5 Things to Look for in a Prospect Research Tool

A new year means a new perspective, new goals, and for some, new tools to help you accomplish those goals.  The nonprofit industry is extremely large though, with a diverse group of organizations.  Maybe you work for a small organization with a modest budget or maybe a larger organization that can afford many tools.  There is no single prospect research tool that will be perfect for everyone, but there are some definite features and benefits that you’ll want your tool to have.

Prospect research tools are online, searchable databases that help you identify new prospects and provide insightful data on current prospects.  They provide relevant wealth, biographical, and philanthropic information to help you determine a prospect’s capacity and likelihood to give.

It’s important to note that you don’t have to be a researcher to use a prospect research tool.  Some smaller shops may not have a researcher on staff and may require their development staff to wear many hats, so it’s important to have a tool that’s user-friendly regardless of your research background.

If you’re looking for a new prospect research tool in 2016, here are 5 things you’ll want to consider:

Ability to Customize According to your Fundraising Strategy

When it comes to prospect research tools, one size doesn’t fit all.  You should be able to customize your tool so it reflects your fundraising strategy.  If you’ve ever been burned by a prospect score/rating, then you know better than anyone that results are not definite. Due diligence and human validation are critical to your success.  You also understand that for some organizations a $1000 gift is considered a major gift, while for others it may have to exceed $100K.

It’s easier if you have the ability to customize the capacity ranges used in your score calculation to match that of your organization.  Consider this also: let’s say you work at a hospital but your prospect only gives to environmental causes.  Look for a tool that offers customization to your specific organization or cause, helping you approach the right people at the right time.  Maybe you want to compile a giving history for your prospects or understand where the records and scores come from – more on that next.

Transparency of Records and Scores

You need to be able to trust your tool and the information it provides.  In essence, the key is to eliminate false-positives – remember that time you were burned by a prospect score? Find a tool that is transparent with its record data so you can view the source document. To generate accurate prospect scores, ensure you can choose the records, formulas, and constraints included in the calculation.  When you are in control of the scoring, you can be more confident in your prospect’s potential.

Ability to Build Prospect Profiles

When looking for a prospect research tool, make sure you ask about a profile builder.  This feature allows you to build robust profiles you can use in your reports or in a pinch. This is beneficial in cases where you need to, highlight just one particular piece of information or data. Why spend your time on a full prospect profile if it isn’t necessary? Your tool should improve your efficiency allowing you to export in a format you can edit or even brand.

Comprehensive, Easy-to-Search Real Estate Information

Real estate information is a must for nonprofits looking to identify wealthy individuals and understand their capacity to give. If you want to know why, check out this post by Helen Brown.  Now, most tools have some real estate information available, but it’s important to know what to look for.  Consider the number of records and U.S. counties represented, how often records are updated, and whether you have access to property transaction history.

This history provides insight on previous owners, method of payment, and the current status of any mortgages on the property.  If you have the ability to search by your prospect’s primary mailing address, this may highlight additional properties owned under a Trust or LLC.  When it comes to prospect research, finding and understanding real estate information is a major key to understanding a prospect’s capacity to give.

Up-to-date Giving History

A prospect or donor’s giving history is an important aspect of research that can offer a wealth of knowledge (no pun intended) into their propensity and affinity to give.  It could be argued that a detailed giving history is as crucial to your success as real estate information.  Why?  Examining your prospect’s giving history helps you identify trends in their giving. Some tools will allow targeting your search over a specific year or range of years to find the right information quickly.  And what about verification?  Make sure your tool includes a feature to confirm the source of its records.  Collect detailed giving histories and supporting data, you can craft a tailor-made pitch to each of your prospects.

Your prospect research tool should help you attract major gifts for your organization while establishing relationships with its supporters.  In this way, you can turn prospects into supporters, volunteers, and champions for your cause.

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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.






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