Your nonprofit relies on its community of supporters to move its mission forward. Someone may initially get involved with your organization in just one capacity, such as donor or volunteer. But the longer they engage with your mission, the more likely it is that they’ll deepen their involvement and contribute in additional ways. 

For example, a board member may start volunteering on a consistent basis, or a social media follower may become a regular event attendee. But another common example is going from a dedicated volunteer to an enthusiastic donor

You can proactively encourage volunteers to become donors by leveraging the prospect research process to dig deeper into who your volunteers are and who among them is ready and willing to give a major monetary donation. In this post, we’ll help you get started by taking a closer look at what prospect research is and how to begin. 

What Is Prospect Research?

According to DonorSearch, prospect research, also known as prospecting, is “a technique used by nonprofit fundraisers, major gift officers, and development teams to identify high-impact donors within and beyond an organization's current donor pool.” 

During the prospecting process, your nonprofit will gather and analyze a large amount of data about individuals to gauge whether they are ready to say “Yes!” to a major donation request. In the case of applying prospect research to your volunteers, you’ll be gathering information about their backgrounds, giving histories, wealth, and more to determine if they’re ready to deepen their engagement with your nonprofit. 

By conducting research on your volunteers and inviting them to donate, you can tap into the following benefits: 

  • Strengthening your volunteers’ connection to your cause and increasing the likelihood they’ll continue to engage with your organization for the long term 
  • Expanding your donor pool in an efficient and effective way by seeking donations from supporters that are already heavily invested in your cause 
  • Demonstrating that donating is a natural extension of the regular work volunteers do for your organization, making this dual form of support the norm for your community of supporters 

Despite wanting to tap into these benefits, nonprofit organizations sometimes find that diving into the prospect research process is overwhelming. In the following sections, we’ll walk you through the tools you’ll need and the indicators you should look for to find volunteers that are primed and ready to donate. 

What You Need for Prospect Research 

The key to successful prospecting is lots of data. To gather that data, you’ll need to turn to many different sources. Here are some of top prospect research tools you should use to gather insights about your volunteers: 

  • Your nonprofit CRM: The information you already have about your volunteers can be a solid starting point for your prospecting efforts. Review your volunteers’ involvement history with your nonprofit and look for connections they may have to other donors or leaders in your organization. 
  • Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) Investment records: Stock holdings can be a clear indicator of wealth. Turn to the SEC to examine publicly-available quarterly and annual reports. 
  • Federal Election Commission (FEC) political contribution records: Depending on your organization’s cause, you may want to get a better understanding of a volunteer’s political views. The FEC’s records are publicly available for anyone to review.  
  • Prospect research databases: These databases can pull together information about your volunteers to help you better understand their real estate ownership, past charitable giving, business affiliations, and more. 
  • AI tools: AI is taking prospect research to new heights by helping nonprofits identify new donors and kickstart an effective donation solicitation process. For example, DonorSearch’s machine learning tool uses proprietary algorithms to recognize patterns within your data and make highly-accurate predictions about the best approach for soliciting donations from individual prospects. 
  • Matching gifts database: Many of your volunteers may be eligible for donation matching through their employers’ matching gift programs. Use a matching gift database to confirm this. 
  • Social media platforms: You can find out a lot about your volunteers by examining their social media profiles. For example, you may learn more about their personal interests from Facebook or Instagram and about their professional histories via LinkedIn. 

In addition to these tools, you may find it helpful to work with a nonprofit prospect research consultant. These experts know what to look for when using prospect research tools, and they can help you identify volunteers who may be ready to give and design a winning solicitation strategy. Working with a prospect research consultant is an excellent option for nonprofits that lack the time, experience, or resources for conducting research in-house.  

What You’re Looking For During The Process 

Using your prospect research tools, you’ll be looking for volunteers that exhibit three different types of indicators. A volunteer that has some indicators in each of these categories is likely a good fit for a donation ask in the near future: 

This graphic gives examples of the three types of prospect research indicators that can help you discover if a volunteer is a viable donor prospect. 
  • Philanthropic Indicators: Philanthropic indicators demonstrate that a volunteer is a charitably-minded individual. Some examples of these markers include: 
  • Previous donations to your nonprofit 
  • Donations to other nonprofit organizations or charitable causes 
  • Affinity Indicators: These markers tell you that a volunteer is deeply invested in your nonprofit’s specific cause. Obviously, the fact that they volunteer indicates a degree of affinity, but some other examples include: 
  • A deep love for your cause 
  • Their nonprofit involvement history 
  • Personal information that suggests they’re aligned with your organization’s values 
  • Capacity Indicators: These indicators show that a volunteer has the financial means to give a large gift. Some examples of these indicators include: 
  • Real estate ownership
  • SEC transactions
  • Business affiliations 
  • Political giving history 

When prospecting among your nonprofit’s dedicated volunteers, you’ll already be a step ahead in looking for some of these indicators. After all, since your volunteers are already giving their time and talent to your organization, you can assume they have a propensity for charitable work and are already dedicated to your cause. 

While you should dig deeper into your volunteers’ philanthropic and affinity indicators for more information, the biggest puzzle piece you’ll be looking for is their capacity information. Wealth will be a big help in identifying volunteers that are ready to become major donors. 

5 Tips for Inviting Your Volunteers to Become Donors 

Identifying volunteers that are willing and ready to donate is only half the battle. Next, it’s up to you and your team to invite them to become donors—to convince your volunteers that their impact and experience with your nonprofit will be enhanced by also giving monetary contributions. 

Here are a few tips for doing so: 

  1. Communicate gratitude for their volunteer work. You don’t want to send the message that all of the hours they’ve volunteered have gone unnoticed and that your organization places a higher value on monetary donations, so begin by sharing your appreciation for your volunteers’ contributions so far. This will help them feel seen and valued by your organization. 
  1. Explain the need and impact they can make. When you get to the point where you’re ready to ask your volunteer to make a donation, inspire them to give by explaining why you need their donation and how it will have a positive impact on your cause. 
  1. Provide donation options. Just like having the flexibility to choose when they’ll donate their time, your volunteers will appreciate having the flexibility to choose how they’ll make their first monetary contribution. If your volunteer will be giving smaller amounts at first, encourage them to sign up for your recurring donation program. If they’ll be giving a major donation upfront, provide different opportunities for doing so, like sponsoring an event or giving a challenge gift.  
  1. Create a sense of community. One of the best parts of volunteering is the community you become a part of as you consistently donate your time and work together. Invite your volunteers-turned-donors to experience a similar sense of community as they become donors by inviting them to exclusive donor events or asking them to join your major giving society. 
  1. Focus on building long-term relationships. To retain these supporters as both volunteers and donors, you need to focus on relationship-building. Get to know your volunteers as people, and anchor each interaction in what you learned from the previous interaction. For example, ask your volunteers about their recent vacations or their children’s extracurriculars. This will help your organization come across as more human and build relationships that stand the test of time. 

Expect the process of relationship building and donation solicitation to take some time. Lean on the data you gathered in your prospecting efforts to guide your outreach and communication work and to make reasonable initial donation asks. 

Your nonprofit’s volunteers are already passionate about your cause, and working to transform them into donors is a natural next step for their engagement with your organization. Use this quick guide to start prospecting among your volunteers and begin seeking out initial donations. You can do this!

About the Author:
Sarah Tedesco from DonorSearch

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.