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The Three Keys Introduction: What is Propensity, Affinity, and Capacity?


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Good things come in threes. When it comes to ideal donor ratings, the big three are propensity, affinity, and capacity (The Three Keys). Throughout the nonprofit industry, there are many different perspectives and names for this ratings trio. But what do propensity, affinity, and capacity ratings actually mean? We’re here to chime in with our thoughts about The Three Keys in relation to prospect research tools. Ready to learn?

If you are unfamiliar with defining a prospect with the Three Keys, here is the breakdown:

  • PROPENSITY: Has this person given to nonprofit causes before?
  • AFFINITY: Is this person passionate about your cause and nonprofit organization?
  • CAPACITY: How much wealth can this person afford to donate?

You may know propensity as inclination and affinity as linkage or connection. Capacity to give is just another term for a person’s ability to give their wealth to nonprofit causes. What’s important to remember is that no matter what you call donor ratings, they help you guide prospect research and frame major gift asks.

PAC | Fundraising SoftwareImagine a Venn diagram of propensity, affinity, and capacity. David Lawson of Working Philanthropy wrote that “…someone with money who is a giver to others can still not be into your mission. Another might love everything you do, but has no discretionary dollars to share.” Two ratings may overlap, but the sweet spot in the middle is when all three ratings are known and support each other. That is when you really know you have a great prospect.

Over the next few weeks, we will break The Three Keys down and build it back up again. Along the way, we will explore how to determine each rating. Then, we will demonstrate why considering all three ratings together can improve your major gift success.

We’ll start with Part 1: Propensity next week. Stay tuned!

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