Prospect Research · Prospecting · Content Type · Article · Industry · Cause-Related
Looking for Love in All the Right Places: The Cause-Based Approach to Prospect Research
By Marc Keller | January 19, 2023
Capacity plus affinity equals major gifts, whether you work for a large university, a small cause-based organization or anything in between. As such, identifying affinity clues is crucial when it comes to new donors. For example, here at Best Friends Animal Society, there’s a big difference between someone who gives $25 and appears to have major gift capacity, and a similar donor who also has an Instagram account filled with pics of a rescue pup.
In 2016, Best Friends Animal Society made a commitment to “Save Them All” by 2025, meaning no dog or cat in a shelter will be killed simply because they don’t have a home. Founded in 1984 and a pioneer in the no-kill movement, Best Friends runs lifesaving programs all across the country with thousands of animal welfare and shelter partners, as well as the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary in Utah.
Of course, finding animal lovers is a big part of my job, so let’s look at some of the ways I do that.
First, Look Inward
A good place to start looking for affinity clues is your own internal database or CRM of constituents and donors. Personally, I like to review fundraiser-prospect interactions from at least the past five years. Here is where you can hopefully find notes about prospects from your frontline fundraisers.
Let’s say that I see from an interaction report that a prospect adopted golden retrievers. That’s a lead to follow. Through some targeted Googling, I might find a Facebook post about that adoption. There could be all sorts of good insights in this post, like their support of golden retriever rescues — something donation databases may not catch. In other words, the adoption of golden retrievers is a starting point for my research, not the endpoint.
It’s also helpful when researchers thoroughly know their own organizations and all the different ways a donor can support it — a bigger task than it might seem at large nonprofits. For example, while dogs and cats are our main focus at Best Friends, we also rescue bunnies, parrots, horses and even owls and hawks. We might appeal to an animal lover even if their interest isn’t companion animals. Say you’re prospecting for a large medical center with therapy dogs, art therapy or yoga/meditation therapy — you can recommend prospects with an interest in dogs, art, yoga and meditation, even if they might not be specifically interested in medical research.
Let’s Get Social
No surprise, social media is a great place to find affinity clues, partly because the information is more personal (and less financial) and partly because the profiles are self-created. While researchers have to be respectful of ethical and privacy issues and only look at publicly-available social media information (not “friending” prospects for the purpose of research), there are still numerous ways we can use popular social media sites:
- LinkedIn can be a hotspot of affinity clues — make sure you scroll down to see a prospect’s interests, causes, education and volunteer experience.
- On Twitter, don’t forget to check who and what someone follows, not just what they tweet or retweet.
- Beyond the personal information and pics on someone’s Facebook account, check out what Facebook fundraisers they’ve donated to. Usually these donations are modest in size, but very telling about their philanthropic interests. You can even search within Facebook fundraisers, (e.g. to your own organization) and then see everyone who’s donated to it.
- Pictures really can say a thousand words. Instagram accounts are a great way to find affinity clues. It’s also a place to look for attendance at nonprofit galas, via an organization’s Instagram account.
- Social video sites like YouTube or TikTok can be more time-consuming to use, but it’s worth it to glean a valuable nugget of information not available anywhere else. While watching YouTube clips of a comedian that supports Best Friends, I realized one of his jokes was about breed discrimination! This was a great clue. There’s a good chance that TikTok might be one the best sources of info on younger prospects, too.
- While it’s not exactly social media, podcasts are another rich source of information. This is especially true when an accomplished professional is interviewed, because they often mention hobbies and philanthropic interests. Many podcasts offer transcripts, which can be skimmed to save time.
Show Me the Money: Using Donation Databases to Find Affinity
Paid resources like Blackbaud Giving Search, iWave and DAFinitive can be very useful to confirm what causes your donors are passionate about. The key to effectively using these resources is finding the right balance of algorithm and eyeballs. Most donation databases let you search by cause categories and sub-categories — but be careful not to be too trusting of the categories. Sometimes it’s better to be less specific and do the manual work of scanning over a longer list rather than expect that all the donations are perfectly tagged when it comes to causes.
On the other hand, if you’re trying to proactively generate new suspect lists, that’s when more categorization can be useful. Take this example: You search your CRM for gifts above $50,000 and select three Level 3 subcategories (animal adoptions, animal population control and animal rescue & rehabilitation); this pulls 329 results. This is a manageable list to review. Without those sub-categories, the list gets into the thousands, and becomes overwhelming.
A newer tool is the Helen Brown Group’s DAFinitive, a database of Donor Advised Funds that operate within Community Foundations. Financial information about the fund isn’t offered (because it’s not public), but it’s a useful prospecting tool because you can search by interest area.
As shown in the image below, if you were prospecting for an environmental organization in the Cape Cod area, DAFinitive could help identify the Cape Cod Foundation’s Brown Family Fund, and you’d find it specifically supports environmental causes.
As a prospect researcher, it’s easy to get hyper-focused on finding capacity clues, but uncovering information about donor affinity helps organizations make smarter decisions with their fundraising time and resources.
This is obviously true at cause-based nonprofits like Best Friends, but affinity clues also help fundraising at large universities, where donors can be asked to support anything from biomedicine, to athletics to rare books. Maybe we can’t buy love, but love for a cause can bring in funding to do great things!
Senior Prospect Researcher, Best Friends Animal Society
Marc Keller is a senior prospect researcher at Best Friends Animal Society. He began his prospect research career at the University of Pennsylvania and has also worked for the PA Ballet and the Mind-Body Awareness Project. He currently lives in Philadelphia. You can reach out to him at email@example.com.