by Ronald J. Meshanko, President, ERC
ERC Newsbriefs Excerpt, March 31, 1995

Nonprofit executives like you need to investigate potential major donors and become a master prospect researcher. Just what is prospect research? Prospect research is the investigative process through which an agency identifies prospective supporters, assesses their gift capacity and potential, and uncovers facts that may show how an optimum size gift may best be solicited. The goal of prospect research is to enhance solicitation. The information you learn about donors, should help you ASK the right donor, for the right amount, for the right program, at the right time, in the right way, by the right solicitor.

What kind of information are you looking for? Remembering that "people give to people", you look for clues indicating what the person is interested in supporting. If the person has supported a similar agency as yours, more likely than not, the person may be interested in supporting your agency. If the prospect has something in common with your agency, this commonality may be a way to establish contact. For example, if the person is an orphan, he might be interested in supporting an orphanage or programs for abandoned or abused children.

There is another twist to "people give to people." Learn as much as possible about a prospect and see which agency volunteer or board member has something in common with the prospect. If a prospect is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, and you have a board member who was a missionary in Africa, a perfect "point of contact" or mutuality exists to establish a rapport with the donor. Use it. This board member may be the "right solicitor."

If you discover that the potential door enjoys Anne Rice novels, and you also enjoy them, be sure to talk about it and establish rapport with your prospect. The conversation about something in common will bring a smile to the prospect's face, and establish a bond of trust and friendship that will pave the way for a major gift. That is the goal of prospect research.

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