As all smart nonprofits know, it’s not enough to rely on one-time donations to sustain your organization.
You need to nurture the relationships you have and build on them for the future. A strong stewardship philosophy can take small donors and event attendees and turn them into recurring and major donors who advocate for your nonprofit in the community.
To ensure you can successfully steward your donors all the way across the giving spectrum, here are seven key categories of information you should collect about your donors:
- Biographical information.
- Nonprofit involvement.
- Real estate ownership.
- Educational background.
- Business connections.
- Political giving history.
- Hobbies and interests.
This information can inform the direction your campaigns go, the events you host, who you reach out to for major donor-level support, and the way you communicate with donors on all levels.
Ready to learn how? Let’s get into it!
1. Biographical information.
Let’s start with the basics — biographical information about your donors that packs more of a punch than you might think.
It’s common knowledge in the nonprofit world that addressing donors by their preferred name and title in your solicitations improves your chances of receiving a response. But there are other ways that putting simple information to use can increase the possibility of your fundraising letters being read and responded to.
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Here are a few tried-and-true examples:
- Age: Direct mail solicitations are one of the best ways to contact donors across all age groups, though younger donors are more likely than older donors to respond to solicitations sent over text or shared on social media.
- Employment status: Working adults are less likely to check their personal emails when they’re at work than when they’re at home. Send your message in the afternoon instead of the morning so it doesn’t get buried under unread messages sent throughout the day.
- Familial relations: Donors with young children are more likely to open an invitation to a fundraising event with “family-friendly” in the subject line or on the envelope, whereas married donors without children might be more attracted to a “date night.”
These types of data points aren’t that difficult to gather. In fact, you could reasonably ask your donors to supply this information themselves, either on a donation form, a membership program sign-up sheet, an event registration page, or an email survey.
2. Nonprofit involvement.
One of the most important categories of donor data your nonprofit could collect is history of nonprofit involvement.
When you’re looking for potential donors, particularly prospective major donors, you can’t just look for individuals with the means to give large gifts. You have to look for indications that the individual is philanthropically inclined.
You can significantly and efficiently narrow your search by screening for past involvement with other nonprofits.
Keep in mind that there are many ways an individual can get involved with nonprofits, so don’t forget to look out for these markers of a philanthropic spirit:
- Making a donation.
- Volunteering at an event.
- Organizing a corporate sponsorship.
- Serving on a nonprofit board.
- Advocating for charity on public platforms.
You should also pay attention to giving trends within your own nonprofit. Major donors could be hiding within your database. Keep an eye on recurring donors and those who regularly show up to events, always showing your appreciation to set the stage for a larger ask down the road.
3. Real estate ownership.
Did you know that owning more than $2 million in real estate increases an individual’s likelihood of charitable giving 17 times, according to DonorSearch? It’s true, and that’s one of the reasons you should collect real estate data about your donors!
Of course, it’s unlikely that your donors would feel comfortable delivering their tax statements to your offices for you to calculate their earnings.
Instead, you can find this information by engaging a prospect research software firm or by searching platforms of public information, such as real estate websites for homebuyers and sellers.
There’s another reason why donors’ real estate information is useful for nonprofits, and it has more to do with the actual area around the property they own.
If your organization hosts campaigns that directly impact the area around where your donors live, you have a reason to believe they would be interested in supporting it. They might have an emotional attachment to the community, or at least a financial interest in seeing their property values increase as the community undergoes improvements. The only way to know is to ask!
4. Educational background.
Where your donors went to school and for how long can tell you a lot about their ability to make a sizable donation. For instance, donors with more advanced degrees likely have more disposable income to contribute to your nonprofit.
But there’s more than just wealth markers to learn from your donors’ educational background.
As university fundraising experts know, the activities that a donor was involved in while at school are the key to delivering successful, targeted solicitations.
Think about the aspects of a donor’s college experience that can impact the causes they care about after graduation, like:
- Their area of study.
- Clubs they joined.
- Leadership positions they held.
- Classmates or professors they’re still close to.
- Community service projects they participated in.
- Countries they studied abroad in.
Knowing these details about some of the most exciting years of your donors’ lives can guide you to the campaigns they’re most likely to support. They might even be interested in helping lead these campaigns, especially if they have some leadership experience to lean on.
5. Business connections.
Sometimes, the hardest part of soliciting a donation isn’t finding the donors you think would want to contribute — it’s reaching out to those donors and actually getting their attention.
That’s where tracking your donors’ business connections comes in handy. Donors are more likely to respond to solicitations from friends and acquaintances than strangers.
For example, if you discover that a current board member has previously worked alongside a donor you think has the potential to give a major gift, ask that board member to reach out on behalf of your organization instead of a member of your fundraising team.
Plus, there’s another benefit to collecting business connections. If you’re looking to increase your revenue from corporate philanthropy programs or you’re planning an event that could use a corporate sponsor, check in your database for donors who work for companies that regularly partner with charities.
(Hint: check out this list of charitable companies from Fundly if you’re not sure where to start looking.)
6. Political giving history.
Just like real estate ownership, political contributions are strong indicators of a charitable spirit, with political donations of more than $2,500 correlating to a 14-time increase in likelihood of charitable giving.
Knowing the size of your donors’ past political donations is also useful information when crafting a solicitation. The more they contribute to a political campaign, the more income they likely have to donate. This information is publicly available on the website of the Federal Election Commission.
But of course, it’s not just the ability and propensity of your donors to give that you can learn from political giving history. Look at the actual campaigns and causes your donors are supporting, not just the amounts they donated.
Do you see many of your donors contributing to similar causes? Is there a natural way for you to incorporate support for this cause into your next campaign? These questions can inform your next fundraising campaign.
7. Hobbies and interests.
Given the current prevalence of social media, it’s not difficult to discover the hobbies and interests of your donors. With a little patience and the right open-source tools, you can find out which of your constituents are avid fishers, theater-goers, and amateur bakers!
As is the case in many previous sections of this post, this donor data can help you decide which donors would be most receptive to message about certain campaigns your nonprofit undertakes. But you can also use this information to actually guide your fundraising strategy.
Think about the new fundraising events your nonprofit could host if you knew your donors would love to attend:
- If you discover exercise enthusiasts, try a charity walkathon, 5K, or triathlon.
- If you discover music lovers, try a charity benefit concert.
- If you discover avid readers, try group volunteering at the local library.
- If you discover foodies, try a profit share at a local restaurant.
- If you discover amateur bakers, try a bake sale or cook-off.
Include keywords relating to these interests in the subject lines of your emails to donors to ensure that the first thing they see grabs their attention.
Whether you’re looking for your next major donor, ideas for your next big fundraising event, or new ways to market to your current donors, you can trust your data to lead you on the right path.
Just make sure that you keep your donor database clean by revisiting it regularly to clean out lapsed donors, consolidate duplicate profiles, and request updated contact information. That way, when it’s time to reach out to your donors about your amazing programs, you can be confident that your message is reaching the right person.
About the Author
Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.
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