Skip to main content
Advocacy Strategy Best Practices

5 Ways to Use Prospect Research In Your Advocacy Campaign

By July 30, 2018March 4th, 2022No Comments

There are so many important aspects to advocating for your organization’s cause: fundraising, digital activism, real-life activism, education, you name it.

You’re probably already a pro at communicating with your supporters. After all, donors are seven times more likely to give to an advocacy ask than to a fundraising one.

But what if there was a step that you and your team could take before ever making that ask that would make the process easier?

We’re talking about prospect research. If this isn’t a term you’re familiar with, don’t worry. All it means is looking into the publicly available information about a person to gauge their interests.

This information can include a lot of different things: wealth indicators like property ownership, company holdings, car or boat ownership; a person’s existing relationship with your organization; a person’s history with other philanthropic organizations; or more.

All of these pieces of data can be leveraged together into a tool to make other aspects of your advocacy job easier. Here’s a quick overview of what you can do with prospect research:

  1. Make your asks more efficient by doing research beforehand.
  2. Use prospect research software to screen your existing advocate networks.
  3. Research people who have given to causes similar to your own.
  4. Maximize the impact of your in-person events.
  5. Find out who your donors also give to, and suggest a partnership.

Interested? Read on!

1. Make your asks more efficient by doing research beforehand.

No one likes to have their time wasted. By going into your asks with an understanding of a supporter’s political leanings or values, you can ensure that you prioritize communicating with people who are interested in what you have to say.

No matter what cause your group is advocating for, whether it be environmental protection,  healthcare philanthropy, or education equality, there are other groups with similar goals and missions. Make this work for you!

If the person you’re approaching has donated to groups with similar goals as yours, highlight this when you talk to them. Let them know what your mission is, and how it aligns with their values as well.

What else can you learn from prospect research that will improve your asks?

  • Their existing relationship with your organization
  • Their relationships with other advocacy groups or PACs
  • Their contributions to political parties
  • Their professional networks
  • Their markers of wealth

All of these facts can be leveraged to help you reach out to people who are most likely to get involved in your grassroots campaign and be willing to donate their time or money to advancing your cause!

By prioritizing your asks for people who you know appreciate your cause, you can avoid bothering people who are opposed or indifferent to your mission.

Another advantage of knowing a person’s previous contributions to other organizations or political parties is that you know what they are capable of donating, if you’re asking for funds.

By requesting or suggesting a certain monetary amount in a donation, you remove the guesswork on behalf of the donor and encourage them to give more than they might have without a suggestion.

If you research your prospects before approaching them, you can tailor your asks to what their highest priorities are.

For example, if someone’s involvement history suggests that they are passionate about the environment, lead with the efforts your group is making to protect green spaces or waterways.

Having an understanding of a person’s values and priorities, as well as their history of giving to other organizations, can help you immensely when approaching new supporters. Improve your organization through improving your engagement strategies!

2. Use prospect research software to screen your existing advocate networks

If you’ve been keeping track of people who interact with your organization, chances are that you’ve already amassed quite a collection of contact information for people who are passionate about your cause.

If your membership or advocacy software is worth its salt, you’ve probably got more data than you know what to do with! Now, here’s something to do with it: do prospect research on it.

There are many ways that people show their support: they write letters, volunteer at events, call representatives, donate money, or attend events for a good cause. All of these people are potential donors to help your organization.

You can find these untapped potential donors:

  • Among your social media followers.
  • Your regular volunteer force.
  • Your event attendees.
  • Your letter-writers, phone-callers, and parade-marchers.

Try putting a few of your most passionate advocates or most engaged and active Twitter followers through a prospect research software. You might be surprised by what you learn.

These people all have a proven dedication to your cause and your specific organization. If their wealth markers or giving history indicate that they have the capacity to make a gift to your organization, don’t be afraid to reach out!

While there are probably people in your organization who don’t have the finances necessary to make a donation, there may people volunteers who haven’t donated money just because it hasn’t occurred to them.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask if they’d consider a donation! They would probably be thrilled to help in any capacity.

There are many different prospect research tools out there, so you want to make sure you invest in the right one for your nonprofit. Check out Donorly’s list of smarter prospecting tools for some recommendations.

3. Research people who have given to causes similar to your own.

You’ve printed the custom t-shirts with your gorgeously designed logo on the front, planned the events, booked the space, come up with catchy slogans, and made your voice heard about your mission.

But somehow, you can tell that you’re not reaching your full potential. How can you find more people who are passionate about your cause without resorting to begging your family members to join?

Something that you may discover is that people are willing to donate to multiple causes, even if their missions have some overlap. This is a great opportunity for you to get your advocacy group included in this untapped resource!

Use prospect research to find out what other nonprofits have a comparable mission or vision as yours, and then reach out to people who have donated to those groups but haven’t yet become involved with your organization.

You’re well aware at this point of the truth behind the phrase, “there is strength in numbers.” By discovering a population of people already invested in your group’s mission, you can rally them to your cause.

Imagine how much further you could spread your message or your calls to action if you could drastically enlarge your constituent base. What would you do with all these people?

They can advocate for your cause through so many channels:

  • Writing letters to your local, state, or federal politicians and decision-makers
  • Boosting the popularity of your campaign’s hashtags on Twitter and Instagram
  • Sharing your information on Facebook so that their friends see it
  • Improve the turnout of your fly-ins or marches

What could your organization achieve if your voice were amplified by new supporters and contributors?

4. Maximize the impact of your in-person events.

We’ll say it again: no one likes to have their time wasted. While it would be great to have time to sit down and get to know every person who attends your events, it’s just not a practical event-planning strategy.

Instead, by doing research beforehand, you can steer your conversations with potential new donors or repeat visitors towards topics that you already know they’re interested in.

Some potential conversation starters could include:

  • “I heard you’re passionate about X cause. Are you interested in learning more about what we do about X?”
  • “How did you get involved with Y organization?”
  • “How long have you been volunteering for Z?”
  • “What made you so interested in B topic?”

By getting people talking about what they’re passionate about, you have an immediate way to understand what motivates them. You can get right to the heart of what they’re invested in, and work that knowledge to your advantage.

By minimizing the time that you spend trying to understand the passions of your event attendees, you can maximize the number of people that you make genuine connections with.

These genuine connections might lead you to their friends and family members with similar interests or passions! You never know how a single interaction could bring new life to your organization’s missions.

If you’ve perfected your asks and optimized your in-person events, consider improving your fundraising techniques by increasing your accessibility from the web. Check out DonorSearch’s list of best online giving tools to get started.

5. Find out who your donors give to, and suggest a partnership.

Have you ever noticed that attendance to your events has started to decline, or only the same familiar faces show up? Consider finding a partner to breathe new life into your organization!

Something you may discover while performing prospect research on your existing network of donors is that they give to other organizations. Consider these other groups carefully.

Some questions to ask about these other groups are:

  • Where do your missions overlap?
  • Where do they differ?
  • What parallels or connections can be drawn between your two missions?
  • How much of your donor network donates to this other organization, and vice versa?

Instead of considering this group as competition, consider building a partnership with them.

Events are expensive to put on: food, venue, and parking are just a few of the things you have to worry about when planning in-person activities. But what if you could split the cost of the event with a like-minded organization?

Connecting with another group that shares your mission or values can be mutually beneficial. Just a few ways this arrangement can benefit both of you include increasing your supporter base, splitting costs of many different things, or increasing the credibility of both groups.

Many advocacy groups struggle with making their small budget stretch as far as possible, but pooling resources among groups with a mission in common could be just what your group needs to get your next project off the ground.

Once again, there is strength in numbers. Instead of competing with similar groups for followers, encourage a symbiotic relationship to increase the impact of your supporters, your funds, and your events.


You’ve done all the legwork. You have a cause worth fighting for; you’ve talked to trusted experts about their planning, strategy, skills, and training tips; and you’ve built an actionable plan. So what next?

Prospect research might sound strange at first, but now you’ve learned all about the benefits that it can provide to your organization, we’re confident that you’ll want to integrate this resource into your organization.

An educated voter researches a politician’s past voting history, political affiliation, ability to compromise, and how they stand on important topics. An educated advocacy group should hold itself to the same standard, and research the community around them.

By applying these techniques to your organization’s practices, you can maximize your fundraising abilities, encourage dedicated volunteers to get more involved, expand your audience, and grow beyond your current size.

This guest post was contributed to CQ Connectivy by Sarah Tedesco, the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy.