If you are serious about your major gift program, invest in a prospect research subscription service or contract a prospect research consultant.
The amount of information available in the public domain is staggering. Yes, you can “Google” and “Yahoo” prospective donors, but it is time-consuming and incomplete. Plenty of data in the public domain is stashed in places that generic search engines don’t reach. For example, to what other nonprofits has your prospective donor made contributions—and how much? Yes, that information is out there.
Save Time: Umbrella Prospect Research Subscription Services
There are lots of subscription services: some focus on real estate, some on stock holdings and others on gifts to nonprofits or board affiliations. You may be familiar with subscription services like LexusNexis, Dunn & Bradstreet or Marquis Who’s Who. (Nonprofits are not the only entites looking for wealth-related information. Financial service firms are, too.) Others may be totally unfamiliar: DataQuick, Waltman’s Volunteers & Directors and Guidestar.
Umbrella subscription services have relationships with multiple individual subscription companies—as many as 25 of them. As a result, you see real estate, stock holdings (if public), campaign contributions, gifts to other nonprofits, board affiliations….all in one place. Sold as annual subscriptions, the services start at around $2,750 per year.
Caution: Subscription Services are tools, not prospect researchers!
Data needs to be cross-checked and analyzed. More than once, I have seen an unverified donor profile shot down by board members who are acquainted with the prospective donor. Name confusion is a prime cause of inaccurate profiles. For example, the subscriptions may mistakenly blend the information about one John Smith, for example, with that of another. Subscriptions are a necessary starting point, but a researcher is also required. So if you decide to purchase a subscription service, make certain you have someone on staff who can verify the results. (It is possible to have a current staff member trained to do this.)
Prospect Researchers: Analysis Plus
Good prospect researchers have a knack for ferreting out the right information. “Verify” is their middle name, they have excellent analytic skills and they produce accurate, useful donor profiles.
When you contract out, the researcher will have the subscription services he or she needs to get the job done (you can sound knowledgeable by asking which subscription service(s) he or she uses). Fees are either per donor profile or per hour. As a smaller nonprofit, the 2 to 3 hour profile that costs under $200 should do the trick.
Your Prospect Research Decision
Weigh purchasing a subscription service, which requires in-house staff capacity, against contracting for donor profiles from a professional researcher.
Either approach, properly executed, will build your donor knowledge base and maximize your “ask” results.