Five ways to make use of donation data

There has been some interest online over the past few months in how prospect researchers can make the best use of ‘donation data’ – i.e. databases, reports and websites that list donations, showing who gave, how much, and to whom.

Recent blogs such as this one from iWave inspired us to carry out a survey amongst our subscribers to Factary Phi to find out for ourselves how and why they are using donation data. Some of their answers were unexpected – we found out that our subscribers are very imaginative when it comes to making use of data on donations in their research. Below we have outlined some of the ways our subscribers have told us they’re making use of the data.

If you use donation data in your research, we hope the innovative approaches of our subscribers prove inspirational to you!

The five ways our subscribers are using Phi data

  1. To understand philanthropic interests to help identify the best prospects

    Overall (and perhaps the least surprising in many ways) was that a whopping 90% of respondents to our survey mentioned that the two ways they mainly use the donation data in Phi were to:

    1. Research existing prospects, e.g.:
      • “Searching by name and checking which causes [prospects] are giving to, to determine philanthropic interests”
      • “Get a sense of causes these donors or prospects support”
      • “Research other charities supported by existing supporters and prospects”
    2. Find new prospects, e.g.:
      • “Identify people supporting competitor charities/similar causes through searching by [recipients] activity type”
      • “To identify new potential prospects giving to a similar cause”
      • “Check who is giving to similar causes [and] check who is giving to particular causes”

    As we know, using research on donation history to find prospects with an affinity to a particular cause has been long proven as an effective strategy for understanding which of your current prospects might prove to be the most likely to donate – and also for finding new potential likely donors. This is because many donors will have a specific interest in a particular cause and will more readily consider donating to organisations operating in a similar field in the future (Breeze & Lloyd, 2013). This type of approach to the research was said to be useful for researching all types of prospects on Phi, including individuals, trusts and companies.

  2. To help researchers shape fundraising strategy

    Interestingly, prospect researchers using Phi told us that researching donation data can be a way that they can help their organisations to plan fundraising strategy. Subscribers noted that the breadth of data on Phi allowed them, together with additional research, to benchmark types of donors to similar organisations or projects, thereby gaining an understanding of the current fundraising market. So, for example, the research might show if individual major donors would be more or less likely to support a particular type of project or campaign than trusts & foundations. Armed with this knowledge, researchers can then advise senior management on the likely avenues for support, thereby shaping the fundraising strategy around the type of donor most likely to give.

    The ability for researchers to ascertain potential levels of giving was another factor mentioned in helping to shape strategy – by using Phi to research donation levels, researchers are able to estimate the potential eventual Ask for current donors and existing / potential prospects. Knowing a prospect’s previous donation levels to different causes is a useful way to gauge their likely or potential future donation to your cause – and arguably more accurate than basing their estimated gift capacity on wealth data alone. This donation information enables researchers to contribute to discussions around fundraising targets for campaigns and projects, potentially putting them in a central role during decision-making around prospect allocation and fundraising strategy development.

    Also, some researchers stated that the data on Phi also helps them identify local recipient organisations (by searching for donations to a particular region or town) to see if there are common funders or funding networks prevalent in that local area, thereby contributing to an understanding of the potential local prospect pool or philanthropic networks to be cultivated. This approach was said to help both national charities with local offices and also regional organisations (such as hospices).

  3. To encourage stronger relationships between fundraisers and researchers

    We thought this was a particularly nice benefit to researching donation data!

    Some of our respondents reported that fundraisers were more willing to take on prospects that a prospect researcher had identified if they could provide information to the fundraiser on the prospects’ previous donations. When these prospects turned out to be decent (and ultimately donated to the cause), the fundraisers were then more open to working with the researcher’s suggestions in the future, thereby creating a better working relationship.

    Respondents also noted that even where information on specific gift amounts was omitted from the donation search, simply identifying that the prospect is philanthropic was sometimes enough to encourage fundraisers to act on their suggestions.

  4. To understand how donors give

    Turns out, knowing how donors give is almost as important to researchers as knowing how much they give.

    Subscribers reported that having donation data which covers a broad range of types of giving is incredibly useful. Being able to see prospects giving via their charitable trust, their company and as an individual gives a quick overview of the prospects’ philanthropic portfolio. Using this information, researchers can then advise on approach strategies – e.g. whether to approach a prospect as an individual major donor or via their charitable trust for a specific project.

    Breeze & Lloyd (2013) reported that whilst 73% of rich donors give via their charitable trust, 49% also give one off donations, 28% give via standing order/direct debit and 22% are planning to give via their will. This breadth of giving is reflected in Phi, with donations showing donors giving via multiple channels, making the data useful for trust fundraisers, corporate fundraisers and major donor or individual giving teams. Being able to contribute to so many areas of fundraising can make a prospect researcher an invaluable and valued part of the wider team.

    One subscriber also mentioned that the inclusion of political donations on Phi was especially useful as, because they were new to prospect research when they first started using Phi, they wouldn’t have thought of political donations as a source for prospect information. Also, US research in 2015 by DonorSearch reported that individuals who gave >$2.5k in political donations were 15 times more likely to give to a charitable organisation than those who hadn’t (whether this is also true of political donors in the UK is unclear, however).

  5. To improve the perception of researchers in their own organisations

    Perhaps our favourite benefit of all!

    As stated above, relationships with fundraisers have been known to improve through using donation data as a research tool, but subscribers further noted ways in which making use of donation data in different ways can highlight the enormous contribution prospect research makes to a team. Some examples are:

    • Prospect researchers use the data to increase their knowledge of the prospect pool and to prioritise long lists of prospects by previous giving – this is invaluable information when discussing cultivation strategies and allocating prospects to fundraisers.
    • Data on giving history enables researchers to boost numbers of new prospects, which can bring research into a more central role when moving through a campaign, for example.
    • Research into philanthropic interests had highlighted where prospects had made large gifts to other organisations that had strong links to their own Trustees or Chairman. Noting these links and connections was hugely important in devising an approach strategy for the prospect and wouldn’t have happened about without the research into philanthropic affiliations and donation history.

One more thing…

Perhaps the best outcome of all, for everyone involved, is to know that some of our subscribers have stated that research into prospects’ donation history ultimately helps lead to new gifts for their organisations. Which is, after all, what it’s all about!

We hope this proves useful for you in your own research.

And, finally…thanks to all of the subscribers to Factary Phi who took part in our survey!

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