Capital Campaign Prospect Research


Top Three Must-Knows

Capital campaigns are driven by one-on-one solicitations, so prospect research will be critical. Learn more about campaign prospecting with our top must-knows.

If you are in a capital campaign, you are going to be asking for gifts—often large gifts. For those asks to be successful, you’ve got some homework to get ready.

Our first tip: Never ask someone for a large gift if you don’t know why they might want to give.

Before asking for capital campaign gifts (or any major gifts for that matter), you will want to do some research on the person, grantmaking foundation, or corporation you intend to solicit. The results of your research should help you prepare for your ask so that your solicitation is more effective.

The vast majority of capital campaign funding is secured through one-on-one relationship building and solicitations, so you can’t afford to neglect the research step. Without knowing a great deal about your prospective donors before meeting with them, you might fall into these common traps:

  • Asking for something that's of no interest to the donor.
  • Asking for an amount that's either too high or too low for that donor.

The most successful solicitations are designed to fit the donors’ interests and abilities. When you ask a donor for something he or she cares about and when you request an amount that is within that donor’s demonstrated pattern of giving, the chances are excellent that the donor will want to give and will be excited to help you grow your organization’s footprint.

What to Know Before the Ask

Find the answers to these three questions about a donor before asking for a gift:

1. Is the donor philanthropic?

This question can be answered by learning whether they make gifts to your and other organizations. Some people have great resources to make major gifts but are not generous donors. But if someone has the capacity and a history of giving, they are likely to be good prospects for you.

2. Why do they care?

You should know whether the prospect is interested in your programs, services, and mission. One excellent way to learn this information is by talking to your donors directly and asking thoughtful questions. Some questions you might ask include:

  • Why did you give to us in the first place?
  • What motivates you to keep giving?
  • What (if any) personal connection do you have with our mission/organization?

3. Can the prospect make a gift?

Before soliciting someone, you should know what size gift you will ask for. The amount will be based in part on the size of your fundraising goals and in part on the capacity and giving patterns of the prospect. This might be the most challenging question to research, but it’s crucial for successful solicitations.

Sometimes you can get a glimpse of donor capacity through wealth screening and other sources. Their assets might be one indication of an ability to make a gift; however, remember that people can be extremely wealthy and not be philanthropic. But if a person doesn’t have the financial ability to make a gift, it doesn’t matter how generous they might be, they still won’t be able to make a big gift.

Keep in mind, a donor doesn’t have to be able to write a check to make a big gift. They may have other assets or connections which will enable them to make a bigger gift.

Places to Research Your Prospects

  • Wealth Screening
    • There are many companies which provide these services. Some popular examples include iWave, Blackbaud/Raiser’s Edge, DonorSearch, and WealthEngine.
  • Google and Other Websites
    • A quick Google search can unearth unexpected articles and information about your donors. Services like Zillow can provide information about home/real estate prices. And, if you are researching a grant, foundation, or corporations, you’ll want to check their websites.
  • GrantStation and Other Grant Directories
    • Again, if you are researching a corporate, family, or other foundation, you may find publicly available information in a variety of grant directories.

Talk to People Who Know People

Prospect research doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. While the official prospect research avenues can be very effective, talking to people in your community who know people is often the most direct, organic strategy for finding out about prospective donors.

Start by looking at what a prospect’s involvement has been with your organization. Check their giving and volunteer history in your database. Then go to other organizations they are involved with and other people who may know them. Many communities—even good-sized cities—are quite small when it comes to the community of donors. And donors often know other donors.

Take the time to learn about your donors and prospective donors. A well-prepared solicitor who knows about the ability and motivations of the people they plan to ask is likely to be successful. So do your homework and help your organization raise more money.

Action steps you can take today
  • Is your organization ready for a capital campaign? This simple assessment tool will help you find out. You’ll assess six key areas of your organization. Take this free assessment now and find out if you’re truly ready for a campaign.