Insights gathered through the prospect research process can transform your fundraising efforts and help you create a powerful, data-driven major gift fundraising strategy—but doing the research is only the beginning.

After you’ve collected data about your prospects, the next step is to apply that data. You know that information about prospects’ financial capacity, affinity for your cause, and established giving habits is valuable, but how exactly does it play into the fundraising process? What do you do with the data?

We’ll answer all of these questions and more as we explore four steps you can take to maximize your prospect research data. Let’s dive in so you can start building relationships and acquiring more major gifts for your mission.

1. Identify and prioritize prospective major donors.

The goal of prospect research is to find potential high-impact donors with the capacity and willingness to contribute a major gift to your nonprofit. But when you have a list of 20 or 30 prospects, some are bound to give more than others. That’s where prioritization comes in.

Imagine you’re the executive director for an animal rescue that wants to use capital campaign funds to build out current facilities to shelter more adoptable pets. You’ve completed prospect research and have seven potential donors in front of you, but you aren’t sure which one to approach first.

A few prospects have high-income careers and have attended your events in the past, but they haven’t donated before. Another prospect named Delilah owns a local veterinary practice, adopted her family dog from your shelter, and gave a $1,000 gift a few years ago. Through wealth screening and further research, you discover that she recently bought a new vacation property and serves on the board of a professional veterinary association.

Based on this data, you determine that Delilah has multiple:

  • Capacity markers: Her business ownership and real estate purchase indicate that Delilah has the potential to give a donation that meets your major gift threshold.
  • Affinity markers: The fact that Delilah donated in the past, adopted a dog from your shelter, and works with a similar organization all demonstrate cause alignment.
  • Propensity markers: Her board service and history of donating to your nonprofit show that she has a habit of giving to nonprofits like yours.

Since Delilah has multiple indicators in all three categories, you determine that she is your top priority prospect and start cultivating your relationship. Then, use a similar process to analyze your data on other prospects and prioritize them in order of those most likely to give.

2. Design your major donor cultivation plans.

With your organization’s plan to ask major donor prospects for larger donations, keep in mind that you don’t want to rush into asking about a gift too quickly. Instead, take the time to cultivate your relationships with prospects and deepen their connection to your organization first.

To do so, create personalized cultivation plans full of relationship-building activities that align with what you know about prospects’ interests. These outreach activities might include:

  • Phone calls to get to know them and discuss your organization’s mission.
  • In-person meetings with your major gifts officer or one of your organization’s leaders.
  • Personal tours of your facilities to show them your work up close.
  • Invitations to events and volunteer opportunities.

Donorly’s guide to donor cultivation explains that prospect research data can help you personalize your cultivation plans and make your efforts more effective. For example, the image below explains two different scenarios where prospect research data insights might play into your cultivation process.

Two examples of using prospect research data to personalize donor cultivation plans, as explained in the text below

Use data about your prospects’ giving histories, charitable interests, and involvement with other organizations to determine which cultivation activities will resonate most with them. If you know a prospect is a board member at another nonprofit, for instance, first give them a personal tour and introduce them to current board members before inviting them to an event.

3. Inform your major gift asks.

Now that you’ve taken the steps of cultivating your relationship, making an individual connection with the prospect, and communicating how their support would further your mission, it’s time to ask your prospect for a major gift. Both your prospect research data and what you’ve learned in conversation with prospects so far will be vital for informing your ask.

Reference the financial capacity indicators you noted as well as what you’ve learned over the past months of relationship-building to create a personalized major donation request. To determine your ask amount, take into account:

  • The size of prospects’ previous gifts to your organization.
  • The total value of their past donations.
  • Wealth indicators like real estate holdings, stock ownership, and political donations.

Then, form an ask strategy that’s reasonable and tailored to each prospect’s motivations and interests. If our example prospect, Delilah, expressed interest in supporting your capital campaign, come to your ask conversation prepared to discuss specific ways her donation would make the campaign’s objective a reality.

No matter what, make sure to thank every prospect for their previous donations and their passion for your nonprofit in your major gift ask. Even if they can’t donate right now, they could prove a valuable long-term supporter of your cause.

4. Discover other fundraising opportunities through data.

Once you’ve applied prospect research data to your major gift fundraising strategy and feel confident using it to guide your approach, you can look beyond major giving and find additional fundraising opportunities within your data.

For instance, prospect research often reveals information about where prospective donors are employed. This information allows you to identify donors who work for corporations that offer matching gift programs—corporate philanthropy programs where businesses match donations that their employees make to nonprofits. By tapping into these programs, you can double or triple eligible donors’ gift sizes, and donors can increase their impact at no extra cost.

To find out who may be eligible to take advantage of matching gifts, explore resources like Double the Donation’s list of matching gift companies or use a matching gift database to research the eligibility status of specific prospects.

Prospect research can also tell you if certain prospects (like our example prospect, Delilah!) are business owners or CEOs themselves. This provides an excellent opportunity to get in touch with potential corporate sponsors for your fundraising events and other activities. These opportunities are appealing to nonprofits and business owners alike, since businesses can enhance their public image and earn attention from the media and potential customers.

Use a similar approach to discover potential planned giving donors and donor-advised fund (DAF) holders. These legacy donations can provide general, ongoing support and a reliable revenue stream over time, and prospects may have similar markers to prospective major donors.

Whether you’re tackling the major donor fundraising process on your own or with the help of an expert consultant, remember that prospect research should play an important role in donor cultivation and solicitation. By using your insights to inform and personalize your fundraising strategies, you can start building relationships with prospects that can last a lifetime.