Prospect Research on a Shoestring

Do you believe that prospect research and wealth screening is out of reach for your organization? Well, think again.

Armed with curiosity and a handful of tools, you can put together a donor or prospect profile that will play an important role as you develop strategies for cultivation and stewardship.

Before we get to the tools, let’s consider what the realistic expectations for prospect research are. Prospect research does:

  • Point you in the right direction when developing strategies.
  • Assist with development of strategies that make the most of the staff and volunteer resources available.
  • Help you decide what amount to ask for.
  • Teach you about donor relationships and the philanthropic community.

Be cautious, though … prospect research doesn’t give you 100% of the picture, so be sure to vet your information.

There are a variety of tools on the web, many of them free, which will help you find answers to the questions you have about a donor or prospect. Questions about their assets, gifts they’ve made to other organizations, their family, their friends … to name a few. Some examples of these tools:

  • Local newspapers and business journals
  • Competitor’s donor walls
  • Political contribution database, like
  • Directories like and
  • Nonprofit directories, such as and the Foundation Directory
  • Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites

Once you’ve gathered enough information, the simple rule for calculating an estimate of a donor’s capacity is to multiply their visible assets – property, stocks, and such – by 5%. Keep in mind, though, that simply because someone’s gift capacity is $1 million, it doesn’t mean you should ask for that much. Look at the other information – if the largest visible gift you’ve found to other organizations is $5,000, the donor isn’t likely to respond well to an ask of $1 million.

Now that you have put the work into learning about your donor or prospect, don’t make the mistake of losing the information in a sea of papers. Be sure to keep thorough, hard copy files on all of your major donors and keep them updated.