9 Creative Ways to Discover New Prospects

One of the most exciting aspects of prospect research is the discovery of previously unknown prospects for your organization. Whether you’re starting a new campaign or trying to find the last few donors to fully fund a program, new prospects are vital to any nonprofit organization. As such, it is imperative that prospect researchers set aside time each week to discover and research potential prospects. Without new information, any data pool will become stagnant—and a pool of prospects is no different.


Below is a short list of some of the ways to uncover new prospects.

  1. Search through newspaper or county assessor websites for lists of recently sold, high-value properties. While the definition of “high value” may vary from location to location, the purpose of this search does not. Many prospects who are capable of purchasing high-value properties are also capable of giving major gifts. In addition, prospects who have recently sold high-value properties may now have cash that they are interested in investing in a worthy cause.


  1. Search for local prospects who own luxury items, such as airplanes and boats. Owning an airplane or boat is often a sign of wealth, and it’s relatively easy to research if you know where to go. Check out my last post for an in-depth discussion on researching airplane and boat ownership.


  1. Keep an eye on supporters of similar organizations. Sometimes, the best way to discover new prospects is to look to organizations similar to your own, either in a neighboring town or at the state or national level. Involvement in a similar organization—by serving on the board, donating to the cause, or following the organization on social media—indicates that the prospect may also be interested in assisting your organization, either monetarily or in a voluntary capacity.


  1. Keep tabs on rising stars in the community. Many large cities publish a who’s who of local industries. Such publications are usually a wealth of information in regard to up-and-coming or known prospects who have recently been promoted or received awards. 


  1. Read a magazine like Entrepreneur to scout out successful individuals. Personally, I love flipping through Entrepreneur each month. Not only are the stories interesting, but I have, on more than one occasion, found articles about individuals affiliated with our organization who have become a successful entrepreneurs. Such stories provide development officers with wonderful reasons to contact and begin dialogues with prospects.


  1. Look through the faculty listings at local, higher education institutions. If you live in or near a city that is fortunate enough to have an institution of higher learning, you can often find new prospects in the ranks of the institution’s professors. These individuals have devoted their lives to imparting knowledge about and researching a particular subject. As such, they’re often great prospects for funding research or scholarships.


  1. Use who you know. Never underestimate the power of personal connections. Your board members and employees are often able to make introductions to new prospects. There are several ways to discover new prospects based on personal connections, including using a relationship mapping company, such as Relationship Science (RelSci); mining board member and employees’ connections on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn; and conducting peer screenings.


  1. Mine social media platforms to find individuals who post about specific topics and areas of interest. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all allow you to search by interest/topic and location. For example, if you were searching for people talking about cancer research in Bloomington, Indiana, you could narrow down posts to only that topic published by people in that city. The individuals making these posts could be potential prospects if you are looking to raise funds for cancer research.


  1. Look out for individuals who have made political donations. Politicians often introduce bills into the state and national legislatures that are a direct reflection of the issues facing their constituents. As such, sometimes, it’s helpful to identify politicians who have introduced bills around the topic that you are fundraising for and then determine who from your area donated to that politician—both consistently and in the last year. These donors may be potential prospects for your fundraising endeavor.


The above suggestions are just some of the ways by which I find new prospects. I’d love to hear any other ideas that you have! I can be reached at eheinlen@iu.edu.

Check out this video for some neat ways to discover new prospects in the EverTrue platform. 

Emily Davis began as a research associate at the Indiana University Foundation and was promoted to development analyst in 2011. In addition to assisting her science- and health-related clients with research, she has completed research for the IU and IU Foundation presidents as well as on international prospects. She received her undergraduate degrees from Ball State University and her master’s degree from Indiana University Bloomington. In her free time, she enjoys completing freelance editing and formatting work when not watching Thomas the Train with her toddler.

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