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Broadening the base

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Question:

What are three ways research can help you diversify your donor base?

Answer: 

* Dig deeper in your constituent base

Diversity can mean many things to an organization.  So part of a diversification strategy depends on the organization itself and who its natural constituents are.

For an educational institution, the typical donor is an alumnus.  And within that alumni base, there is a natural gravitation to the middle-aged alum who has made a career and been successful.

Because of that, other groups can be overlooked.

You should widen the scope of people you look at to include those like young alums and alums of color who have shown inclination or interest through volunteer involvement or participation in annual fund drives.  Educational organizations should not overlook parents as prospective donors, or community members who buy tickets or attend programs, such as sporting events or artistic performances.

You also can use analytical techniques to find specific target groups of potential donors.

For example, while older donors or people like school teachers and nurses may not traditionally be thought of as major-gift prospects, an analysis of their annual-fund giving behavior could predict types of planned-giving opportunities that might be of interest to them.

Many organizations have large databases, but the proportion of actual donors is small.  Encouraging a larger degree of participation from your existing constituents will naturally diversify your donor base.

* Review public sources

For an organization that doesn’t have a built-in constituency, a review of publicly-available lists can widen the scope.

Research services like FC Search and Big Online can help you find private and family foundations within your geographic or interest area, including what they give to organizations like yours.

You can even dig into the 990 filings of similar nonprofits to find out which corporations, foundations and individuals are providing them support.

Industry lists, usually published by local business journals, are also valuable prospecting tools.  You start to see things like top private company owners and CEOs, and you can get a good sense of who the movers and shakers in the community are.

And in some cases, such lists tell which businesses and people awarded gifts to specific organizations.

* Capture and use data

Often a nonprofit’s fundraisers are writing contact reports or doing list reviews and informal peer screenings with individuals as they meet people, but that information can get lost if it isn’t properly maintained and evaluated.

Research can assist in this process by helping to develop the proper mechanisms for collecting and capturing information, and by managing and evaluating the results.

That way, fundraisers can use information more effectively and the organization maintains institutional memory well beyond the tenure of any individual fundraiser.


Elizabeth Crabtree is director of prospect development for Brown University. 

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