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Hosting a successful fundraising event is no easy feat. With so many moving parts, it can all feel a little overwhelming. You might be tempted to just sink under the pressure.

If you’re in that stressed-out boat, worry not; we’re here to throw you a life jacket.

What’s that fundraising event life jacket, you ask? Two words. Prospect. Research.

Prospect research is the process by which savvy nonprofits learn valuable details about their donors. More specifically, they look at donor data that tells them two key traits:

  1. The prospect’s financial ability to donate.
  2. The prospect’s willingness to donate.

An in-depth understanding of those two characteristics can be a huge help with any kind of fundraising endeavor–events included. As this very blog has explained: your constituents are not a generic pool of supporters.

Using prospect research means you’ll have the background to properly treat your donors like the wonderful, unique individuals that they are.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should clarify that prospect research is a life jacket, but it can’t swim for you.

It will alleviate some of the challenges and equip you with the information you need to raise the money you’ve set out to raise, but, at the end of the day, it will only be one part of the solution. The more prepared your team is to run the event, the more helpful your prospect screening will be.

Let’s get into the how.

Follow these six tips for better fundraising at your next event

Before:

#1: Curate a perfect guest list. 

#2: Learn more about your RSVPs.

#3: Map out a plan for the day. 

After:

#4: Segment your future donors. 

#5: Pick the right follow-up. 

#6: Customize donor engagement. 

Each one of these tips is enabled by prospect research. To give you an idea of what’s to come, here are the six strategies, broken out by what to do both before and after the event. Now that you know the tips, let’s tackle them one-by-one.

Before the Event

#1: Curate a perfect guest list.

While there is definitely something to be said for a nonprofit aiming to get a high turnout, you also don’t want to be sending out invitations to just anybody. More specifically, you don’t want to be inviting supporters who won’t want to come or won’t get enough out of the event if they attend.

Let prospect research help you sort through your guest list. Then, match your event with the donors who are best suited. For example, if you’re hosting a big gala that’s looking to bring in $500,000, you’ll certainly want a range of donors in attendance, but major donors are going to be a priority.

Prospect research is incredibly useful in magnifying who your best candidates are for major giving. Once you’ve performed a screening, make sure they’re on the guest list.

Prospect research can also help you determine what donors are going to be the most interested in attending. A common data point that prospect research companies search for is a donor’s involvement in other organizations. Relationships with other organizations can not only reveal a willingness to support your cause but also their interests.

For instance, if you find through prospect research that Donor X often attends 5Ks for the nonprofits he supports, inviting him to your big gala may not be the best option. However, if you ever host a marathon he should be the first person on your list.

Conducting prospect research can be done in the following ways:

  • In-house, through your organizations prospect research or major gifts team (if you have one).
  • Via a prospect research consultant that will conduct the research for you.
  • Through a company that specializes in prospect research.

No matter how you go about conducting your search, it’s important to be aware of all the resources you can use to learn more about your supporters and potential donors. 

And remember, you don’t always have to look outward to find such strong candidates. You might surprise yourself with what you find by screening your own donor pool. As DonorSearch has found time and time again, past giving is the greatest indicator of future giving. Retention is a top priority for a reason. Securing the second gift is far easier than securing the first.

Keep that in mind as you sort through your prospects to design the ideal guest list.

DS_MobileCause_Learn more about your RSVPs

#2: Learn more about your RSVPs.

Once you’ve decided on a guest list, sent out invites, and received your RSVPs, it’s time to bring the results of your screenings back into the mix. Why? Well, you can learn a lot about your attendees with the help of a screening.

This list of data you can gather includes:

  • Previous giving to your organization and others
  • Nonprofit involvement
  • Business affiliations
  • Personal information
  • Political giving
  • Public stock holdings
  • And more

You can accomplish so much with this information at your fingertips. For example, consider how knowledge of an attendee’s business affiliations might play into your event.

For one, they could work for a company that matches donations. If you’re aware of this ahead of time, your team can be sure to promote those giving opportunities to them.

On another level, an attendee’s employer might be interested in sponsoring your event. That’s a connection worth leveraging!

And finally, a better understanding of a prospect’s professional life can go a long way towards rounding out your understanding of their behavior and helping your team make meaningful contact with them during the event.

When in doubt, it never hurts to know more about an attendee.

DS_MobileCause_Map out a plan for the day

#3: Map out a plan for the day.

Using many of the principles we discussed in point number two, you can take all the information you’ve gathered and put a plan in place.

This plan should include:

  • A realistic fundraising goal determined, in part, through a well-researched analysis of predicted donor giving capacity.
  • An idea of who your fundraisers need to have conversations with, prioritized according to your research.
  • A seating chart or similar guideline based on the professional and personal information you acquired during your screening.
  • And so much more!

If you’re hosting a fundraising event to raise money for a capital campaign, for instance, you need to consider what type of promotional material you’ll have available at your event. Volunteers can pass out brochures that detail your capital campaign’s case for support as well as other ways to support your mission.

As you can see, prospect research can be a huge help when it comes to mapping out your event.

Bonus tip! Don’t forget about all the dozen other questions you’ll have to address before the big day arrives.

For instance:

This list could go on and on, but suffice it to say, you’re going to want to plan and plan early at that.

After the Event

Phewf! The event is over, and it was a huge success!

Now what?

DS_MobileCause_Segment your future donors

#4: Segment your future donors.

After a successful fundraising event, you are sure to have a whole new collection of donors and supporters. That’s great news, but it can be a lot to manage. Make the unmanageable manageable by segmenting your new supporters.

You can segment according to a variety of categories:

  • Predicted giving level
  • Preferred communication channel
  • Donor age
  • Interest in your organization

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as categories go. Figure out what kind of segmentation makes the most sense to your organization and move forward with that grouping style.

Once you’ve picked a direction for your segmentation, you can use the information gathered during your screening to figure out who belongs in what segment.

DS_MobileCause_Pick the right follow-up

#5: Pick the right follow-up.

Your first follow-up after an event can be critical. You want to make the kind of impression that keeps your attendees coming back to your nonprofit for years afterward.

You can send follow-ups through a variety of channels, such as:

  • On the phone
  • Over email
  • In person
  • On social media
  • Via text
  • Through direct mail

There’s no one way to follow up, but there is a right way for certain donors.

  • Your major gift donors? They probably want to see you in person or hear from you on the phone at the very least.
  • Your donors who texted in gifts? They probably want to receive a mobile-responsive email or simply a text.
  • Your attendees who RSVPed on Facebook? They probably want a shout-out on social media.

Match your follow-up with how your guests engaged with your organization prior to and during the event.

Bonus tip! If your org is looking to expand its digital capacities, check out this Guide to Getting Board Approval for Digital Solutions.

Oh, and as a friendly reminder, lead off any follow-up with an acknowledgment. You can never thank your attendees enough!

DS_MobileCause_Customize donor engagement

#6: Customize donor engagement.

Speaking of personalizing follow-ups, that leads us nicely into customizing donor engagement.

No two donors are the same. And no two donors want to engage with your organization in the exact same way. Simply because two supporters attended the same event, that doesn’t mean that they will follow the same path going forward. Let prospect research inform how you guide your attendees from new donors to lifetime supporters.

You want to offer plenty of engagement opportunities without completely overwhelming your new supporters:

  • Some might want to volunteer
  • Others might want to just give $100 twice a year
  • Others might feel a desire to get involved with the advocacy work you do

Between the information you learn from your screening and the insight you gain from stewarding your new donors, you can design your engagement plan accordingly.

You’ll have supporters who want to be reached solely online and others who want to be able to experience your work firsthand. With the support of proper segmentation, you can easily offer both. You can have excellent online donation forms for those who want to use them. And you can also provide excellent volunteer opportunities for those who want them.

The sky’s the limit!


There you have it! Six tips! As you can probably tell, there are numerous areas in which prospect research will come in handy for your organization.

But what about you? What are your fundraising event strategies? How are you taking advantage of the benefits of prospect research?

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 About the Author:

By Sarah Tedesco, 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.

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