by Ronald J. Meshanko, President, ERC
ERC Newsbriefs Excerpt, April 28, 1995

In Part I of this three-part series, I talked about the importance of prospect research or the investigative process through which an agency identifies prospective supports, assess their gift capacity and potential, and uncovers facts that may show how an optimum size gift may best be solicited. This month we will focus on identifying your best prospects.

Who is the best prospect for your agency? It is the person who feels a commitment to your mission, knows how your agency will use the gift to fulfill your mission, and has the affluence to make a gift to your agency now. All well and good, you say. But how do I learn the depth of a person's commitment? How do I discern what the donor thinks about my organization's stewardship of gifts? How do I discover the capability of this mystery donor to make a major gift now?

It is simple. First, you have to take away the mystery as to who this best prospect is. Then you have to unearth facts about the unmasked donor's affluence and influence. And, finally, you have to ask them about their commitment to the agency and their feelings about your agency track record. To discover who your best current prospect are, segment out the major donors from your donor list (both inactive and active donor lists). You will find that approximately 10 to 20 percent of your donors give your agency 80 to 90 percent of your income from individual gifts. A major donor may be a person who gives your agency $100 a year or $5,000 a year.

Produce a confidential donor report on each of these major donors, beginning with their names, addresses, phone numbers, and giving history. Then ask a volunteer to do research on the donors to discover their church and political affiliation, academic history, affiliations with service clubs, other nonprofits, businesses, etc., and any information about the donor's interests and dislikes.

Part III in this series will discuss the tools and methods used by prospect researcher to produce a confidential donor report.

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