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Researching Major Donors On The Web

(PLEASE 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.

A great way to start looking for biographical information is by doing a simple Internet search on your prospect using a search engine such as Google (www.google.com). Enter your prospect's name using quotes. As long as the individual does not have a very common name, a search could yield information about what organizations the prospect belongs to or supports and his or her business or hobbies.

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:

African Americans in Biography (www.internet-prospector.org/bio-afri.html) offers access to the 100 wealthiest African-Americans (specifically not sports or entertainment people), lists of Black Greeks (fraternities and sororities), African- Americans in science, prominent African-Americans, and more.

Women in Biography (www.internet-prospector.org/bio-women.html) links to women in mathematics, engineering, physics, architecture, politics, air & space, National Hall of Fame, technology, international, and other sites.

Biography.com (www.biography.com) is A&E Television Network's website profiling some 25,000 individuals. Visit CEO Central (www.surferess.com/CEO) for biographies of selected top CEOs. The Goldsea 100 (www.goldsea.com/Profiles/100/100.htm) is a listing of the most successful Asian entrepreneurs in the U.S. You can learn more about Hispanic entrepreneurs at www.hispanicbusiness.com.

There are also commercial search services that allow you to search newspapers electronically from around the country for articles on donors/prospects. Three of the most popular commercial services are The Dialog Corporation (www.dialog.com) and Lexis-Nexis (www.lexisnexis.com), and Dow Jones Factiva (https://global.factiva.com/factivalogin/login.asp?).

The Biography and Genealogy Master Index from the Gale Group (www.gale.com/gale) has millions of entries on individuals from hundreds of biographical and business resources. If your prospect appears in any biographical or business reference book such as Who's Who or Standard & Poor's, the index will list the prospect and all the reference sources in which he or she appears. Birth dates and middle initials are included to help you verify that it is the correct person. This comes in book form, microfiche versions (know as BioBase), and now online through Gale's online reference service. The Complete Marquis Who's Who ONLINE combines many of its publications of professional and biographical data. (www.marquiswhoswho.com). This is accessible through the DIALOG Corporation's File #234, and includes: vital statistics (name, address, age, birthplace, marital status), education, family background, religious and political history, creative works, civil and political activities, profession, and club memberships. For the full products including print directories see The Complete Marquis Who's Who (http://www.marquiswhoswho.com/products/default.aspl).

Sites useful in nailing down addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses:

Four11 (www.Four11.com), "The Internet Whitepages," contains millions of listings allowing you to search for high school or college colleagues, former or current neighbors, co-workers, researchers in your field, members who enjoy the same chat groups or Usenet groups, and a dozen other definers.

The Ultimates (www.theultimates.com) searches nationally for phone numbers and addresses.

555-1212 (www.555-1212.com) is a telephone directory for the US and Canada.

Yahoo! People Search (www.yahoo.com/search/people) allows you to find the elusive someone's telephone number or email address, and is linked to (www.USSearch.com), where for a fee you can find out details such as assets, home ownership, building ownership and value.

If you know your prospect is a practicing professional, there are many Directories available to learn more about someone and his or her business. On the Web you can search Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (www.martindale.com) or West Legal Directory (www.lawoffice.com) for attorneys. The American Medical Association has a physician select search for members of the AMA (www.ama-assn.org/ aps/amahg.htm). Hard copy books such as the Official ABMS Directory of Board Certified Medical Specialists and Standard & Poor's Register of Directors and Executives are also good resources to confirm businesses and titles.

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.

The American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries is a good general reference for what people earn in a wide range of professions. The Insider Trading Monitor is a commercial online service that is available through DIALOG or direct from Thomson Financial WealthID. Thomson Financial Wealth Identification, formerly CDA/Investnet, is the leading provider of wealth identification data, insider trading information, and innovative prospecting solutions. Since 1983, Wealth ID has been helping America's largest nonprofit organizations, banks, insurance companies, and brokerage firms identify and track high net worth prospects, donors, and clients at (www.wealthid.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.

The research you decide to do depends on the amount of time and resources at your nonprofit. Small organizations may want to go no further than their own database and contacts. You might also take advantage of the resources of your local library and perhaps search on the Internet for some of the free sources. Medium-sized organizations should consider purchasing products such as Who's Who (www.marquiswhoswho.com) or The Foundation Center's FC-Search (http://fconline.foundationcenter.org/) . The initial cost will be high but you will save a lot of time. Finally, large nonprofits can invest in a commercial service connection such as The Dialog Corporation or Lexis-Nexis. Prospect L, the researcher's listserv, is one place to ask for help. Another research strategy is to hire someone to do it for you. There are many experts in the field and for a potential big gift this may well be worth your investment. Zimmerman Lehman does this research and you can also contact your regional branch of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (www.aprahome.org).

Copyright 2009 Zimmerman Lehman.

This information is the property of Zimmerman Lehman. If you would like to reprint this information, please see our reprint and copyright policy.




Copyright © 2005, Zimmerman Lehman