Prospect identification: 4 ways to help retain new donors

Man with Bouquet

One of the scariest things we know as fundraisers is that donor attrition is at stratospheric levels.

Studies by the renowned philanthropy scholar-evangelist Adrian Sargent have shown that (on average) charities lose 50 percent of their cash income from brand-new donors between their first and second gift, and up to 30 percent after that. (Read Dr. Sargeant’s outstanding article in Nonprofit Quarterly here).

As we all know, it costs more to raise that first gift than it does to keep someone giving. Creating new donor relationships is hard, but it would appear from these awful stats that keeping them is even harder. Or maybe we’re just so focused on getting new donors that we’re not looking for future donors within our own donor pool.


Sargeant and his research team have shown that even a 10 per cent improvement in retaining donors can yield a 200 percent increase in projected donor value. It really doesn’t take a lot of effort to blow the doors off. Imagine what a 20 percent improvement would look like!

So from the very first moment that a donor presents themself to you – from a prospect identification perspective – what can you do immediately to help identify future donors within your new-donor pool?

Here are four recommendations:

1. Identify new donors with the most likelihood to renew, and make sure that those people are kept on the top of the list to be thanked, appreciated, mentioned, and rewarded for being donors.

Great tool: Analytics. Use data mining and modeling to identify top characteristics of past first-time donors who renewed most frequently and match those features to new donors.

2. Identify new donors with the potential to give major and planned gifts and treat them with special care from the get-go.

Great tool: Wealth screening. If you can afford it, do rolling, small, regular screenings. Set aside researcher/staff time to help pull out the best top prospects and assign a fundraiser to touch base monthly with these new prospects to welcome them.

 3. Create opportunities for trusted-and-connected board members, volunteers, class or regional representatives, etc. to scan through lists of brand new donors to see if an immediate personal connection can be made.

Great tool: Peer screening. Have your operations, IT, research or development associate staffer pull reports every Monday. Sort/edit them appropriately to share with volunteers to email, call or visit new donors whom they may know.

 4. Use technology that you already have available via email and social media analytics to identify new donors who have clicked a link or ‘liked’ a page or post. What are their interest areas at your nonprofit? What did they click on in that email? How can you supply them with information about that area that demonstrates your impact?

Great tool: Analytics tools and a little elbow grease.

What other ways has your shop used to retain donors early on in the process? Share!

Prospect identification: Grow Some Feet

Working Girl meme

These days, prospect research is seen as a fairly cerebral task where you sit at your desk gathering information using a computer while trying not to snack (or maybe that’s just me?).

Back in the day, though, being a researcher meant never needing to say “boy, I really need a gym membership.” Typically, a journal entry for a day would go something like this: [Read more...]

Prospect Identification: Going beyond the same old same old

The theme for our HBG September blog is prospect identification and, because it’s one of her favorite activities, I asked Senior Researcher Jennifer Turner to give us some creative ideas for finding new donors.  Over to you, Jen!

Ideas - Creativity

Your usual prospecting assignment: Find high net worth individuals (HNWIs) with the capacity to make a gift in a specific target range and with a likely interest in your cause.

Sounds like Prospecting 101, right?

Your usual method might be head to donor lists of organizations similar to yours to see who is giving, and at what level.

But what if you took some slightly unusual approaches – ones that shake up the traditional ways you normally prospect? Might that result in viable new prospects as well? My experience says yes! [Read more...]

Getting Through: 3 Easy Tips to Avoid Communication Death Traps

Sydney Harris quote

I got an email like this* the other day which just cracked me up:

To: Helen Brown
From: XYZ Company
Subject: The Master List of DNS Terminology


XYZ Company is passionate about internet performance, particularly when it comes to DNS. We realize that DNS, ISC and BIND can be difficult to understand when the terminology is unfamiliar. It’s easier to get the most cost efficiencies from your DNS provider and services if you know the basics. That’s why we’ve created “DNS, ISC and YOU.” This essential e-Book lists the need-to-know terms that you’ll frequently hear when DNS is discussed. Download now and start saving your company money!

Best regards,

The XYZ Company Team

Ummm, yeah.

[Read more...]

What’s in your toolbox?

tackle box

How do you know if your researcher or research team has all of the tools needed to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead?

When a fundraising office needs to be sure they are ready for a capital campaign, the traditional path is to contract with a campaign consultant to do a needs-analysis and feasibility study.

While those consultants have deep knowledge about how to configure a team of fundraisers, how to craft a campaign message, and how to set up volunteer boards, many fundraising consultants aren’t well-versed in how to effectively deploy the intelligence side of the shop: prospect identification, research, and relationship management.

[Read more...]

16 cool resources every fundraiser should know about

I love free stuffThis list of resources answers many of the frequently-asked questions we get from clients asking “where should I go to get…?” Everything on the list is free (or very inexpensive) and will help you be more efficient and get the best expert advice.

Great free tool: the gift range calculator

This is the tool you use when you’re new to fundraising and your board chair says “Welcome aboard. I need you to tell me what we’ll  need to do to raise $10 million.” No need to panic, just use this handy little gift pyramid calculation tool as a starting point.

Contact report get-it-done-quick short cut

[Read more...]

Fundraising intelligence

maui rocks wave

There’s been a sea change in prospect research, and it was front and center at our international industry conference last week. The 27th annual APRA conference, held in steamy Las Vegas, was called “Prospect Development 2014; new approaches, new connections.” The Twitter hashtag was #APRApd2014 (have a look – good stuff there). As always, it was a great conference with lots of meaty takeaways.

Nonetheless, I kept shaking my head every time I saw the conference name or used the hashtag. I’m just having a hard time with “prospect development.” Not the profession – the name. Prospect development is relatively new as a descriptor for what we professionals formerly known as “prospect researchers” do. [Read more...]

5 ways to get a seat at the strategy table

In late June, the HBG team hosted Natalie Westfall, a nine-year research veteran and a member of the steering committee of Researchers in Fundraising (RiF) in the United Kingdom.  Over Natalie’s 10-day visit, we collaborated on projects, did several show-and-tell sessions with the different resources we each use, and discussed the similarities and differences of prospect research in the US and UK.

One of the similarities we found was the issue of how prospect researchers can be front-and-center in the fundraising operation – true strategy partners. We’re delighted to present some of Natalie’s insight on the topic here.

Natalie Westfall 2014

Prospect Researchers: going beyond the ‘Who’

The Prospect Research specialism has come a long way in its relatively short life; from books to the internet and (hopefully!) a departure from the familiar request that haunts every prospect researcher: ‘can you just Google this person for me?’

These advancements and the desire to add greater value, have in recent years, seen a prospect researcher’s skill set widen beyond traditional research to more advanced data analysis, and using insight from their research to help shape strategic fundraising plans.

I really like this simple flow chart and have used it in a number of planning documents to illustrate how much additional value can be added if the Prospect Research function is allowed to go beyond producing pieces of pure research.

Research to action [Read more...]

Web Search Strategies: Traits of Great Researchers

DNAHow do you know if there’s researcher potential within you? Nearly every time someone interviews me about prospect research, they ask me “what are the key components of a great prospect researcher?” Here is where I start:

  1. Natural curiosity
  2. Tenacity, paired with…
  3. The ability to know when to stop

These, I think are the top three. The first, natural curiosity, I like to describe in this way: [Read more...]

The Boys of Summer

Back View of Baseball Player

For some folks it’s Gershwin’s “Summertime” performed by the incomparable Ella. For others it’s James Taylor’s “Summer’s Here.”

For me, it’s always been “The Boys of Summer.” From the opening beats and guitar riffs, I’m instantly sucked back to a hot cloudless day driving in a Mustang by the ocean singing with my friend and Don Henley at the tops of our voices. Don was unable to physically make that gig, but let me tell you, he missed a good one.

I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun. You’ve got your hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby.

What pulls you instantly back to summer when red and gold leaves, or snowflakes, are falling? Is it a song? A scent? A flavor? [Read more...]