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Digging for Gold

By August 17, 2009March 30th, 2014Development

Learning more about your donors and prospective donors is important, there’s no doubt about it. I’m often surprised how many development professionals skip the research step in their development work.

It can sometimes feel like extra work that you just don’t have time for, but even a small nugget of information can turn a prospecting conversation into a deeper discussion when you have done your homework. I’ve been able to WOW potential donors by keeping great records on our previous conversations or knowing something about them they haven’t yet shared with me – like the name of another organization they volunteer their time or financial support.

So how do you track down good information? With Google and Bing you can find LOTS of great information on most anyone. I’ve compiled a short list of places I often use to do a quick search for information before a meeting with someone. I’m sure there are more. If you know of other good places to conduct FREE searches please add them in the comments below. NOTE: The list below does not include any information on the many firms that specialize in conducting fee-based donor research.

A very important rule of thumb: Spend no more than 15 minutes per person when doing your searches. In fact, about 10 minutes should give you plenty of background. And doing this kind of donor research is a great intern or volunteer project.

  • First thing I do is to check LinkedIn to see if the person has a page. If they do I usually find LOTS there. You can also check MySpace and Facebook to learn some things if they have a public page. Other sites I use less often but work fine too: Plaxo,, MyLife and there are lots more listed on the Wikipedia List of Social Networking Sites.
  • Next I type their full name into Google and/or Bing and see what comes up. It’s helpful if you know a middle initial or middle name so you can be certain you have the correct person in your search. I take just a few minutes to dig around on the various pages that come up. You often can find recent business transactions, event listings, contribution information, associations they are a part of, schools they attend or their children attend. Anything that is listed on the internet can usually be found through a simple search.
  • Next I do a search with the person’s and add the word donations.
    For example: Lisa A. Swanson Donations
    By doing this I may pull up some information that the previous search may have missed. Either search SHOULD provide places where the name is listed on annual reports and other ways the name has been posted online. It’s often that the name is listed with a gift amount range.
  • If I know it, I also do this same process for a married couple and include both names. I’ve found some pretty obscure information about people’s weddings, births of their children and more.
  • To learn more about the value of a home I type the address in at and an estimate on the price comes up.
  • Another site I use is – there is no fee and it sometimes can bring up some deeper information on the person.

All of this information is only good if you actually get into communication with the person. Capture what you learn in your web-based donor tracking system and then set your meeting with them. You can feel more confident when you have done your homework about someone and learned where they are already giving their time and financial support.


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