NOTE - While the websites in this article were still valid in 2009
there are many more avenues available today for online research i.e.,
LinkedIn and Facebook did not even exist in 2002. This information
below was excerpted from "Major Donors: The Key to Successful Fundraising,"
by Robert Zimmerman, © 2000, revised & updated October, 2002).
At Zimmerman Lehman, major donor campaigns are very close to our heart. Every day in this country nonprofits are sending direct mail letters to folks and asking them for $50--folks who could give $5,000 or $50,000 if asked face-to-face instead of by mail. One of the things that keeps nonprofits from doing effective major donor work is ignorance about prospective donors: Who they are, what their interests are and how much they might give. We hope that the following information on major donor research is helpful, and we also hope that it prompts you to initiate or expand your major donor effort.
Major donor research is critical to the cultivation and solicitation of a prospect. The more you know about your prospect, the easier it will be to make the case for a major donation. The best place to start a search is in your own donor files. Donor files (both paper and electronic) yield a wealth of information that is right at your fingertips. Is the prospect connected to your organization? A former board member? A donor? Do you have a current home or business address? A business title? Zimmerman Lehman is often asked, "What is the proper dollar amount to request of a particular prospect?" The conventional wisdom is that the typical major donor request is approximately one percent of a person's net worth. Unfortunately, even with the best and most comprehensive research, you may not be able to determine an individual's net worth definitively and you probably don't want to spend the time or money to do so.
Thanks to the Internet, this research is much easier than in the past. Remember, the Internet can be frustrating, time consuming and at times unreliable, but you can't beat it for breadth of information. Most of the following information can be found in a good library, particularly one with a focus on philanthropy. Libraries can also offer free access to resources that are costly to purchase: Prospect Research Online (PRO) (www.iwave.com), for example, is an online database that provides regularly updated information about corporations, foundations, donors and board lists. Many libraries will allow you access to this expensive database for free. If you've hit a wall and want extra help, you can always pose your research question to a group of research professionals by joining Prospect L, a listserv for development issues (http://www.aprahome.org/APRACommunity/PRSPCTLList/tabid/305/Default.aspx)
Start by paying particular attention to the size of the gifts that the prospect has made to other nonprofits. When attending performing arts events in your locality, make sure to review the list of donors in the back of the programs. If your prospect is on these lists, you'll have solid information about the size of his or her contributions to those arts organizations. Other nonprofits may host special events where similar information can be found in the programs.
One of the best sources for basic biographical information is your local newspaper. If the person is active in the community, there will usually be at least one article that gives you leads on his or her business or occupation, family connections, volunteer activities, social circles, professional organizations, etc. It is important to read the society and business pages of your hometown newspaper regularly to keep abreast of what your prospect is doing and the causes in which he or she is interested. Clip or print the articles and file them in your donor files. Many newspapers have their own websites with search engines so you can search for current or archived information (i.e. www.nytimes.com); some are free and some charge a fee for searching. Business journals often run feature articles on local business people and they often have their own websites as well. Check out BizJournals (www.bizjournals.com) for information on the business journal in your area.
Some websites allow you to do your own searching; try Internet Prospector People (www.internet-prospector.org/bio.html), a collection of people locators, capacity tools, and specialized directories, including among many others:
Sites useful in nailing down addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses:
The Insider Trading Monitor compiles all SEC information on 10,000 public company insiders (covering over 200,000 executives, directors, and major shareholders). You can search for your prospect and see what his or her stock holdings are or if he or she has purchased or sold stock. This helps in estimating giving capacity and liquidity, and can be used to determine what type of gift, cash or planned, makes sense, particularly if capital gains are an issue. This information is only available on publicly traded companies, and only on stock that is held by a company insider. Private portfolio information is not included.
If your prospect works for a public company traded on a stock exchange, try the Edgar Website (www.sec.gov/cgi-bin/srch-edgar). At this site, you search by company name or ticker symbol and have direct access to the proxy filed by the company in which you are interested. The proxy lists all the board members and top executives plus their stockholdings and salaries. Proxies often include brief bios telling you more about your prospect. Along with Insider Trading Monitor, the Edgar Online People Website (edgar-online.com/people) lets you search (for a fee) SEC filings by a person's name to determine all the companies on whose boards he or she sits. You can always call the company and ask for a proxy statement and the annual report.
Many businesses, small and large, have their own web pages that contain profiles or bios of principal owners and managers. Commercial services such as The Dialog Corporation and Lexis-Nexis also have databases of company information and industry analysis. Hoovers (www.hoovers.com) contains over 12,500 profiles of corporations; snapshots are free, and in-depth profiles entail a nominal monthly fee. Forbes.com (www.forbes.com/people) compiles lists of the top 800 CEOs and the 400 richest Americans, among others. Fortune magazine highlights the 50 most powerful women in business: see (http://www.employmentspot.com/top-lists/50-most-powerful-women-in-business/).
Depending on the size of the business, there are several other places to search. Use a local business directory or a local Book of Lists (www.bizjournals.com), or call the chamber of commerce to see if they have any information on your prospect's business. Standard business print references include Dun's Million Dollar Directory, American Business Disc, Duns Market Identifiers, Standard & Poor's, and Disclosure, both online and on CD-ROM. All provide information on a company's size, assets, sales and top officers. You can usually find an individual if he or she is one of the top five to ten officers of a public company. Information about privately held companies is increasingly available on the web. Try for example CorporateInformation.com.
Local country club membership lists, other nonprofit organizations' annual reports and membership directories of civic and volunteer groups offer further information on a prospect's interests and philanthropy. Donor lists from other organizations around the city, state or country help define a prospect's interest by seeing what he or she gave to other organizations. Prospect Research Online (access to resources that are costly to purchase: Prospect Research Online (PRO) (www.iwave.com))is another place to seek out information about donors.
Magazines such as Worth (www.worth.com) bring the word of the wealthy to print and online viewers. CEO Wealthmeter (www.cnetinvestor.com) offers information about top CEOs and their compensation. Property holdings can be found through the Register of Deeds or through commercial services such as Redi-Info Information Services (www.redi-info.com), Dataquick (www.dataquick.com), or Lexis-Nexis (www.lexisnexis.com). Many private properties are also listed on Yahoo! at http://list.realestate.yahoo.com/re/homevalues. Researchers can find the local owners of expensive pieces of real estate on County Tax Assessors listings at large local public libraries. This information is also usually available online for a price.
Political contributions can be found on several websites. The Center for Responsive Politics hosts Opensecrets.org (www.opensecrets.org) Federal Election Commission databases can be searched at www.tray.com.
Copyright 2009 Zimmerman Lehman.
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