in just about every interaction, so list these at the top of their prospect profile.
  • Their gift patterns — Do they tend to give at a certain time of the year? Do they seem to favor certain aspects of your program? Jot down a few recent gifts on the prospect profile. And include a comment about any trends or patterns you note.
  • The “notes” on files — These can be in all sorts of places depending on the tool you use and the number of places notes can go. Some are associated with gifts. Others are in a “notes” tab. Some are notes in relationships tabs. Poke around to be sure you have a sense of what others in your nonprofit have learned about his individual. Jot down any pertinent information on the prospect profile.
  • The “actions” or “appointments” tab — This section will help give you a sense of what interactions (if any) people have had with the prospect. It’s not important to list these on the prospect profile, but a phrase or two summary can help remind you whether they’ve had a lot of contact with the nonprofit or just a little. Be sure to look for any “notes” fields that may contain more information.
  • The “relationships” or “associations” tab — Looking here can give a more complete picture of who the prospect might know on your board or in your community. More importantly, look for their spouse or partner. You’ll often want both of them at a solicitation. Record these relationships on the prospect profile.

This information is only as good as the ongoing record keeping of the major gift officers. The gift data has to be recorded well. There are tax or reporting implications that ensure it is. But in my experience, major gift officers and nonprofit leaders rely far too much on their memory when working with major donors. Most appointments and interactions need to be documented. One client called this the “hit by a moose” plan: what would happen if you were hit by a moose? Could your nonprofit pick up where you left off? (For those of you not in rural areas, if you’re hit by a moose, the moose usually wins.)

 

2. WhitePages.com

If you don’t have the prospect’s address or phone number, WhitePages.com is a great place to look. It’s a little creepy too. I know it’s just like looking in a local phonebook, but it’s still amazing how easy it is to get people’s home information. It often pulls up their spouse or partner’s name too.

This information helps fill out their profile and is required to do the more detailed wealth screening below.

 

3. Google the prospect’s name

One of the best donor research tools is Google. Just put their name in the search bar and see what turns up. Refine your search by using Boolean logic — having their name in quotes, or adding a location, or searching their name and their business name. A complete list of Google’s search operators are listed here: https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/136861?hl=en.

Many major gift prospects will have corporate bios on their website or profiles on sites like Forbes or BusinessWeek. The usefulness of these vary widely but they’re worth reviewing. News stories, school or alumni newsletters, and community notes may provide helpful information too.

Cut-and-paste any helpful tidbits onto the prospect profile. Be sure to provide the URL of the reference so people can quickly read more. Print any helpful webpages to “PDF” and save them in the prospects file on your computer or your nonprofit’s shared server so anyone can see the source material even if the webpage is removed in the future.

I also do an image search in this step. I save that image to the prospect’s folder in the shared drive and paste it into the top of their prospect profile.

Remember:

  • Look for corporate bio or Forbes/BusinessWeek profile.
  • Often qualifiers like “Boston” or their title or industry can help find the right person.
  • News stories, school or alumni newsletters, and community notes may provide helpful information too.
  • Print any helpful webpages to “PDF” and save them in the prospects file on the shared server so anyone can see the source material.
  • If there’s an image, I save that to the prospect’s folder in the shared drive and paste it into the background information/prospect profile Word document.

Add corporate bio to background information/prospect profile Word document. (I like to include the web URL before or after the bio so people can view the source material themselves.)

4. WealthEngine.com or DonorSearch.net

I’ve been a fan of WealthEngine.com for years. It pulls together all sorts of publicly accessible wealth information and indicators: real estate holdings, stock holdings, directorships, plane or yacht licenses, etc. It also reports on charitable giving of the prospect and lists if people are on boards of foundations as listed by Guidestar.org. And it will give you a suggested range to ask for a donation in based on the prospect’s capacity.

In my experience, there are two major problems with WealthEngine: (1) It’s not customizable. Many people have similar names and WealthEngine lumps it all into one profile. The only thing you can do with that profile is view it on a screen or save it as a PDF. Either way, you’re stuck with the people listed, whether or not they belong. (2) It’s gift estimation is solely based on wealth. Not on their demonstrated generosity. So some prospects are listed as being able to give far more than the actually will.

DonorSearch to the rescue! I’ve recently started using DonorSearch for my research. And I love it. They allow for you to remove listings in a profile that you know to be inaccurate. They even score the reliability of the information based on their experience doing this sort of research.

More importantly, DonorSearch is weighted more toward demonstrated philanthropy then to wealth. They have all the wealth indicators and they give an estimated capacity based on those. But they have a much more complete list of gifts the prospect has made. And they suggest a gift ask level based on those. A prospect may have the capability of making a $25 million to $50 million gift. But if the highest gift they’ve ever given is $100,000, it’s better to consider asking at that level. At least at first!

Whichever tool you use, be sure to PDF the profile to the shared drive. And jot down any items of note onto the prospect profile sheet.

Remember

  • Login with your username and password
  • Use the type of search that requires an address. These are most accurate.
  • Review the results to make sure they’re accurate. Remove false positives if you can.
  • Check addresses to see if there are other properties (not the ones that say they’re for historical purposes, those are no longer owned by the prospect)
  • Check companies and nonprofit directors—especially “inner circle” people that may include other campaign prospects
  • Look at political giving, both to determine if the information is about our prospect (sometimes you see other people with the same name in the report) and to see if political affiliation is obvious
  • Look at charitable giving, note:
    • what organizations they give to
    • how much they typically give
    • and how consistently they give (annually? sporadically?)
  • Ownership of boats and planes may be on the report as well

Save as a PDF to your computer or the shared drive.

5. NOZASearch.com

NOZASearch.com is touted as the largest searchable database of charitable donations. If you have a login, you can find donations made by your prospect. While interesting, this information is often complimentary to those gifts reflected in WealthEngine or DonorSearch. If you need to choose between a subscription to NOZA or one to WealthEngine or DonorSearch, I’d opt for the latter. (I’d really suggest DonorSearch.)

6. Zillow.com

  • Put the prospects address into Zillow to find an estimated worth of the house. Include on the prospect profile Word document if helpful.
  • Repeat with additional properties that may have surfaced in the WealthEngine report.

 

7. GuideStar.org

If you’ve discovered clues that lead you to believe the prospect has their own foundation, looking up their 990s on GuideStar.org can help you get a more complete sense of their giving. The 990’s list both what organizations they’ve supported and how much they gave to each. Jot any worthwhile information onto the prospect profile.

A Word of Caution

Remember: the goal of research isn’t to be sneaky or to spy. It’s to help build a strong relationship with a donor. We’re only going to look at publicly available information, but it can still feel intrusive. Your integrity is always worth more than the biggest donation a person might give. Always. (Click here to tweet that.)

A good practice is to run yourself through the prospecting tool first. That will help you see what comes up and how accurate or inaccurate it is. When I recently ran myself through the steps outlined below, I was shocked to see myself listed on boards of nonprofits I’d completely forgotten about. It’d been over a decade since they closed, but they still showed up on the list.

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