How Strategic Research Leads to New Donors and More Money

A challenge for so many nonprofit organizations is developing a strategic plan to find new donors. Your organization could be in its first few years, or maybe you’re part of an organization that has been around for many years. Knowing how to approach your donor database – whether that’s an established list, a disorganized list in need of structure, or a list from scratch – is difficult. 

The Data Question

In one of our latest case studies, the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Foundation explored ways to do just that. They started from scratch with an almost non-existent donor database. For them, they had a data problem due to inconsistent organization and the fact that they were so new. But they also had a research problem. They had no strategic plan to find new donors. If this sounds familiar, keep on reading! 

A great place for them to start, was to define what a prospect profile should look like for their organization. Who is going to give? Why will they give? Where else do they give? Because they were a young organization with a limited donor pool, they knew they had to find donors who gave to like-minded causes. Once they established that they had a better footing for their next step: research. Now they had to identify prospects with a proven interest – a strong affinity – in causes like theirs. This was key to building their overall prospect profile. 

Do you leverage your donor database to give you a clear picture of your ideal donor? A great way to do this is to make sure you are focused on affinity, propensity, and capacity – the three keys for identifying your next major gift donors. 

Juggling Priorities

The Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Foundation was not only looking into an empty donor pool, but they were simultaneously seeking key leaders to spearhead their new Philadelphia $1 Million Campaign. This was a brand new campaign to raise a grand total of $1M for the Foundation’s Endowment. Because of this huge goal, they knew they had to be strategic about their asks. They had to have a plan about who they were asking to be involved, and at what level. 

Now, Time for Research

Donor lists

So to start, the Foundation looked at another Holocaust-related website and their donors. Then they took the name of a wealthy donor and searched it in iWave which led to the entire donor list for that website. From there they were able to build and prioritize a substantial list of potential donors, many of whom had never given directly to them before. So they were starting their donor list from the beginning, but with a huge head start. 

They were not only able to create an actionable list of potential donors but they were also able to bring in key stakeholders for their Philadelphia Campaign. Those people, starting out as names on this list, became co-chairs for that initiative. Since then, the campaign has raised over $150K and still climbing! 

“Using iWave was my only way of building my list of 2,500 highly qualified prospects, specifically connected to our mission.”

A great lesson here is to look at other donor lists. Finding prospects this way ensures you are looking at propensity – someone’s likelihood to give and their affinity – whether they actually care about your cause. This is a powerful position for you as an organization to be able to start a conversation with a potential donor. 

“iWave helped me create the fishing pond we needed to find donors connected to our cause.”

Screen & Segment

So, what next? If you are in this same position and you’ve just built a beautiful new donor list, a fantastic next step is to input your list into iWave’s Screening to find out which donors should be top priorities. Once you get the screening file back, you’ll see scores and information on each of your prospects which makes it easy to digest and sort. And with our new Insights feature, you can also take the guess-work out of segmenting your database as we’ve done that for you! You’ll see all your prospects categorized into 4 different groups depending on their iWave and RFM scores. This is a time-saver and a strategic stepping stone to having those first donor solicitation conversations.  

This approach to prospect research, like many “nonprofit approaches” is best adapted as a cycle. This is where the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Foundation started, but it’s also where you can start no matter your size or state of your database. This could be your beginning or middle. No matter where you are starting from, having the right tools and strategies will help make your job easier in the long run.  

Your Story is Unique

Thankfully, we hear stories like this all the time. We are unbelievably happy to be able to provide a service to some amazing nonprofits to help them do their incredible work, better and faster. At the end of the day, we hope that these stories help you to make your tools work better for you, and help you run a more successful organization. If you have a story you’d like to share, please let us know. We keep on moving, improving, and innovating because of you. So, thank you!



About the author: Liz Corney is iWave’s Content Marketing Manager. She has a degree in Journalism, is a fiercely positive team-player and a creative self-starter. She has experience working in software technology, video/mobile games, learning & development, social & traditional media, and communications. Liz is also the co-founder of a local nonprofit organization working to better the lives of homeless women in her community. 





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