Capacity and Affinity Markers: Researching Your Donors


Prospect research is key to effective fundraising. Capacity and affinity markers can signal that a donor may be interested in and able to give to your mission.

Encountering roadblocks is a normal part of nonprofit fundraising, no matter if you’re working to get a capital campaign off the ground, applying for a competitive grant, or putting a crowdfunding campaign into action. Roadblocks can be avoided by knowing your target audience.

This is where prospect research comes in. Prospect research is the process of finding potential major donors for your organization. Putting in the effort to carefully identify these donors pays off by helping your organization better use its time and resources to more effectively target major donors and to build genuine relationships with them. Identifying major donors also helps to secure major gifts, planned gifts, sponsorships, and other forms of support.

If your organization is ready to say goodbye to taking shots in the dark with its fundraising efforts and dive into prospect research, it may be advantageous to seek the help of a prospect research consultant. A consultant is an expert who is knowledgeable about the prospect research process and has experience with dedicated prospect research tools. These might include government records, donor CRMs, prospect generator tools, and prospect research databases.

But what will a prospect research consultant do with these tools? They’ll be looking for indicators that a donor has the wealth and the personal interest in your cause that signals they may want to get involved. These are called capacity (wealth) and affinity (personal interest) markers. In this article, we’ll dig deeper into these two types of markers to help you better understand the process of prospect research. Let’s get started!

Capacity Markers

If a prospect researcher identifies a potential major donor who has capacity markers, what they’re seeing is an indicator of wealth. This means that the potential donor may very well be in a financial position that would allow them to make significant contributions to your cause.

While prospect research doesn’t mean you get to know the exact balance of a potential donor’s bank account, it does mean that you’ll see signs that the person has considerable wealth. These might include:

  • real estate ownership;
  • stock holdings; and/or,
  • business affiliations.

While it might be tempting to stop prospecting when you find these markers for the sake of moving forward with your fundraising tactics, capacity markers only tell half of the potential donor’s story. You’ll need to make sure the potential donor also has affinity markers. Otherwise, you’ll really only be conducting a wealth screening, which is much more useful for evaluating existing donors that you already have a relationship with, as you’ll see when we explore the crucial next step.

Affinity Markers

Affinity markers indicate that a potential donor has or could have a genuine personal interest in or connection to your organization’s mission. Affinity markers are critical for effective prospect research because they remind fundraisers that major donors aren’t just blank checks. After all, just because someone has wealth doesn’t mean they want to hand that wealth out to anyone who asks. They want to make meaningful financial contributions.

Affinity markers require prospect researchers to take a look at a potential donor’s history of giving back to their community. These markers might include:

  • political involvement;
  • donation history and past involvement with your organization or similar organizations ;
  • professional and personal connections with other donors in your database; and,
  • previous experience with grantseeking or selecting grant recipients.

According to Donorly’s guide to prospect research, affinity markers allow you to “strengthen your initial outreach with prospects, tapping into the points that you already know will motivate them.” This means that affinity markers empower you to look past the numbers and see the human side of a potential donor so you can make real, lasting connections with them.

Action steps you can take today
  • Invest in prospect research tools that can help you better identify these markers.
  • Better yet, hire a prospect research consultant to take care of it for you. You can even hire consultants who specialize in both prospect research and fundraising, so you can have expert help fine tuning your nonprofit’s overall strategy.
  • Use what you learn from prospect research to cultivate genuine relationships with the donors you find through your research. Getting to know your donors will help you retain their support, making your fundraising efforts more effective and meaningful.