Universities and colleges typically want two things.
First and foremost, they want to provide their students with the best educational experience available, with state-of the-art classrooms and the top professors in the world.
Second, they look to improve their rankings year after year. The goal is to have each incoming class be more select and elite than the preceding one.
Simply put, universities want prestige. We all know this.
Well, how do they get it? Funding.
Consider the following equation:
Ambition + Planning + Funding + Implementation = Prestige
Without funding, all the other efforts aren’t going to travel far. Fundraising is incredibly difficult. It’s a tightrope walk of building new relationships and maintaining old ones.
University fundraisers should use every tool and resource available to make fundraising easier and more efficient. Prospect research is a top option. It provides a bevy of benefits to universities that use it.
Prospect research is a fundraising method used by organizations to uncover enlightening details regarding potential donors’ philanthropic motivations, past giving histories, wealth indicators, and personal backgrounds. All of this information is then used to assess the likelihood that a given prospect will donate and to develop the best strategy of acquiring the resulting candidates.
Here are four ways a university or college can employ prospect research.
1. Individualize the Solicitation Process
It is unrealistic to contact each donor personally, with case-specific communications. Instead, universities have to make the best of what they can feasibly accomplish.
Use prospect research to learn about your donor pools and then segment them accordingly. Once you’ve categorized them into similar donor groups, each segment can receive individualized communications.
Let’s face it, donors are savvy and can tell when they’re the recipients of automated, mass messaging. By customizing for segments, donors feel a personal outreach, and universities don’t have to expend much more effort to make that happen.
Most university supporters are tightly bound to your school; they want their connection reciprocated and respected.
2. Manage the Fundraising Budget Better
At first glance, you might think prospect research doesn’t have a place in your operating budget. However, the small cost to run a prospect research program will pay out in dividends with the funds it helps bring in.
Your gift officers won’t be spending valuable time and energy on soliciting prospects who won’t pan out.
Let’s walk through an example of the budget benefits in action.
A screening reveals that one of your alumni donors is married to an employee of a company with a considerably generous matching gift program. The gift officer in contact with said donor is alerted to this and makes sure to promote matching gifts to the candidate. In turn, the donor realizes the funding potential and submits a matching gift request, doubling his contribution to your university.
The small financial cost of uncovering the matching gift detail is made back in spades.
3. Discover Major Gift Prospects
Prospect research is a great tool across the board, but it is most commonly used when screening for high-quality donors. Even more specifically, organizations use it to find major gift donors. They say that on average 90% of your organization’s donation total comes from 10% of your donors– your critical major gift donors.
Prospect research will find them and help you draw them in.
There are a number of key prospect data points for universities seeking major gifts:
- Past giving to your college or university
- Your school’s alumni relationships
- Causes that prospects will care to contribute to
Ideally, you’ll want to find alumni who have already donated in some capacity, have maintained a relationship with the school, and have vested interests in causes you’re currently raising funds for.
For example, the ‘ideal’ prospect for donating to the building of a new stadium might be a graduate who played on the football team, donates to the annual fund, and holds football season tickets.
4. Supplement Fundraisers’ Efforts
Fundraisers are stressed and busy enough. If you have ways to assist them, you should. Even at the most successful nonprofits, development staff are always looking for a way to gain an added edge. Prospect screening frees up your gift officers to focus on the actual task of fundraising, rather than the intensive prep work leading up to the ask.
- Hire prospect researchers
- Bring on prospect research consultants
- Use the services of a prospect screening company
Whether you choose one of those paths, or a combination thereof, your development team will be more effective for it.
It is great that universities already have built-in donor pools with alumni and families of alumni, but those donor pools can be massive and unwieldy. Your fundraisers should be paying attention to the campaigns at hand, from crowdfunding to direct mail. They should not be wading through an unmanageably deep pool of donors.
Let prospect research guide your team through the pool and discover the best prospects amongst the masses.
Ryan Woroniecki is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at DonorSearch, a prospect research, screening, and analytics company that focuses on proven philanthropy. He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits and is a member of APRA-MD. When he isn’t working, he is an avid kickball player.