Maximizing Giving Potential: A Guide to Effective Fundraising Prospect Research

The Keela Team • Mar 23, 2023
Fundraising Prospect Research blog header showing a person searching for prospects

Fundraising is a critical component of a nonprofit organization’s sustainability and ability to fulfill its mission. However, identifying a potential donor and building relationships with them can be a daunting task for organizations of all sizes, regardless of how many donors are in your database. This is where prospect research comes in.

Conducting prospect research involves using data and analytics to identify potential donors who have the capacity and inclination to support your organization’s cause. In this blog, we will delve into the world of prospect research, exploring what it is, why it’s important, and how it can help nonprofits maximize their fundraising by identifying potential major donors.

What is Prospect Research in Fundraising?

Prospect research is a critical aspect of fundraising that involves the systematic and comprehensive analysis of potential donors to identify those who are most likely to give and support an organization’s mission.

Prospect research for fundraisers involves gathering information about an individual’s personal and professional background, wealth indicators, philanthropic interests, giving history, and other relevant factors that may influence their giving behavior.

This information is then used to create a prospect profile that can help you tailor your approach and communication to the donor, increasing the chances of success. Prospect research also helps organizations to better understand their donors and build long-lasting relationships with them by providing insights into their motivations, interests, and values.

Why is Prospect Research Important?

Thorough prospect research can help identify new donors and build stronger relationships with existing ones. By using prospect research tools and strategies, your nonprofit can identify individuals who have the capacity and inclination to give.

Prospect research can also help you prioritize your fundraising efforts and allocate resources effectively. By identifying the most promising prospects and tailoring fundraising strategies to their preferences and interests, you can maximize their fundraising potential and build lasting relationships with donors.

Additionally, by identifying donors who are most likely to give at higher levels (such as major donors and monthly donors), your organization can allocate resources more effectively, ensuring that you focus on those donors who are most likely to make a significant impact on their cause.

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How do Nonprofits Conduct Prospect Research to Find Donors?

When we think about finding prospective donors, we typically think about having to acquire new donors. While that is sometimes the case, you can also conduct prospect research within your own database.

A few ways that your nonprofit can perform effective prospect research are by:

Using Wealth Screening Tools

Nonprofits can use wealth screening tools to identify individuals who have the capacity to give based on their assets, income, and other financial philanthropic indicators. It’s important to find a CRM, such as Keela, that includes wealth screening tools that indicate your donor’s giving capacity.

Analyzing Giving History

By analyzing giving history, you can easily identify individuals who have previously donated to similar causes or organizations and are therefore more likely to support your mission. It’s important to look at the types of organizations your prospects have given to, at what time of year, and their approximate giving amount.

Looking for Connections

Nonprofits can also identify prospective major donors through their connections to other nonprofits, current supporters, board members, staff, or volunteers. You likely have several stakeholders that are very well connected and willing to introduce you so that you can share the important work that your organization is doing.

Performing Online Research

The internet is a powerful tool for prospect research, providing access to a wealth of information about individuals’ backgrounds, interests, and affiliations. Also, don’t underestimate the power of someone’s social media as it can contain many hidden gems about their interests.

Attending Events

Events pose a great opportunity to engage with donor prospects and conduct prospect research. By attending events, such as galas, charity auctions, and community gatherings, you can identify potential major donors and start to build relationships with them.

Diving into Your Database

By analyzing your existing donor data, you can identify trends and patterns that can help you identify the individuals within your database that are most likely to become your next monthly or major donors.

You can also segment your donor database based on demographic information, such as age, location, and giving the capacity to identify individuals who may have the ability and inclination to give at higher levels. It’s important to use a tool like Keela, which offers incredible insights into your existing donors and can do the leg work when it comes to securing major gifts.

Donor Research vs. Wealth Screening

Donor research and wealth screening are both methods used by nonprofit organizations to identify potential donors, but they differ in their focus. Donor research aims to understand a person’s interests and giving history, while wealth screening focuses primarily on an individual’s financial capacity to give. While both donor research and wealth screening can be useful for prospect research, they serve different purposes and involve different types of data.

Using both donor research and wealth screening together allows you to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of a potential donor’s financial capacity and philanthropic interests. By combining these two methods, you can prioritize and personalize your outreach efforts, resulting in more successful fundraising campaigns and stronger donor relationships.

6 Steps for Conducting In-House Prospect Research

Many organizations feel as though they don’t have time to perform prospect research, however, this practice can be a game-changer for organizations seeking to cultivate stronger relationships with potential donors.

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Here are six essential steps for conducting effective in-house prospect research, from defining your goals to using the right tools and resources.

Create a Plan of Action

Creating a plan of action before conducting product research is essential to ensure that you gather the right information to inform your decision-making process. Without a plan, you may waste time and resources gathering data that is not relevant or useful for your specific goals. A well-crafted plan can help you identify your research objectives, target the right audience, and understand the most effective research methods to use.

Additionally, a plan can help you stay focused and organized throughout the research process and helps ensure that you are collecting data that will lead to actionable insights and informed decision-making.

Create a Prospect Research Strategy

Once you have an understanding of your plan of action, it’s time to build the strategy that you will use to research prospects. Your strategy should start with clearly defining the research goals and objectives, followed by outlining the resources and tools needed to accomplish that research.

The next step is to identify the ideal donor profile by understanding your organization’s mission, fundraising goals, and past donor history. The plan should also include research methods, such as prospect screening, data analysis, and donor engagement, along with budgeting, team roles, and timelines.

Examine Previous Donations to Your Nonprofit

Examining a donor’s giving history is a crucial step when performing prospect research as it can provide valuable insights into the donor’s giving capacity, interests, and motivations.

By analyzing past donations, your organization can identify trends and patterns, such as the size and frequency of gifts, preferred causes or programs, and giving patterns over time. This information can help you personalize your outreach efforts and make more informed decisions about how to engage with the donor. Keela’s donor management platform does this work for you by using AI-generated insights to help you understand the prospects already existing in your database.

The Role of Capacity and Affinity Markers in Prospect Research

Capacity and affinity markers are two critical elements of prospect research that can help organizations identify potential major gift donors. Capacity markers (also sometimes referred to as wealth markers) refer to a donor’s ability to make a significant gift, such as their wealth, income, or assets. On the other hand, affinity markers refer to a donor’s interests, passions, and values, such as their past giving history, volunteering experience, and other philanthropic interests.

By examining both capacity and affinity markers, you can create a comprehensive profile of the donor and determine the best approach to engage them. For example, a donor with high capacity but no apparent affinity may require more research and personalization in cultivation efforts. Alternatively, a donor with a strong affinity but limited capacity may be more likely to respond to volunteer opportunities or smaller, more frequent donations.

By combining both capacity and affinity markers, your organization can develop a more effective prospect research strategy that maximizes fundraising potential and builds strong, lasting donor relationships.

Analyze the Data

Analyzing data is a critical component of the prospect research process as it can provide valuable insights into potential donors’ behavior, interests, and giving capacity. To analyze data effectively, you must first collect and organize relevant data from various sources, such as donor databases, public records, and social media profiles.

Once the data is collected, you can use various data analysis tools and techniques, such as data mining, segmentation, and predictive modeling, to identify patterns and trends in the data.

This information can help you personalize your outreach efforts, identify potential major gift donors, and develop tailored cultivation strategies. Additionally, analyzing data can help you measure the effectiveness of your fundraising efforts, track donor engagement, and make informed decisions about your fundraising goals and priorities.

During the data analysis phase, it’s important to use a donor management platform that includes data clean-up tools, such as Keela, to ensure that your analysis is based on accurate data.

Validate Your Results

Validating your results is the final phase of the prospect research process and is crucial for ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the research findings. During this phase, you will review the data collected and analyze it to verify its accuracy, completeness, and consistency.

This process is essential to identify and correct any errors or discrepancies in the data and to ensure that the results are reliable and actionable. Additionally, validating the results can help your organization build trust with existing donors and make informed decisions about your fundraising strategies.

Best Practices for Conducting Fundraising Prospect Research

While the steps needed can vary depending on a number of factors, there are general prospect research best practices to help you maximize your prospect research process and achieve fundraising success.

Define Clear Research Goals and Objectives

Before starting prospect research, you need to clearly define your research goals and objectives to ensure that you gather relevant and useful information. This will help you stay focused and organized throughout the research process.

Use Multiple Sources of Data

To understand as much information as possible about your prospects, be sure to use multiple sources of data, including donor databases, public records, and social media profiles. This will help you create a comprehensive profile of the donor and identify key insights and trends.

Analyze Data Effectively

Use various data analysis tools and techniques to analyze the data you gather effectively. This will help you identify patterns and trends in the data and develop insights that can inform your fundraising strategies.

Continuously Update Your Research

Prospect research is an ongoing process, and donor information can change over time. Continuously update your research and donor profiles to ensure that your fundraising strategies are based on the most current and relevant information available.

Ensure Your Prospect Research Practices are Ethical

It is essential to ensure that your prospect research practices are ethical to protect the privacy and integrity of potential donors and maintain the trust and credibility of your organization. Ethical prospect research practices involve collecting information only through legal and legitimate means, obtaining consent from existing donors when appropriate, and safeguarding donor information.

How Donor Management Software Supports Prospect Research

Donor management software, such as Keela, can support prospect research by providing you with a centralized and streamlined system for collecting, organizing, and analyzing donor data.

With donor management software, you can easily track donor interactions, manage donor profiles, and segment donors based on key characteristics, such as giving history and interests. This data can be used to inform prospect research by identifying trends and patterns in donor behavior, preferences, and giving capacity.

When considering your donor management software options, be sure to seek out the tools that are designed specifically for the nonprofit sector. Keela’s Smart Ask feature analyzes the giving history, demographic information, and wealth indicators of every donor in your database and assigns them a score out of 100 based on their likelihood to become your next big donor.

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Challenges of Prospect Research 

You may be reading this blog and feel ready to take your prospect research to the next level, but there are no perfect processes and it’s important to consider the challenges associated with prospect research including:

Data Quality

A major challenge of prospect research is the quality and accuracy of the data collected. Data can be outdated, incomplete, or inconsistent, making it difficult to gain a comprehensive understanding of potential donors. A strong donor management system will help keep data quality as high as possible.

Resource Constraints

Another challenge is resource constraints, such as limited staff time, budget, and technology. Non-profit organizations may not have the resources needed to conduct comprehensive research or invest in advanced data analysis tools. While larger teams can sometimes include prospect researchers, many nonprofits are not able to hire for those kinds of roles, leaving this important work to your front-line fundraising team.

Ethical Considerations

Ethical considerations are another challenge associated with prospect research, such as obtaining consent from donors, protecting donor privacy, and ensuring that the research is conducted ethically and responsibly. Failure to adhere to ethical guidelines can lead to legal and reputational risks for the organization.

Limitations of Prospect Research

While fundraising prospect research is an important practice for nonprofits, it does have its limitations including:

Incomplete or Outdated Data

One of the primary limitations of prospect research is that the data gathered can be incomplete, outdated, or inaccurate. This can lead to incorrect assumptions and ineffective outreach efforts. This can be resolved by ensuring that your database is maintained, and accurate and that you invest in tools to keep it that way.

Inability to Account for External Factors

Another limitation is the inability to account for external factors that may impact a donor’s giving capacity or behavior, such as changes in the economy, personal circumstances, or other philanthropic priorities. By staying on top of fundraising and donor trends, your organization can stay as informed as possible about the external factors that may impact your prospect research.

Limited Access to Information

Non-profit organizations may not have access to all the information needed to conduct comprehensive research, such as confidential financial information or personal details that are not publicly available. This can make it difficult to gain a complete understanding of potential donors and limit the effectiveness of prospect research efforts. Because there will always be information that you are not able to access, it’s important to use the tools and platforms available to you to gather as much public information as possible.


In conclusion, prospect research is a vital tool for non-profit organizations looking to cultivate strong donor relationships and maximize their fundraising potential. By gathering and analyzing data about potential donors, organizations can identify key insights and trends that inform their outreach efforts and develop personalized cultivation strategies.

Effective prospect research requires a clear plan of action, the use of multiple sources of data, effective data analysis, and ethical practices. While there are challenges and limitations associated with prospect research, it remains a critical component of successful fundraising for non-profit organizations. By prioritizing prospect research and investing in a platform such as Keela to streamline your efforts, your organization can build long-lasting relationships with donors, achieve your fundraising goals, and advance your mission and impact.

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About the author:

Meredith Gray
Head of Marketing, Keela

Meredith has always had a passion for work that makes an impact. Having spent over 7 years working in fundraising, she has gained extensive knowledge in marketing, peer-to-peer, events, and sponsorship and firmly believes that all successful fundraising strategies start with your data.

Having experienced it first-hand, she understands the challenges nonprofits face when building a fundraising strategy and loves connecting with other like-minded fundraisers to brainstorm new and creative ways to leverage data to increase revenue. When not working, Meredith can be found trying out one of Toronto’s diverse restaurants, breaking a sweat in a spin class, or researching her next travel destination.