5 Searches You’ll Kick Yourself for Not Using in Your Prospect Research

prospect research search

When the name of a new prospect or foundation comes across your desk, what is the first thing you do?  Do you find yourself doing the same searches, looking at the same types of information, or building the same group of lists?  You are not alone!

As humans we like routine.  We get into habits and once we find something that works we tend to stick to it.  Don’t fix what’s not broken, right?  But, we’ve all heard the story of the nonprofit who was surprised to receive a multimillion dollar gift that was left to them in the will of a donor they didn’t even know existed – here’s one case of that in the form of a $34M gift.

The two most common searches in prospect research, according to industry standard and confirmed by usage stats from our Prospect Research Online look up tool, are for an individual’s real estate holdings and past giving history.  But as you know, there are a lot of other pieces of information that can give you a more complete view of your prospect’s potential and indicate how much they may want to give to your specific cause.  If you want to learn more about your current donors or give your prospect pool a refresh, this post will give you some ideas for searches that can do just that.

Now, as you know, there are numerous ways to find this information on your prospects.  You may use free tools, subscription-based tools, or even a search Engine to do your donor research.  Whatever the case, different providers will have different features and functionality, but the concept of these searches is pretty universal.  So what are they?

5 Prospect Research Searches You Should Try

Search for Real Estate Using a Prospect’s Mailing Address

One of the most common searches in prospect research is to search for a prospect or donor’s real estate holdings.  Why?  The value of an individual’s property or properties can be a great indicator of their wealth, lifestyle, and capacity to give.I’m sure you’ve all conducted real estate searches that came up with nothing. Frustrating, when you know for a fact that your prospect owns a $2 million dollar home in Philadelphia and $1.5 million condo in Florida.  Well, this doesn’t have to be the end of your property search.  One tip that we suggest is rather than searching the individual’s name, search their mailing address (often their primary residence) to source hard to find properties.

Now this isn’t going to work 100% of the time, but sometimes it is the key to completing the puzzle. Finding property can be difficult because many wealthy people distribute their properties under their spouse’s name, a relative’s name, LLCs, or in Trust.  When they do this though, they often have them all linked to their primary residence as their mailing address for billing and other mail.  Not everyone links all of their real estate with a common mailing address, but many times this trick can uncover properties that you didn’t know your prospect owned.

Reverse Engineering the Search for Potential Funders

When conducting research for private foundations that your grant writers could reach out to, it can be useful to identify foundations that are giving to organizations similar to yours.  Past grants from foundations can be a great indicator of a funder’s preferred cause, types of organizations to fund, and ranges or amounts of grants.  Thus, first identify nonprofit organizations that are similar to yours and then search for them as the grantee.  This type of search could reveal potential funders that you hadn’t thought about or investigated.  It can also highlight any funders that you have in common, so you can compare the size of the grants you each receive and determine if there is potential to increase your grant in the future.

List Building Based on Cause and Net Worth

First, top up your prospect pool by building lists of individuals in your region who show evidence of a connection to your cause.  Identify the NTEE for your organization and then set search filters to identify donors who are giving to that cause in your area.  You might even be able to search for gift ranges and years to see who has given major gifts to those causes in the recent past.  For example, do a search for individuals who have given a gift of $500,000 or greater in the past 5 years to animal related causes in North Carolina (or a particular zip code).

Likewise, if you’re looking to give your prospect pool a bit of a facelift, you can build a list based on net worth.  See if their are new prospects on the scene, or ensure you aren’t missing anyone who may have chosen to give anonymously.  List building doesn’t necessarily have to focus on donors; it could be wealthy people in a particular area, so try building a list of individuals in your area by filtering based on a level of net worth.

Searching for Spousal Information

This one may seem obvious but it’s surprising how many people gloss over a prospect’s spouse. Alternatively, they include them in a brief but don’t spend time researching them as well.  Searching for a prospect’s spousal information helps you gain insight into each of their potential as donors.  Often, a prospect’s spouse may own property, have donated on their own, and is, or could be, wealthy in their own right.  In fact, when you start looking into the spouse, you may find that you’ve been focusing on the wrong individual and might want to turn your sights to the spouse instead.  Not researching both partners in a wealthy couple could mean that you are unknowingly leaving gifts on the table.

Searching and Understanding Political Giving

Political giving metrics have shown that researching an individual’s political giving history can give you insight into their giving capacity. A political giving record will often list the person’s employment and address, gift amount, year, and recipient.  This is useful to complete the prospect’s profile and at your prospect’s interests and capacity to spend.

What other less common searches would you add to this list? 

[divider type=”e.g. 1, 2″ width=”e.g. small, medium, wide”][/divider]

About the author: Jill McCarville is iWave’s VP of Marketing.  Jill joined iWave in 2015 to lead the marketing and communication efforts. Prior to joining iWave Jill worked as a Director at an Innovation and Marketing consulting firm where she led new product ideation sessions, created campaigns, completed market research, and helped clients from Fortune 500’s to small businesses accelerate new products to market.

Free Trial of PRO






Stay Up-to-date on Fundraising News and Resources

What You Should Do Now

  1. Request a Demo and see how iWave can help your nonprofit organization target the best potential donors.
  2. Looking for creative ideas to raise money?
    Read our in-depth resource on fundraising ideas or use our Fundraising Thermometer to create a cool graphic to show your fundraising progress.
  3. If you know someone who’d enjoy this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Want a Free Demo of iWave’s Fundraising Intelligence Platform?

Request a Demo