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Donor Prospecting Versus Donor Profiles: What’s the Difference?

July 09, 2024 (5 min read)
Get to know the difference between donor prospecting and donor profiles.

When crafting (or refining) a fundraising strategy, professionals are bound to get lost in the jargon of the industry. And for good reason: terms like “donor prospecting” and “donor profiles” all seem nebulous until you have real definitions to place behind them.

Yet understanding the differences is necessary to running an efficient donor prospecting strategy—especially in busy times like Giving Season when you don’t have time to go searching for the information you need.

Here, we outline each of these crucial concepts so you can tackle fundraising efforts from an informed, actionable place.

What is donor prospect research?

Donor prospect research means collecting and compiling lists of current and potential (aka prospective) donors so that you can better strategize around your donor pool. The process normally involves looking at donors’ wealth portfolio, news records, and more, as well as placing them within your larger network so you can map out your outreach.

When to conduct donor prospect research?

Donor prospect research is by no means a one-and-done process. While it’s important to do the groundwork of researching current and prospective donors upfront, the foundation of knowledge you build can always grow and shift. You’ll need to conduct new donor prospecting each time your organization increases its fundraising goals, for example.

Similarly, donors change all the time. Maybe a major donor from the past has lost their job and no longer can give as much as they used to. Or, perhaps a prospective donor came into some legal issues, and they need to be removed from your database. Regardless of the potential changes, it’s important to regularly conduct research to ensure that your prospective donor list is qualified, optimized, and up to date.

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What are donor profiles?

Donor profiles are one piece of the prospective donor pie. The profile of a donor is an ongoing record with crucial information that can help predict their giving potential, donation patterns, and much more. It’s also a place where companies can monitor the ethical side of their donor base, ensuring that all donors are in good standing with due diligence checklist and other legal to-dos.

Here are some things that might be included in a donor profile:

  • Net Worth - including real estate, stock and business ownership
  • Charitable Giving History and Priorities
  • Personal Information (name, address, phone, social media, email, etc.)
  • Relationships
    • Family
    • Work – including for/non-profit board memberships, volunteer, etc.
    • Affiliations/Hobbies/Awards– Civic, social, etc.
  • Photo (optional)

When to complete donor profiles?

Create donor profiles right after an initial prospect screening, so that prospective donors are saved in your database in a secure but accessible way. Then, an organization should set a pre-determined date—like every 6 or 12 months—for when they will track a donor’s profile to ensure all of the information is up to date. 

Trigger events like death, marital changes, IPOs, business news, and other major events should regularly be monitored so that a donor’s profile changes as their life changes. For example, if a donor has been publicly promoted within their company, it’s important to note their new role and any potential wealth changes in their donor profile.

MOREThe best wealth screening tools for major gift officers

Key differences between donor prospect research and donor profiles

Donor prospect research is the process of researching current and potential donors. That also includes generating donor lists for prospecting or other strategies and having regular news alerts to consistently update your data.

Donor profiles are a component of donor prospect research that helps keep data organized and understandable. These will be actual documents based on the researching of current or potential donors. So, they are one part of the overall process of getting to know your current and future donor pool.

Best practices for nonprofit research strategies

There are plenty of best practices to use when it comes to prospect research. If you’re just getting started, or if you’re looking for a refresher, here are three simple steps to keep in mind.

Identify prospects

Start with what your organization already has at its disposal. Consult your database and identify high giving potential so you can begin to optimize the donors you’re already in touch with. Maybe a donor was a large contributor to your Giving Season campaign last year. Following up with that donor with specifics about your previous connections puts you one step closer to reaching your goals.

You can also use social media to post about Giving Season campaigns and fundraising efforts so that you’re reaching the followers you’ve already amassed, and potentially getting in front of their followers as well.

Finally, leverage your network so that the donors and stakeholders already in your court are helping with your efforts. That could mean hosting a fundraising challenge wherein donors and followers are given a reward for hitting specific donation goals, attracting new donors to the company.

Create donor profiles

One you’ve identified donors, it’s time to create donor profiles for everyone. As mentioned, these profiles should include information like personal wealth data, due diligence checks, descriptions of how and why this person might be interested in donating, etc.

Develop outreach strategies

From there, you can develop outreach strategies that cater to your donor base depending on your goals and the season.

If many of your donors are in a certain area, consider hosting a fundraiser gala close to them so they’re more likely to attend, allowing them to see the impact of their work in person. Or, if you notice an influx of younger donors, perhaps invest more in social media and newer modes of communication so you’re reaching donors where they are more likely to be responsive.

MOREHow donor prospecting technology can streamline your workflow

Benefits of prospect research

There are myriad ways institutions can benefit from prospect research before Giving Season, including:

  • More efficient fundraising process
  • Leverage wealth screening to assess current donor pools capacity to give
  • Organize planned giving efforts
  • Find new donor prospects
  • Identify patterns and trends in giving

MORE: Better donor prospecting with Nexis for Development Professionals

Conduct prospect research with Nexis® for Nonprofits

Building your donor profiles is just one part of a successful Giving Season, and the products in Nexis® for Nonprofits can give you a head start. 

Since Giving Season is a critical time for nonprofits, we've created a comprehensive guide packed with expert insights and proven strategies--including creating donor profiles. For more tips and tricks on the best practices for your best Giving Season yet, be sure to download our "Guide to Giving Season" e-book.