Note from ProspectResearch.com: Cecilia Hogan has been leading the prospect research effort at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington for more than 15 years. She served on the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA) International board of directors from 1999-2002 and is a former president of APRA-NW. Cecilia is the author of Prospect Research: A Primer for Growing Nonprofits (2008: Jones & Bartlett, second edition). You may follow her on twitter @CeciliaHogan.
Summer is ending and I’m longing for a really good tomato. Did you ever grow tomatoes? You get to the end of the season and you’ve got three types on the vines. Large, juicy darlings look like they should be entered in the county fair. Nearly-red juniors might make it to the table if you pick them before the cool nights do their damage. Last, the plump, tough green tomatoes are secret delights that won’t reveal their potential until they hit a frying pan.
Major gift donors are sitting on our prospecting vines in nearly the same array and researchers can use NOZA as their tomato grower’s eye. Affiliates with a strong major gift history to other institutions are the first to show themselves. That’s easy. They might give to our nonprofit at that level, too, with the right cultivation and engagement strategy. Affiliates who are on the path to major gifts but not yet showing that in NOZA results are the next “nearly ripe” find. They give great annual gifts to other institutions, gaining philanthropic experience and showing a trajectory to join us at the table if we don’t miss the chance by waiting too long.
The last group is tougher to spot. Researchers might dismiss the low-end givers or those donating at unspecified levels. But the best prospect-growers (oops . . . researchers) remember that many small nonprofits do not produce donor rolls with segmented giving groups. Even when they break gifts into ranges, their top might be a distance from our own top. Affiliates who are giving to local, small nonprofits or giving small gifts to many nonprofits are donors who should be on the way to our fundraising tables either now or soon.
Just like that walk you might make down a row of tomato plants, take a good look at affiliates in this last group. Are you seeing other wealth indicators that might propel this affiliate forward to major gift assignment? Can you tip others in your cultivation pipeline – the annual fund folks, for example – to engage this affiliate at a deeper level? Is your culture one that has room for a bit of field research? You help your small- and large-gift fundraisers frame their early encounters with these prospects by sharing a detail or two about those small, local nonprofits. What that giving is telling a researcher about a donor’s interests can be heirloom quality information for a fundraiser.
*We invite you to leave comments and questions below for Cecilia.