Key Steps to building a robust individual giving program, Part I – Research: Who Will Follow Me? by Carl Sylvestre

Building a successful individual giving program has four stages, which should be followed to succeed.  Paying attention to this process will have lasting impact on your organization because individual donors make up over 80% of gifts to nonprofit organizations.  Individual giving is a key part of a sustainable funding plan.   Individual donors are the core group of people who are passionate and inspired about what you do.  Once these individuals have been lit by your mission and the great job that you are doing, they can be your advocates forever. 

Getting Started

Identifying those individuals is the first step and it is an essential aspect of any fundraising campaign because without prospects there can be no solicitations.  Staff members and volunteers invite friends, family, and other associates who might be interested in the organization’s work to attend a program, participate in an activity and to learn more about the work.   

Getting started takes on a variety of forms.  For example, a brainstorming exercise with board members is an excellent way of unlocking prospects as greater success is achieved in a collective setting.  In that session, free association allows for discussions as to who might have different type of connections to the organization. The goal is to identify an individual’s self interests and to think of ways to connect them to your organization.

Playing The Detective Game

One objective is to determine who has the ability and the potential to make a substantial gift.  In reviewing the list of current and potential donors, approach each name with the following questions: What are their interests and can they find something of interest in our organization? Do they usually take their passion to another level beyond showing an interest?  Do you have any friend with the connection to help learn more about these individuals? Do they volunteer? Do they volunteer in a leadership role?  Are they philanthropically minded? Have they made past contributions to organizations similar to yours? The Internet has become a usual tool for this.  However, it does not replace the old fashioned detective process of reading various sources and of learning more through personal contacts.

For new, as well as established organizations, a good way to learn about a prospect’s interest is to see if they respond with some regularity to annual appeals?  Have they expressed their thoughts about an area of your organization or work and even talked about things they would like to see improved.  

As you learn about their interests, you want to know if they have the capacity to give? This is not an easy question to answer because you are not likely to be aware of an individual’s financial situation and looks are often deceiving.  You can begin to find out about a prospect by talking to people who might know this donor on a personal level.  A few things are easier to ascertain such as, do they work or are they retired? Do they have children in college or about to enter college?  

Prospect Researchers

Prospect researchers are trained to put together this critical piece of information.  If that professional is not on staff, every staff member must make it part of his/her role to be on the look out for prospects.   The key to success in whatever shape the prospect research takes is ongoing conversations and sharing information. 

A by-product of identifying prospects is not only learning more about who might support your organization, but also who can be counted upon to be great ambassadors of your cause.  Not everyone is going to be able to give you financial support, but many can provide contact to someone who is a degree or two removed from your circle.  You need to build your supporters from every angle, as you never know where the next introduction might come from and where it may lead.

It Comes Together

The identification/research phase is about finding prospects interested in learning more about your cause.  It is doing comprehensive research from talking to people, looking at patterns, learning about their capacity to give and their general interest.  It is a team effort as critical information comes from all sources.  The Development office/officers are to create a system to make sure that all of this information is the starting point for the cultivation phase.