Knowing Your Audience: 4 Tips for Growing Your Donor Base

By Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President at DonorSearch

Developing your donor base and overall support network is a critical aspect for encouraging organizational growth. As a nonprofit, you want to do more for your constituents and make a greater impact on your community—but doing so doesn’t come cheap. In other words, if you want to better pursue your mission, you’ll need more funding and more funders to supply it. Effective new donor strategies are a big part of this.

And how do you get new donors on board and supporting your charitable efforts? Knowing your audience.

At DonorSearch, we specialize in strategic donor prospect research and equipping charitable organizations and other member institutions with the tools they need to better get to know their audiences. If you’re looking to expand your list of donors and prospects, this quick guide can help.

We’ll cover the following best practices when it comes to getting acquainted with supporters and knowing who to target with your solicitation efforts:

  1. Look for common wealth markers.
  2. Don’t forget philanthropic indicators.
  3. Leverage online screening tools.
  4. Segment and personalize your appeals.

When you follow these tried-and-true tips, you can set your team up for continuous success through long-term support from the right people.

Are you ready to uncover new donor opportunities and begin building relationships with top prospects through deliberate research and targeted outreach? Let’s jump in.

1. Look for common wealth markers.

One of the most important steps in determining the best prospects to target when looking to grow your donor base is screening potential givers for common wealth markers. After all, it doesn’t matter how much a supporter cares about your mission if they don’t have the means to contribute.

Luckily, there is a ton of readily available information you can use to screen for high-potential donors. Let’s take a quick look at these common wealth markers you can use to determine a donor or prospect’s ability to give:

  • Real estate ownership: Real estate ownership is one of the most significant wealth indicators when it comes to determining giving potential. For example, our DonorSearch guide to wealth screening states that if an individual owns more than $2 million worth of real estate, they are 17 times more likely to give than the average person.
  • Stock holdings: Examining a donor or prospect’s stock ownership can provide a basic understanding of an individual’s wealth and giving potential. Luckily, a lot of this information is made available by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, which you can use to your advantage.
  • Business affiliations: A prospect’s business affiliations can inform you not only about their level of wealth and giving potential, but also reveal new opportunities for professional connections. If an individual supporter is a key stakeholder in a business, that can be a beneficial foothold for up-and-coming corporate partnerships.
  • Career and income: While you might not have access to a prospect’s exact salary, you can likely make an educated guess based on their career field, position, and employer. With this information, you can estimate the amount of disposable income they might have to give to charitable causes like yours.

With the right strategies, you can successfully attract mega-philanthropists to your organization regardless of its size or scope. When you know your audience and their giving capabilities, you can increase your likelihood for major gift funding and improve your organization’s pursuit of your mission.

2. Don’t forget philanthropic indicators.

While wealth screening is certainly one of the most critical factors for determining a donor or prospect’s ability to give, it’s important that you don’t forget to look at another crucial piece of the puzzle: their affinity to give.

Whereas a donor’s ability to give focuses solely on their financial capacity and whether they could afford to make a sizable donation, their affinity to give encompasses a range of elements that show the likelihood that a supporter will be interested in contributing to your particular cause. These indicators might include:

  • Previous engagement with your organization: Previous involvement with your own nonprofit is one of the best determining factors for future giving—not to mention, it’s one of the easiest to discover. You already have access to your previous engagement metrics in your donor database.
  • Past giving to other philanthropic causes: Just because an individual has never been involved with your nonprofit does not mean they don’t care about your cause. For that reason, be sure to look into your prospects’ other charitable giving history. If an individual has given a significant amount to similar organizations as yours, that’s a good sign that they’ll be interested in supporting your mission as well.
  • Historic political giving: Political giving can be a significant component for both wealth and philanthropic indiviators. After all, those who routinely give to political campaigns show an increased interest in “putting their money where their mouths are” and will be more likely to support charitable causes that align with their own beliefs.
  • Additional nonprofit involvement: Don’t forget to look into nonprofit involvement beyond typical charitable giving. For example, see if your prospective donors have served on nonprofit boards as a trustee in the past. If so, this is another key indicator that they are more philanthropically motivated than most.

Philanthropic indicators like these provide a more comprehensive look at the donor and how they tend to spend their money. Just because an individual has the money does not mean they’ll spend it to support charitable causes. However, if they’ve given a decent amount to similar charities in the past, it’s a safe bet to assume that they’ll be more receptive to supporting your nonprofit as well.

When you take the time and effort to look into philanthropic markers before soliciting a gift from a potential new donor, you can ensure you’re dedicating your limited resources to those who are most likely to get on board. As a result, you can grow your donor base more efficiently!

3. Leverage online screening tools.

Now that you understand the types of prospect information to look for (namely, wealth and philanthropic indicators), it’s time to start locating donors who fit those profiles and effectively determining your top prospects.

A recent trend in philanthropy and donor research is the move to online screening tools and comprehensive philanthropic databases. This is largely due to the wealth of information available on the internet and the ease with which we can access it. After all, why would you spend the time and effort to screen each prospect manually when there are extensive compilations of donor data available at your fingertips? Taking advantage of well-built-out prospect databases can help you better target supporters who are likely to make significant contributions.

Key features like these can increase the effectiveness of your data and help create a more efficient research process:

  • Access to an extensive database of giving information
  • Data analytics and prospect reporting tools
  • Manual prospect verification

In fact, this list of top prospect research tools from Double the Donation shares that these powerful software solutions can help you learn more about your donors and incorporate that information into your fundraising strategy through a streamlined and automated process. Then, once you have access to key supporter information, you can easily transfer it to your donor database or CRM.

4. Segment and personalize your appeals.

Now that you have a better understanding of your audience through targeted prospect research, including wealth and philanthropic markers, it’s time to make your strategic fundraising asks. When you leverage details uncovered during the research process, you’re more likely to effectively appeal to supporters and successfully solicit gifts.

Look at it this way: if you know that a key prospect has a multi-million-dollar salary and a history of charitable giving to similar causes as your own, you can infer that they might be interested in making a contribution to your organization. When reaching out and asking for a donation, you’ll want to adjust the size of the ask to fit the donor. For example, you’ll likely include suggested donation sizes higher than you would include for, say, an elementary school teacher who has shown no interest in philanthropic missions.

However, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you ask a new donor or prospect for a gift. Instead, you can start with a pre-drafted template like these, then be sure to adjust your message accordingly. It’s a good idea to target your request based on a few key characteristics of the recipient—such as their giving ability (based on wealth markers) and their history with your organization and its mission.

All in all, prospect research is a critical component of nonprofit growth strategies. When you better understand your audience of both current and prospective donors, you can ensure your messaging appeals to the right segments and creates the most powerful communications possible. By taking advantage of online screening tools to look for common wealth and philanthropic indicators, you can grow your donor base and fund your mission with ease. Good luck!


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.