Donor Research = Successful Solicitations

Meg Petyak Head ShotMeet Fitz Nonprofit Consulting‘s team member, Meghan Petyak, Fundraising & Donor Prospect Researcher. Ms. Petyak has nearly a decade of experience in the nonprofit sector. A member of the Fitz Team since 2017, she began her nonprofit career in fundraising research at the MET and went on to lead the prospect and donor research operations for The Santa Fe Opera and Harlem Children’s Zone. Ms. Petyak conducts in-depth donor research for Fitz’s clients so that they can better understand their donor’s motivation for giving, the right solicitation amount based on their previous giving and the nonprofit’s funding area that would be of most interest to the donor.

I had a chance to “pick” Meg’s brain about how she conducts effective donor research that has positive outcomes for solicitations.

Where do you find information about donors?

Meg: Public records. I have found that many nonprofit leaders are surprised by the amount of valuable information that public records can provide for donor research. These records are available to anyone who knows how to locate them and has the time to do so. Here’s where and how you can access public records:

  • Property records. These records, including property deeds and assessments, are all available at the county tax assessor’s office and most counties currently allow anyone to search records on their websites.  Property records are possibly the most important gauge of a prospect’s overall wealth and can provide additional information on the prospect including the name of their spouse.
  • Stock holdings.  If an individual is an “insider” (10% shareholder) of a publicly traded company, they are required by law to disclose stock holdings.  There are many websites that allow you to search for “insider” stock holdings. I use www.J3sg.com and for original filings, anyone can access the SEC website.
  • Online search. When locating charitable contributions, the best free method is using the web; Google is my preference.  Additional websites are:
    • FEC.gov has a search page that allows you to find any contributions made by individuals, companies, LLCs, etc. to political parties/candidates.
    • OpenSecrets.org is also a great site for locating political contributions.
    • LinkendIn.com. When searching for information on a prospects career, many people have LinkedIn and it is usually accurate; however, there are people who do not accurately represent their professional history and it is important to verify the information independently through web searches and company webpages.
    • Guidestar.org is a free resource to research giving from private foundations.

What is your process for researching?

Meg:

  1. When I begin research, I first find out what the individual does (lawyer, philanthropist, retired business owner, etc.).
  2. I try to find out if the individual is married and their spouse’s name. Finding and confirming charitable giving can be tricky if the prospect’s name is common and it helps if you have a spouse’s name.
  3. Then I like to jump into the individual’s philanthropic history by identifying:
    • If they sit on nonprofit boards which reveals that they are more likely to be philanthropic people.
    • What types of charitable organizations they value.  If I am researching a prospect for a possible donation to an arts organization and find that they give exclusively to medical research, it indicates that they are less likely to be a major donor to an organization outside of medical research (unless they have indicated to someone that they are interested in doing so).

Once you gather information about a donor, how do you develop strategy from this information for cultivating and soliciting the donor?

It’s a collaborative process. When working with Fitz’s nonprofit clients, I first share my overall assessment of the prospect. Then, we brainstorm with the major gifts officer or solicitor to identify what type of gift (campaign support, annual fund giving, planned gift, in-kind gift, etc.), to what programmatic area and how much the prospect is most likely to make based on the research.

What is the most fascinating thing you have found out about a donor?

I have researched too many people to say that I have found one person more interesting than another. One that stands out to me is a woman who owned/owns a gym in NYC who was once an assistant/target girl for the “The Great Throwdini,” which was a sideshow on Coney Island.  She did not advertise this on her LinkedIn page, and she used a different name when the knives were flying at her, so putting it together was a puzzle and very entertaining.

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