How can you uncover new prospects?
Once you have fully explored potential donors among current and past
supporters and only then you should look for new prospects. It is
not yet time to approach total strangers, however. There are still three
categories of contacts that offer better hope:
- Volunteers and staff
- Contacts of board and volunteers
Volunteers and Staff
Action: Determine which volunteers and staff will give.
It may seem even more absurd to ask volunteers and staff to give than to ask
the board. They often work long hours for little or no pay.
It's true that the volunteers and staff of most nonprofit groups are already
contributing a lot just by being there. Frequently they are not well off
financially. Their donations, if they give at all, may not make a huge
difference in your income. You may even be concerned that merely asking them
would be a severe blow to morale.
Despite all that, you should at least consider this step seriously. The
results may be a pleasant surprise.
Hospitals, for example, routinely ask their staff to give during major
campaigns. While the results vary from institution to institution, some staff
particularly the doctors have made substantial contributions.
Here's another example:
At an international charity, the consultant's suggestion that the
staff should be asked to contribute was met with derisive laughter. They
are all underpaid and overworked, said the Director of Development.
and they've just formed a union. This would be a bad time, and I doubt
they would ever react positively.
A few weeks later, however, it became apparent that the staff were giving very
generously to an internal United Way campaign. The consultant asked, If
they can raise money on the job for the United Way, why not for the nonprofit
they work with daily?
Despite misgivings, the organization agreed to ask the staff to donate. A
special project was selected with a view to exciting the staff. Asking was done
on a peer level, never by people in authority.
The results were overwhelming. Money just poured in and some of the
worst paid staff gave the most.
Why did they give so much, despite the awful working conditions? One person
summed it up for them all when she said, We care a lot about the work
this organization does. That's why we put up with the low wages and the long
hours. Of course we would contribute part of our wages we sure don't
work here for the money! Only nobody ever asked us before.
Other organizations have had similar experiences. Volunteers and staff
members in nonprofit organizations are often very committed to the work they
do. It may come as a surprise that they should be considered as potential
donors. While they may not all be among the largest donors, a few of them may
be `willing, capable and interested'.
Some groups have been pleasantly surprised to discover they had volunteers
and staff who were reasonably well off, and happy to give money as well as
time. Some staff and volunteers had spouses who worked in high-paying jobs.
Others had inherited enough to be comfortable, or had saved up before retiring.
The assumption that they were all poor turned out to be false.
While not all volunteers and staff can or will donate financially, it is
worth asking which staff and volunteers might. Aside from the financial
benefits, it can improve staff morale. It also impresses outside prospects and
granting agencies to know that the staff cares enough to give a little extra.
Action: Determine which participants will give.
Consider whether some of your participants (be they audience, clients,
customers, drop-ins, fans, learners, members, parents, players, spectators,
students, or subscribers) or their families might also become donors. Don't be
too quick to say `no'.
Why is it worth asking participants to give?
In some groups it may be hard to believe that your participants or their
families could contribute significant donations, but it is often true. Perhaps
not all can do so; maybe even not the majority.
Even if your participants can't give much money, the fact that they give any
at all may impress other prospective donors. This demonstration of their
commitment has real value.
In some cases, they may have more potential to give than you suspect. It
only takes a very few who are unusually generous to make a difference. Remember
that 80% of the money comes from 20% of the people.
Is it ethical to ask participants?
Asking participants to give is a forbidden topic in some organizations.
While this is partially understandable in social service agencies working with
the poor, it is remarkable how many other organizations share the same
attitude. Many arts groups, schools, hospitals and other nonprofits are still
debating the merits of asking their participants to give.
There are many examples of success: a community college expressed delight
and surprise when three students each gave $300 to a campaign for better
facilities. An amateur musical group, knowing full well that several performing
members were `yuppies' and `Dinks' (Double Income, No Kids) had never thought
to ask them for money. While these may be exceptions, there are many more like
For those who are reluctant to ask participants, one prime concern is that
the services must be accessible to all, regardless of income. This is indeed a
laudable goal. Asking people to contribute extra if they can, however,
does not interfere with open access. Make it clear that every person will get
the same service whether or not they donate.
In fact, some people have said that they prefer contributing to the
organization that helps them. It changes their relationship from
recipient/passive/inferior/ victim to donor/active/equal/self-help. It's
empowering. Not asking them can be seen as paternalistic. They should have the
right to decide for themselves.
One seniors' service group found that asking participants to donate actually
tripled the number of people using the service.
They posted a sign showing how much it cost to deliver each
service. At the bottom of the sign were the words Any amount you can pay
toward these services is gratefully accepted, and will be put right to work.
The result was a 300% increase in the number of people using the various
services the centre provides. The puzzled executive director surveyed the
centre users. He learned that people liked being able to pay.
Several people made comments like I never used this place before, because
I don't like taking things for free. I am not so poor that I need free service.
I can pay my own way. Another said, I can take care of myself
pretty good and I don't need handouts. I've worked hard all my life. I like
coming to the Centre and seeing people, and the prices are affordable.
Sometimes I put in a little extra for someone who isn't as well
For a more complete discussion of the ethics of this issue, see The
GuideBook to Fundraising for Disabled People's Groups.47
Examine your own users and consider if some of them might be capable of
making major contributions. Allow them to make their own decisions about
giving. Don't say No on their behalf.
What if you don't have participants' names and addresses?
In some cases, it is easy to find the participants. In a small organization
you may know them all personally. Larger groups may have membership lists.
Service groups may have files on participants. In this case, discretion will be
required; arrange to look only at the relevant information. Respect
participants' right to privacy and confidentiality.
In other organizations, you may not have the names and addresses. People who
use a community centre or a pool, for example, may not be asked for their names
or addresses. Spectators at athletic events or art shows may come and go,
especially if they are outdoor events.
Fortunately, there are ways to collect these names and addresses.
Many groups already have a partial list that they haven't recognized the
value of. They have held a raffle, and have ticket stubs tucked away in a
drawer. Start with those names.
If you haven't already done so, consider holding a free draw, to get names
and addresses. Arrange an attractive prize. Perhaps a local restaurant will
donate a dinner. You might give away a free membership, or a book. In a
prominent location, put up a box, bowl or basket. On a large sign, invite
people to drop in their business cards or write their names and addresses on a
piece of paper.
Asking for business cards may not be appropriate in an organization that
does not serve business people. It is desirable, however, because of all the
information you may get: where people work, what kind of job they do, how
senior a position they have, what degrees they hold, and so on.
Some people have suggested going to a restaurant or other business that was
already collecting business cards and asking for the ones they collect. This is
a bad idea. You have no way of knowing whether or not the people whose cards
you get are aware of your organization. At best, it is a random sample. At
worst, they may even be angry at this invasion of privacy. Collect your own
If your only contact with participants is by telephone, ask the callers for
their names and addresses. If your organization provides information on a
controversial or sensitive topic, ask for the name only after the
information has been provided, so you don't discourage a caller. Make it clear
their calls are still confidential, that giving their names is optional, and
that you are asking for their names for fundraising purposes.
If you work with children, try to get the names of their parents or
guardians. Depending on the kind of organization, it may be appropriate to ask
for grandparents' names, too.
What precautions may be needed?
Special precautions are needed in any situation in which making contact
could cause problems. Battered women, for example, could find their lives
threatened as a result of an innocent fundraising appeal, especially if they
are still living with their abusive husbands. The same need for care may apply
if you provide therapeutic counselling, treat sexually transmitted diseases, or
deal with many other sensitive issues.
In this circumstance, make it clear why you are asking for a name and
address. Emphasize that it is completely voluntary.
Exercise great care in contacting people to make certain that you do not put
them in jeopardy.
A letter, for example should never have anything `incriminating' on the
outside envelope even the return address could be too revealing. Even if
the envelope is blank, someone else might be opening the mail, so decide
carefully who you write to and what you say.
Similarly, an intercepted phone message could cause problems. Speak only to
the person on your list, not to others who answer. Don't leave messages: a
suspicious or jealous spouse could use this as an excuse for violence.
What do you do after you've got participants' names?
A large list of participants is almost certainly worth using in a direct
mail campaign. However, this book focuses on major donors. The immediate task
is to sort out potential major donors from the long list of names. How?
The answer will vary depending on the type of relationship you have with the
people on the list, and the amount of information you have.
If people have purchased memberships, season tickets, subscriptions or such,
focus on the people who have:
- paid the most,
- been paying for the longest, or
- purchased gifts.
For older organizations, Joan Flanagan recommends, look
for second- or third-generation members and multiple members from the same
If people are students, alumni, or participate in activities, note what
years they were involved, and what their favourite activities were. For
parents, spouses or children, the same question applies. Focus on people who
have been involved:
- for long periods,
- in several activities, or
Review the suggestions in the earlier section on current donors, such as
looking for famous names, degrees, titles, or addresses in pricier
Remember, you are still only at the stage of building your list of potential
donors. Don't contact these people yet.
How Can You Get Gifts from
Your Board, Staff, Volunteers, and Participants?
The techniques are the same as for any other prospective big donor:
- Make your own gift first.
- Choose the #1 best prospect.
- Choose a specific project dear to the prospect's heart.
- Decide how much to ask for, based on ability to give.
- Cultivate the prospect.
- Pick the best asker for that prospect.
- Train the asker and consider possible objections.
- Approach each prospect privately.
- If your prospects give, train them to ask others.
- Build the pyramid slowly.
- Do not just announce a new policy at a meeting. Select one volunteer, board
or staff member first. Choose a person likely to give and to influence others
- After you have your first contribution, work with the donor to select the
next-best prospect together. Ask the donor to ask the next prospect. Then send
those two to talk to others, behind the scenes, quietly.
- For the `hold-outs':
- Discuss their reasons privately.
- Offer to count unclaimed expenses.
- Organize contests.
- Wait for them to retire.
Board and Volunteers' Contacts
Action: Discover the contacts of the board and volunteers.
Your board, volunteers and staff probably know potential donors who don't
already have a direct connection to your organization. Once you have fully
explored people who have had direct contact with you, it is time to expand
These prospects are part of almost everyone's network. They may be friends,
family, old school chums, neighbours, business colleagues or chance
acquaintances. At first, the board and volunteers may not think they know
anyone. Techniques that you will learn shortly may reveal some unexpected
Do you know people with similar interests?
Your board, staff and volunteers are likely to know people who will be
interested in the same topics as they are. This applies whether the
organization is concerned about art, science, religion, social service,
recreation, economic development, fighting racism, or any other topic.
These sympathetic people are the first set of contacts to explore. You may
discover them by using the methods below.
Do you know people who give to other nonprofits?
The second set of contacts are people you know who are generous to nonprofit
groups, even if you don't know their views on your cause. If you have a friend
who is an active volunteer or board member with another group, or who has sold
you tickets to a charity event, they are potential donors.
The world can be divided unequally into two types of people:
those who are caring, giving and working to make it better; and those who are
apathetic and inactive.49 In the
long run, it may be important to educate those who are apathetic and get them
active. In the short run, however, it is easier to start with those who are
predisposed to care. Once you are stronger, you can take the time to try
converting the uninvolved.
Who might give just because it's you who asks?
In a major-donor campaign, who you know is a very important factor.
Many prospects will give because of the person who asks them, regardless of
their feelings about the organization itself.
You probably know people who have purchased tickets for special events that
they had no intention of attending, in support of nonprofit groups they did not
care about, simply because of the person who asked.
People who would give to your organization because the right person asked
are the third category to consider.
There are many reasons why they do so.
A major component has to do with business. Someone may give to a
major customer, or to an important supplier, because they hope it will improve
People also give out of friendship and solidarity.
They give because they respect the person who asked them, and know that if
that person is involved, the cause must be good.
They give because they don't want to say No and risk offending someone they
will see regularly.
They give because they feel an obligation to someone who recently made a
donation to their own favourite cause, or because they know they will be
asking soon and want to have a favour owed to them. This attitude of `you
scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' is very common among big donors.
They give because of power relations. A donor who gave more than $1 million
to a hospital told this story:
I was planning on giving the hospital a lot several
hundred thousand dollars. I knew why the fundraisers were coming to see me when
they made the appointment, and I was ready.
But when the time came, I opened my office door and in walked the chair of the
fundraising committee, who happened to be my company's biggest customer,
followed by the surgeon who was scheduled to do an open-heart operation on me
in just a few weeks. I knew I was in trouble!
Some people will be troubled by this kind of fundraising. They believe that,
if the cause is good enough, the donors will find them. I called this the
Better Mousetrap Syndrome, in memory of all the inventors who expected the
world to beat a path to their doors and were disappointed.
Clearly, in the long run, your organization is better off with donors who
genuinely respect your work. They are likely to keep coming back year after
year even once their original contact has passed on.
In the short term, however, it may be better to have the money for your
important projects than to remain excessively pure. In addition, once people
have made that first donation, you can continue to educate and cultivate them
to become real supporters.
That is not to condone manipulation and pressure tactics. Some fundraisers
have gone overboard in the pursuit of the donation. In one recent case, a
family contested their mother's will after she changed it to leave a large part
of her money to a television evangelist. The overzealous fundraiser had wormed
his way into her trust, acting as a confidant and business advisor.
Between the two extremes lies the path to ethically expanding your support
from very generous people.
How do you find all your contacts?
The next step is to find all the contacts your board and volunteers have,
who might want to support your cause.
First, here's how not to do it.
The worst method is to write a letter to all your key leaders asking them to
send in a list of their contacts. Time after time, this has produced dismal
results. Board members may be too busy. They may be reluctant. They may give a
list with conditions, such as you can have these leads on the
understanding that I personally won't talk to any of them. Even when they
are willing to help, they may not be able to think of anybody they consider
Because of these problems, we at Ken Wyman and Associates Inc refined a
process called The Webbing Exercise.50 It is intended to reveal the hidden
network of contacts and connections that an organization has `the
people you didn't know you knew.'
Board members, volunteers, staff and administration, each have their own
lives away from your organization and they each know lots of people in
fact, more people than they ever thought they knew.
But how do you get to know who they know?
Hold a Webbing Exercise (described in Appendix A). This is a session that
gives everyone a chance to delve into themselves for the names of people
they've come in contact with over the years. Even those who insist that they
know no one may think of names that will become `obvious' through the magic of
hindsight. They will be surprised to discover that some people they knew long
ago may now be in a position to help your organization.
The Webbing Exercise can help your organization beyond finding major donors.
It can also help identify people who may become:
- Donors and supporters
- Immediate donors
- Long-term benefactors
- Contributors of gifts in kind
- Campaign leaders
- Possible solicitors
- Campaign chair
- Campaign cabinet
- Volunteers for committees
- Fund raising
- Special events
- Future board members
Action: Uncover outsiders who should be asked.
If a group is very new or very poor, the kinds of contacts suggested earlier
in this chapter simply may not exist. You may need to start with strangers.
Groups that do have past donors, participants or contacts should explore the
potential giving of these prospects thoroughly before approaching people with
whom they have never had any communication.
But when it's time to look at the outer edges of your potential circles of
influence, who should you ask for a donation?
The answer begins with research.
People Known to Be Generous to Other Nonprofits
The first step is to separate the givers and the non-givers. People who give
to some nonprofit groups, even if not yours, are better prospects than people
who have never given to anyone.
- People publicly recognized for giving. Begin by collecting the names
of people who have been publicly recognized for giving to other groups
especially groups like yours. Their names can be found on plaques on the walls
of nearby hospitals, community centres, post-secondary schools, art galleries,
museums, theatres, and athletic facilities. Go with a notepad and copy them
- People listed in nonprofits' printed materials. Check the materials
of other nonprofit groups for the names of people being thanked for their
contributions. Lists of people are often printed in annual reports,
newsletters, souvenir programmes at concerts or events, and other publications.
These are frequently divided into categories, such as Benefactors, Angels, etc,
which reveal roughly how much the donor gave.
- People mentioned in the media. Stories in the media often mention
people who give and who lead campaigns. When the local newspaper runs a photo
of a cheque being passed, clip it for your files. For example, here are
excerpts from a newspaper column about Nancy Jackman:
I went to see Nancy Jackman on impulse, to ask her about money
specifically, why she gives away so much of it, and why other women
Jackman is an unlikely combination of imp, cherub and feminist earth mother,
and is also, implausibly, the Tory candidate in the St George-St David
by-election. She has qualities of spontaneity, feminism and good-hearted
generosity that one does not normally associate with Rosedale Conservatives.
Recently, Jackman stunned a group of women who had come to seek her advice by
suddenly offering them $50,000.
We were blown away, recalled Marjorie Wilson, a Port Perry
volunteer. Wilson heads a grassroots group of women who suffer from
osteoporosis, the stealthy disease that leads to thinning bones, mostly in
Nancy Jackman's $50,000 is a `matching' grant; it will be given only if the
women can raise an equal amount quickly through a public appeal.
I know that Jackman has helped create and fund some of the most exciting and
progressive feminist efforts in the country from the Women's Legal
Education and Action Fund (Leaf) to the Canadian Women's Foundation. But this
latest act of generosity made me start to wonder: Why, when there are so many
relatively affluent female professionals and solvent widows, do women's causes
have to starve? Why do some women have the urge to give, and so many never
think of it?
Few of us could ever equal Jackman's largesse. She inherited wealth. But unlike
99% of wealthy women in this country, she immediately began to give it away to
help other women.
Jackman tried to explain. Most women owe their money to being part of the
status quo, so they give to status quo charities, their husband's or boss's
favourite hospital or arts group. It takes strong character and maybe a
fundamental rage at unfairness to break that pattern
I give to
create systematic change, not for service agencies.51
While newspaper stories don't always provide such valuable insights, they
can provide many useful nuggets. Just two days after the story about Nancy
Jackman, another journalist reported on a $2 million donation made by Patrick
and Barbara Keenan for kidney disease research at St Michael's Hospital in
Patrick Keenan told a news conference: We've planned this day
for a long time.
Because we have special feelings for this hospital, we
always thought we would like to do something significant for it.
Barbara Keenan added that there were family reasons for choosing to underwrite
kidney disease research with their donation, but she declined to elaborate.
Patrick Keenan is chairman of the hospital's board of directors and of the
Canada Development Investment Corp. He is on the board of the Ireland Fund.
Barbara Keenan is past clerk of the session of Rosedale United Church.52
Because March is Kidney Month, there were many stories on the theme. Another
paper reported that Hockey personality Don Cherry recently donated
$15,000 to the Kidney Foundation of Canada and the Credit Valley Hospital. The
money [was] raised from last summer's Don Cherry Golf Tournament
Clearly, it pays to have several volunteers clipping stories from newspapers
and magazines, and taking notes when stories run on television or radio. Even
if you are not raising money for kidney disease, this kind of information can
be useful in estimating a prospect's potential gift to your own group.
- People found in private research. In addition to these open lists,
private research is likely to turn up a few names. Talk to fundraisers, both
staff and volunteers, from other groups. Some of them may be protective of
their donors, but others may willingly suggest potential donors. The United Way
may be particularly helpful, whether or not your group belongs to it.
In some cases, if the other group supports what you do, they may be willing to
exchange lists of donors. This is done routinely for direct mail campaigns, and
can be done for major donors as well. (For a discussion about the ethics of
list exchanges, and practical tips about protecting your interests, see
Everything You Need To Know To Get Started in Direct Mail Fundraising.)
- People giving to political campaigns. Interview politicians and
their campaign managers they, too, are fundraisers. Discuss your need to
locate special supporters with others who know the community well, such as
service clubs, local journalists, and the Chamber of Commerce. Sympathetic
business leaders, such as bankers, car dealers and real estate offices, can
also point you in the right direction, if they wish.
- People who fit the profile of major givers. Finally, study the
profile of major givers (presented in Chapter 2 of this book) and look for
people who fit the pattern.
Be realistic about how productive it will be to make cold calls on people
even those known to be generous. It is futile to cannibalize these
lists if the names are all strangers to your volunteers, Joan Flanagan
warns. If none of your leaders know any of your community's current major
donors, work on recruiting people with wealth and power for your board before
you launch a major gift campaign.54
People Who Display Interest in Your Area
Sometimes you can uncover the name of someone with a real motivation to care
about your work. Even though you have no contacts, and even though you have no
reason to think they are philanthropic, it may be worth contacting them.
- People who have had life-changing experiences. Someone who has had
his or her first heart attack, for example, may suddenly be interested in
donating to a health charity. Someone may start collecting art, have a child
enroll in a school, or become religious.
- People with similar interests. You may find out about an old
connection that would be a clue that the person might be receptive.
Historic preservation groups can check the historical society and
genealogical society to find people with deep roots in the community,
Joan Flanagan suggests.55
Environmental, hunting and fishing clubs can find wealthy outdoorsy types
for owners of campers and recreational vehicles and
boats and yachts.
People with No Known Record of Philanthropy.
Now we're down to the bottom of the barrel people who have:
- never been involved as a board member of your group,
- never donated to your group before,
- never been a volunteer or staff person in your group,
- never been a participant or part of the family of a participant (as far as
- never been mentioned as a personal contact of anyone you know,
- never displayed interest in your area, and
- never shown up on lists of people generous to other charities.
Perhaps the only thing you know about these people is that they appear to
have a lot of money.
Why even bother asking them? There is not much reason to think they would
give you money. Most groups should never have to ask people in this category,
but many think this is exactly where you should start. They study
stories in the media about the rich and famous, make lists, and dream big. They
watch the lotteries, and contact big winners.56 If only someone could get in to
see Mr and Ms Rich, these wishful thinkers sigh, they would see the
light, and understand why they should support us.
Realistically, such people are probably not worth the time and effort it
takes to make a proper approach as outlined here.
At the most, you might invest a postage stamp to send a letter to such a
person. If you get a glimmer of interest, or a token donation, you might
Even that might be a waste. Do not be misled by people who flash a lot
of cash, Joan Flanagan notes. With easy credit, almost anyone can
look rich. I knew a salesman who dazzled his clients with an $80,000
sports car. He confessed to me that it was 102% financed: he even financed the
licence plates. On the other hand, there are people worth millions who drive
the same compact car for fifteen years.57
For now, let's stick to the proven methods.
Action: Research each suspect.
People who might give, but who are not yet serious prospects, are
called suspects in the jargon of major-donor fundraising. Once you have
identified suspects, you need to collect basic information about them in one
place, where it is easy to find and use. More research is needed to decide who
is really worth the effort, and who may not be.
Open a File on Each Major Gift Prospect
Create a file folder for each person who has the potential to give a
substantial donation. Collect all the basic information in one place, for easy
For most groups it's easier to do this with a file folder and pieces of
paper than with a computer. Don't waste time developing your own custom
database. Many software companies have developed special fundraising databases
for sale; they are excellent. When you are ready for a computer database,
purchase one designed for fundraising records.
However, many grassroots organizations find them too expensive and
time-consuming to use at first. This can be a complex distraction from the
major mission: asking the prospects to give. Start with old-fashioned file
What exactly do you need to know?
The more you know, the better. Ideally, the person who will actually ask for
the donation should be a friend or business colleague of the prospect
someone who knows the donor well. If you don't have that degree of familiarity,
extra information can make all the difference in the world.
Start with basics, like the proper way to spell the prospect's name. Lyman
What are the biggest mistakes that people have made in asking
for money? Well, Ann, who is spelled AÄNÄN, says `misspelling my
It seems such a simple thing. If you send something to me spelled
LÄIÄMÄOÄN, I'm not likely to be particularly turned
Pay attention to the titles people prefer.
- Some women will be irate if you use anything but Ms; others will be
equally adamant that they want to be called Mrs or Miss.
- Some want to be known as Doctor, or Professor.
- Some titles are complicated. An ordained minister, for example, would be
addressed as `The Reverend AB Black' on an envelope, but in the salutation of a
letter would be `Dear Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms Black'. It is considered bad form to
address most clergy in the salutation of a letter or in person as `Reverend
If the person was a volunteer, board or staff member with your group, add in
a few notes about that experience. With rapid turnover in personnel, it's
amazing how short an organization's memory can be.
One fundraiser described the day he called an organization where he had
worked ten years before. Although he had held a very responsible position for
five years, there had been three other people in his old job in the interim.
Now no one was left from the old days, and no one even recognized his name.
The same has happened to people who were members of the board of other
groups, and even people who considered themselves founders of an organization.
Collect as much information as you can. The more information you have, the
easier it will be to make an effective appeal. When people talk to the
prospect, put notes about the conversation in the file. If a newspaper of
magazine article is written mentioning the prospect, put a copy in the file.
On the following pages are sample information forms for you to adapt. If
some questions are irrelevant to your appeal, omit them. Add others you may
consider important. No standard form can be perfect for everyone.
In the chapters to come, we will add more parts to this form.
As time goes by, you will compile more information in each person's file.
This information will help you answer vital questions such as:
- Who should you approach first?
- What parts of your work will interest this person most and what
might you be wise not to mention?
- How should the approach be made?
- Are there sensitive issues that may arise?
- Will a particular prospect appreciate public recognition? If so, what kind?
- Who has the best chance of persuading a particular prospect to give, or to
give a little extra?
- When would be the best time to ask?
- How much might this person give?
Some people are shocked at the idea of gathering this kind of information on
a prospect. None of this requires you to violate a person's privacy, hire a
private detective or become a snoop. Much is available from public sources.
Sometimes it is legitimate to supplement this with casual conversations with
the prospects' friends, or even with prospects themselves. You will find
guidelines on what to look for and where to find it in the pages following.
If you feel uncomfortable with any part of it, however, you may wish to
gather only the information that you feel is legitimate. Do not abandon all
research just because some of it seems inappropriate.
Some information comes from statistical tables published by the government
and other researchers. This may not tell you details about a specific person,
but it can help a great deal.
Some information can also be gathered by talking to your own friends or
colleagues. For example, if you want to know how much a certain lawyer earns,
ask another lawyer about the general salary levels for people at the prospect's
firm, and those at her or his level of experience.
Sometimes, you can get the information directly from the prospects
themselves. This may come in casual conversations, in surveys, and even in
Even though you may be overworked and in a hurry, research like this is not
a waste of time.
If you are in an emergency situation, you may not have time to do all the
research properly. Do as much as you can, and hope you guess the right answers
on other questions. Without this preparation you may find that a prospect gives
much less than you might otherwise have received.
You can, however, begin to make contact with the prospective donor before
you have all the research done. This is especially true if you expect to visit
the prospect more than once, which is a good idea for really big donations.
As noted earlier, fundraiser Michael F Luck wrote an article reminding
experienced fundraisers that it is sometimes necessary to bend the rules. On
this topic, he wrote:
Prospect research can be a long and arduous task which
delays major gift fundraising. If you know where a prospect lives and that
they have had a relationship or interest in your cause, there is sufficient
information to start cultivation. Most people, if asked questions in a
relaxed and informal way, will tell you everything you want to know during a
visit. Prospect research is important and it is helpful, but too much can be
unproductive. I have seen too many fundraisers so `hell-bent for leather' with
a giving target and specific need that they never listen to what the prospect
has to say during the visit. The fewer preconceived notions you have prior to
an initial visit the better. Sometimes being too smart isn't smart at
Of all the questions you need to answer, one of the most important is,
How much might this person give? Yet many groups don't know why
this is so, or how to develop an answer. The next chapter is devoted to this
Prospect Information Form
Part 1 Individual Profile
© 1993 Ken Wyman
|Research done by (name):
|Updated by (name):
|Updated by (name):
| C O N F I D E N T I A L
|Home address: City:
|What is the prospect's relationship to us?
|Present board member
|Past board member
|Served on committee(s)
|Served as volunteer
|We presented him/her with an award
|We consulted him/her for advice
|What is the prospect's background?
| Business Interests:
| Current job/business/profession:
| How long at this job:
| If retired, last job and year retired:
| Previous known jobs, businesses owned,
|Who will contact the prospect?
|Who will ask? Name(s):
|Have they given their donations?
|Other people we know who have contacts with this prospect (list
as many as possible, no matter how remote):
||What is their connection?