Identifying Donors

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The "ABC" approach is useful for figuring out which prospects you can develop into active donors. "A" stands for the prospect’s ability to make a gift of the size you want. "B" is the prospect’s existing or potential belief in or support of your cause. "C" is the contact or connection between your group and the prospect. This is the most important piece of the "ABC" equation.

Look for prospects with ability to donate, belief in your cause, and contact with your group.

Your organization has a broad reach through the personal and professional connections of employees and volunteers. Mapping these networks is a great way to start identifying donors, as an established personal relationship increases the likelihood that prospective donors will give. Once you have created a list, you’ll want to make personal solicitations, focusing on the quality of your interactions with prospects rather than the quantity of contacts you make. Since this approach is more time consuming (but ultimately more likely to be successful), start by looking for people who are worth that much time.

One effective approach to identifying prospects is by using the concept of “ABC”—ability, belief, and contact or connection. The actual order of importance of each element is “CBA”—not “ABC.” Having a contact or connection between your group and a prospect is the most critical piece. Even if a person has the ability to donate and a belief in your cause, lack of contact means you cannot proceed with a personal solicitation.

Start with people you know.

A prospect is more likely to give if the person asking has a personal relationship with him or her.  A 2009 Indiana University/Campbell & Company study examined the characteristics of 8,300 donor households’ largest annual gift.  The results illustrated what fundraisers have often observed:  people are far more likely to give to people they know—especially when the donations are solicited in person.  Donors who were asked in person, by someone they knew, donated 19 percent more ($987, on average) to secular charities—versus solicitations from someone they knew via telephone, mail, or email ($799).

There are three ways in which your organization may have contact with a prospective donor. First, he or she might know a board member, staff member, or volunteer.  Second, he or she might have a second-degree connection to a board member, staff member, or volunteer; for example, they may have a mutual friend (if so, see if the mutual friend will allow you to use their name in soliciting a donation).  Third, the prospect may be an existing donor to your group.  In this case, you don’t necessarily need an established personal connection—you can emphasize your shared commitment to the cause.

You can also look to the following places for potential donor lists:

  • Friends or acquaintances of current donors
  • Newsletters
  • Annual reports from similar groups
  • Symphony, theater, opera programs, as well as information from art galleries and museums
  • Other, further connections:  personal telephone books, places of employment, chamber of commerce directories, local businesses, places of worship

Explore the prospect tiers surrounding your organization.

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