Wow . . . Non-Profit Donors are Naked!

Yesterday, I wrote about the power of donor database software in a post titled “What can’t your donor database do?”  In that post, I marveled at the availability of powerful tools such as WealthEngine and Blackbaud’s Target Analytics that have the capability of interfacing with your donor database systems. Of course, these service cost money and for a number of non-profit organizations with scarce resources, sophisticated prospect research can feel out-of-reach.

The reality is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Much of the information that data mining companies provide comes from public sources of data. All your organization has to do is dedicate a little staff time to this project, and you’ll be able to develop fairly complete prospect/donor profiles.

To test this hypothesis, I selected one donor from a local non-profit organization who I don’t know very well and used online resources to find out as much as I could on him. In order to protect the innocent, I will refer to this donor as “John Doe” throughout today’s blog post. In completing my prospecting work, I used a number of free resources that are available to everyone with an internet connection.

Google. It is amazing what you can find out about a person using Google. I typed in my prospect’s name using quotation marks and plus signs. It looked exactly like this:

“John Doe” + Elgin + Illinois

Using the quotation marks and plus signs helps narrow the Google search and improves the search results. With just that simple search, I found the following information on this prospect:

  • Place of employment
  • Address of workplace
  • Phone number of workplace
  • Work email address
  • Job title
  • Number of employees in workplace
  • Company sales volume
  • Last five employers
  • Other non-profit boards upon which they serve or or or These types of sites can help you secure information like home address, phone number, estimated age, and names of relatives. You can also find information on previous home addresses, which gives you more to search on Google. Once I found this prospect’s home address, I went to and found out what those people believe his house value. (If you are feeling brave, you can check on your house’s value. I am feeling a little ill after doing exactly that. Apparently, out house has dropped $92,000 in value since we purchased it six years ago. Ugh!) Publicly traded companies are required by the federal government to disclose a lot of information. I went to this site to learn more about the company for which my prospect works. I also clicked around to see if he is a significant investor or owns large chunks of any publicly traded companies. Unfortunately, he did not. Non-profit charities are also required by the federal government to disclose a lot of information. So, I looked up the 990 forms of the non-profit organizations for which my prospect sits on their boards. I also did a search on my prospect’s name to see if there are any foundations that have been set-up in his name or his family’s name.

Facebook. Even though this prospect and I are not “Facebook friends,” many people don’t understand this social network’s privacy policies. As a result, a number of you have more personal information hanging out there than you care to know about. In this instance, I found out where my prospect graduated from high school. So, now I know where he grew up. I also found out where they went to college and what they studied.

LinkedIn. It is amazing to me what people post on their LinkedIn profiles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my prospect on this social network. However, if I had, then I probably would’ve had access to information such as: employer, past employers, job functions/responsibilities, interests/groups, and possibly even his birthday. If I was “linked” with the prospect, I would’ve likely been able to view their network of friends and business associates.

So, the point I am driving at is that you don’t need lots of money to afford the services of data mining companies because there is already a lot of information out there on your prospects and donors. All you need to do is find time to gather the information and enter it into your donor database.

Ohhhhhh . . . I can already hear many of you saying that your organization is too thinly stretched and don’t have time. OK, I get it. I’ve been there and done that. However, how many prospects and donors do you really need this level of detailed data on? For small and mid-size non-profit organizations, it might only be your Top 10, 25, 50 or 100 donors. If you set aside a few hours each week, you will have detailed donor profiles for your most important donors in a very short period of time.

Ohhhhhh . . . I can also hear many of you saying that this feels like an invasion of privacy. Or maybe stalking? I also know some of you doubt the need for this level of detail.

Let me simply end by saying, fundraising is all about relationships. The more you know about your prospects/donors, the more likely you are to deepen those relationships, connect with them, and raise money for your mission. While this might not be necessary for “transactional fundraising” programs that rely on special events and annual campaigns, it is an absolute necessity once you start moving toward donor-centered fundraising and development of a major gifts program.

Still not convinced? Birthday and age information impacts planned giving strategies. Home value is one data point that can contribute to assessing wealth and philanthropic capacity. Understanding a prospect/donor’s social network, friends, and professional relationships will help you with volunteer solicitor assignment strategies.

Online prospecting work will never replace good old fashion relationship building. It is amazing what people can and will share over a cup of coffee, but doing your homework by using free online tools or paying data mining companies certainly helps and it makes your resource development efforts a little easier.

Does your organization use fee-based data mining companies like WealthEngine to do donor screening or compilation of donor profiles? If so, what has been your experience? Have you used some of the aforementioned free online tools? If so, please share your experiences and thoughts by using the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

What can’t your donor database do?

I left the non-profit frontline back in 2006 for an internal consulting position with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. So, it has been a long time since a donor database has “run my life”. A few weeks ago, I participated in a webinar focused on the Results Plus database product produced by Metafile in Rochester, Minnesota. It was during that webinar that I was reminded about how powerful donor database software packages have become.

For the “average non-profit” out there, a donor database is the software package they capture the following data:

  • Donor name
  • Donor address
  • Donor phone number
  • Contributions (amount and to what campaign)

It is less common for non-profit organizations to capture other information such as: solicitor names, spousal information, occupation & employer, social networks, wealth indicators, interests, etc (and this list can go on and on and on because there are more than a hundred data fields in most database packages that can be filled with information).

What I’ve found to be common for many non-profit organizations is they purchase a donor database system, invest in training, and lose institutional knowledge as employee turnover naturally occurs. As new fundraising professionals are hired, the desire to throw the old database out the window is magnified because they weren’t involved in database set-up and the systems built around the database weren’t designed by them. Most commonly, new fundraising professionals come to the table with biases toward database systems with which they might be more familiar.

Naturally, the drums start to beat and the mantra becomes “Buy a New System” rather than: 1) invest in training, 2) clean and deepen the data, and 3) fix the systems built around the database.

While I participated in that “refresher webinar” hosted by Mark Gerber at Results Plus, I was awestruck with what some donor database can do nowadays.

Credit Cards processing. Many donor databases have built functionality into their products where you can swipe and store a donor’s encrypted credit card information. This can make events (esp. auctions) really easy. It also makes recurring contributions (e.g. monthly giving program) to your annual campaign really easy. I’ve seen some database companies (e.g. build credit card processing right into the services they provide their clients. Other databases like Results Plus allow you to hook-up to external merchant account companies like Moneris and credit card processing happens with just one keystroke.

Event Management.For a long time now, fundraising professionals have been able to do a lot associated with event planning from inside their donor database, but the functionality and features continue to multiply. The following is just a short list of what is possible: seating assignments, auction management, creating/sending invitations via snail-mail or email, budgeting, creating/managing project management task lists, tracking entrée selection, managing gift acknowledgement letters with appropriate IRS disclaimer information for the value of services received (e.g. quid pro quo gifts), and the list goes on and on and on and on.

Volunteer management. A recent study released by Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and VolunteerMatch reports two big things: 1) 67% of survey respondents said they “generally make their financial donations to the same organizations where they volunteer” and 2) Volunteers tend to donate an average of 10-times more money to charity then people who don’t volunteer. This is why it is so very important for your non-profit organization to use your donor database to track and manage your volunteers. You can track and do all sorts of things such as: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Interests? Time volunteered . . . value of that time . . .  background check information . . . generate cultivation/stewardship letters . . . and the list goes on and on and on!

Prospect research. Third-party data mining companies have done a remarkable job integrating their services in such a way that you can run their applications from inside your donor database and even pull that data directly into your system. These services are costly, but it is amazing what you can find out about a prospect or donor from public records. Wow! And it can all easily be done from inside your donor database. If you have some cash to spend, talk to your database provider about whether or not information from WealthEngine or Blackbaud’s Target Analytics can be easily brought into your database system.

These were just a few functions and features that had me on the edge of my seat throughout that webinar. My best advice to all non-profit organizations with donor database systems is to:

  1. Call your database provider and ask a sales professional to provide you with their “nickel tour”. Even though you already own the system, you will likely learn a lot about what you already own. The sales pro will play along because they might just sell an upgrade or add-on module.
  2. Invest and continue re-investing in training. The donor database world is constantly evolving and you really need to stay on top of what your system can do.
  3. Pay attention to the systems you build around your database (e.g. staffing, contact reports, event registration forms, pledge cards, etc). These system have a lot more to do with the data you’re capturing than the software you’re using.

I wonder when the donor database companies will build enough functionality into their systems so all I need to do is press a button on my computer and the database will brush my teeth for me?  😉

Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share one of your favorite features or functions associated with your donor database.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847