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3 Ways Prospect Research Can Help Nonprofits Raise More Money at Events

Marcella Vitulli

Do you have events planned as part of your end-of-year fundraising push? If so, you may be missing out on some key pieces of information about your attendees that may make all the difference in your fundraising goals. Read on for tips from DonorSearch's Ryan Woroneicki on how to make prospect research part of your event planning.

Besides throwing a fun, well-attended event, nonprofits have the additional and even more difficult task of raising money. Some events are lucrative and held year after year, but many don’t make the kind of money that the hosting organization hopes for.

What’s a nonprofit to do? Incorporate prospect research.  

Prospect research is often thought of as a tool to identify certain types of giving prospects, like:

  • Major gifts donors
  • Planned giving donors
  • Annual fund donors
  • Grateful patients

While identification is a major component, prospect research can do more than find these types of donors.

At its core, prospect research teaches organizations about potential prospects and donors. If you’re looking for a utilitarian application of the screening process, look no further than events and their attendees.

Here are just a few of the ways that prospect research can help your nonprofit organization's next fundraising event.


1. Determine event guest lists

From galas to work-a-thons, there’s a fundraising event that’s right for everyone. You can help narrow down your donor pool to event-specific guest lists using prospect research.

Then, once you’ve used prospect research to reveal who should be on each guest list, you can further plan for specific groupings at the event itself.

For example:

  • Knowledge of gala attendees is extremely helpful in orchestrating the seating chart. If the night includes a live auction, you can even go so far as to seat certain parties near individuals who you know will be competitive with one another.
  • When you’re planning teams for a bowling tournament, the more information you have on your participants, the better. Putting together a group to play together is kind of like match-making. Creating a good experience always helps improve reception to your fundraising asks at the close of the event.

Once you use prospect research in conjunction with your event planning, you’ll never want to organize an event without it.


2. Expose valuable donor connections

Most of the time, a high-quality prospect is just one or two degrees of separation from a donor you already have a relationship with. Prospect research can reveal the connecting lines that you’ve been missing.

Prospect research can offer valuable connective information, like business affiliations, familial ties, and participation in certain social groups.

In terms of events, you can strategically leverage these relationships in many ways, such as:

  • Asking a loyal donor to invite a high-quality prospect that she is friends with, instead of having your organization make a cold-call ask.
  • Having supporters with strong community connections helps you secure gifts in-kind for the event itself — from auction items to food.

You never know how a connection will come into play, but you can almost guarantee that one will. Prospect research makes the process far easier.


3. Fill in donor information blanks

Your staff should have as much information as possible about the attendees prior to an event. At your average event, your staff is going to be vastly outnumbered by the guests. That ratio limits the time available for interactions.

Prospect research can tell your staff which attendees to zero in on and make those conversations more meaningful.

A fundraiser who has done her homework on a donor using prospect research is positioned to leave a lasting and positive impression.

For example, a screening could discover that a donor’s spouse and plus one at your fundraiser is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) executive for a corporation in your city and its latest CSR initiative aligns perfectly with your mission.

Thanks to prospect research, you’re able to start a dialogue with that executive at the event and lay the groundwork for a future relationship. Without screening the guest list, that’s an easily missed opportunity.


Don’t let discoverable information hold your nonprofit back from fundraising success. No matter what kind of event your nonprofit is hosting, prospect research should be invited.


About the author: Ryan Woroneicki is the Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at DonorSearch, a prospect research, screening, and analytics company that focuses on proven philanthropy. He has worked with hundreds of nonprofits and is a member of APRA-MD. When he isn’t working, he is an avid kickball player.

Topics: prospect research, events