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Durham Mardi Gras starts fundraising for February event

February 13th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

Durham residents and other locals are able to enjoy a Mardi Gras celebration without traveling to New Orleans, all completely free of charge. But keeping it this way is no easy task.

In the weeks leading up to the parades and concerts that will line the streets on Feb. 17 for Durham Mardi Gras, those behind the scenes are working full-force to fundraise.

And fundraising for 2015’s Durham Mardi Gras kicked off Saturday at Durham bar Pinhook, where an $8 cover charge bought access to three live bands. Other fundraising events will follow to help pay for the hiring of the bands and other performers.

“It’s not a big-budget event, but it’s not a zero budget event,” said Durham Mardi Gras, Inc. president Kathy Violette.

Violette said while Durham Mardi Gras does not have corporate sponsors, it has partnered with Louisiana-based brewery Abita this year. The brewery is hosting a beer-dinner at LaPlace Restaurant in Hillsborough, as well as at The Pit in Durham, where $5 will buy access to a 12-tap line of Abita beer.

Sean Stoneback, manager at The Pit, said the company that owns the restaurant, Empire Eats, is dedicated to joining the neighborhood and bringing about the betterment of the community.
“What we do is we buy and renovate old buildings, and then try to put something in the building to bring the neighborhood out,” he said.

“This used to be an old, unused Coca-Cola bottling plant, but it was like, ‘Hey, you know what that area of Durham needs? It needs a restaurant.’ Barbecue is a staple of North Carolina, so it was the best thing to put here.”

Stoneback said he is happy to help out with the event and is looking forward to Feb. 17.

“The parade’s going to be great — it’s going to go right in front of the restaurant,” he said.

The Scrap Exchange, an organization partnering with the Durham Mardi Gras event, will donate Mardi Gras-related materials, such as beads and masks, to Durham Mardi Gras.

“The Scrap Exchange is a creativity center. They promote creativity through reused products,” said Cathy Kielar, a board member for The Scrap Exchange and Durham Mardi Gras.

“And they generally sell it. In this case, instead of selling it, they’re sharing it with us.”

Kielar is also a member of the Bulltown Strutters, Durham’s New Orleans-style parade band. She said her favorite part about participating in Durham Mardi Gras with the band is bringing joy to people.

“Our music is extremely uplifting,” she said. “It gets people dancing, it gets people moving, it gets people feeling happy.”

Durham Mardi Gras also depends on individual contributions to subsidize the costs of the event, which Violette estimates accounts for over 50 percent of all fundraising.

“From two events last year, we just passed the hat. That’s just people throwing bills in a bucket. And that alone was about 20 percent of our fundraising,” she said.

Violette said she is hoping 3,000 people come out to the event this year — a 1,000-person increase from last year’s Durham Mardi Gras.

“I’m a middle-aged mother of teenagers, but I wore a turquoise tutu last year. How fun is that?” Violette said.

“It’s fun to see people let go of their normal, day-to-day life and just get silly — to not take themselves seriously for a few hours.”

01/12/15 12:28am
By Elizabeth Baker
Daily Tarheel


Fundraising campaign announced for Ypsilanti Freighthouse could raise $100K

February 12th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising

As supporters of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse continue with plans to make improvements to the facility, a new fundraising campaign has been launched that could make a huge impact on the future of the site.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse (FYOF) announced a crowd-funding campaign this week that could bring $100,000 in funding to the freight house.

The MEDC has pledged to match a donation of $50,000 if fundraisers can raise $50,000 themselves by March 1.

“Crowd funding is a great way to bring stakeholders together to create vibrant public spaces that help bring new businesses, residents and visitors to the community,” said MEDC Community Development Director Katharine Czarnecki in a press release. “We are pleased to partner with the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse to help create that kind of public space in Ypsilanti.”

Although the goal for the project is to raise $50,000 so that it can be matched by the MEDC, any money pledged between now and March 1 will be collected and put toward restoration and improvement efforts.

Unlike other fundraising platforms like Go Fund Me and Kickstarter, if the goal is not reached in this case, supporters can count on getting some money for the restoration efforts.

“Projects like these can greatly help turn a good community into a great community,” said Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin. “The League strongly advocates the importance of creating communities and places where people want to live, work and play. The effort at the Freighthouse contributes to that place-making goal in an up-and-coming area of Ypsilanti.”

The campaign received help from Ypsilanti-based Visual Compass Web Design, which helped build and market the campaign and will promote it across various social media and web-based platforms going forward.

“The FOYF began this initiative and, with the help and support of Visual Compass Web Design, have finally been able to make this crowdsourcing campaign a reality,” said Courtney Tavernit, FOYF board member and director of business development at Visual Compass Web Design. “We look forward to the opportunity of showcasing other local merchants and businesses to residents with the opening of the Freighthouse.”

The fundraising campaign is already scheduled to receive a $10,000 donation from the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority which approved $35,000 in total contributions to the freight house efforts last month. The $10,000 donation will make up 20 percent of the $50,000 goal.

The YDDA had been considering a $35,000 contribution to the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse campaign to raise $300,000 to be used for repairs and upgrades to the facility. A decision on the contribution has been discussed since June, but last month it was finally approved.

During the discussion, Mayor Amanda Edmonds proposed an amendment that $10,000 of the contribution be put toward the campaign the MEDC was involved with, while the other $25,000 can go toward the original plan.

That amended proposal was approved unanimously by the YDDA.

Of the $300,000 in money needed for repairs, $220,000 was pledged by the city of Ypsilanti while $40,000 was raised through pledges the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freighthouse, the Eastern Leaders Group and Eastern Michigan University.

An estimated $300,000 is needed to address fire suppression, bathrooms and heating, ventilation and air conditioning issues that need to be fixed before the building can be occupied. Supporters of the freight house want to turn the historic building into a community events facility and hope it will be another draw for Depot Town.

January 14, 2015 at 12:53 PM
By Matt Durr

Matt Durr covers Ypsilanti for The Ann Arbor News. Email him at or follow him on Twitter.

Six Big Benefits of Prospect Screening

February 11th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising
 If you have ever worked in fundraising at a nonprofit organization, then you understand the importance of a positive return on investment. As a member of a development team, you make choices every day about what types of fundraising activities justify your budget dollars and staff time.

Whether your nonprofit organization is small or large, established or new, prospect research can enhance your fundraising capabilities and help your organization spend its dollars and staff time strategically to ensure the maximum return on its fundraising investment.

Here are the top six reasons your organization should place an added emphasis on prospect research:

Refine major gift prospect outreach

The biggest cost to a fundraising campaign is not software, travel reservations, or event planning – it is staff time. Every minute your staff spends on a low quality prospect is a wasted fundraising opportunity. Prospect screening can help your development team identify which donors to focus on based on if they have given charitably in the past and have the capacity to make a major gift in the future.

Additionally, understanding the specifics of a donor’s financial situation can enable you to refine the suggested gift amount to ensure it is both appropriate and capitalizes on a donor’s capacity to give.

Convert annual fund donors to major gift prospects

Prospect screening can reveal which of your annual fund donors have the capacity to make a major gift.

For example, let’s say you have a donor that has made multiple $100-$500 gifts over the course of their lifetime – clearly this individual has an affinity for your cause and loyalty to your organization, but that is all you know!

Through prospect research, you identify an additional $5000 gift that they had made to another nonprofit organization – revealing their potential as a major gift donor vs. just an annual fund donor.

By identifying which of your loyal donors have made a major gift elsewhere, you can find new major gift prospects within your existing donor population.

Identify planned or deferred giving prospects

Bequests are a donation type that continues to grow in importance for nonprofit organizations – according to an analysis by the U.S. Treasury, charitable bequests exceeded donors’ total lifetime charitable giving by 2.74 times.

Unfortunately, many organizations struggle to identify donors who are strong candidates for this type of giving. As a result, they lose out on opportunities to counsel current donors about making bequests or deferred gifts. Prospect research can help your organization analyze charitable giving and wealth data to identify planned giving prospects within your list of existing donors.

What’s more, prospect screening includes access to a proprietary planned giving prospect identification toolthat uses modeling and analytics to determine which of your current donors have the highest likelihood of making a legacy gift to your organization.

Generate new prospects

We understand that fundraising is more than just finding donations within your existing donor population – it means identifying new donors and educating them about your organization, its mission, and how they can help.

Prospect research can reveal what corporate boards or charitable foundations your donors are involved with – opening the door to new relationships that your current donors can help facilitate.

Another place to find donors is on the annual giving reports of other nonprofit organizations with similar missions or causes. Browse a charitable giving database for annual reports by organization, location, and gift amount to help identify new prospects who already have an affinity for your cause or a history of charitable gifts.

Analyze donor giving patterns

A donor’s historical giving data can tell a story of the causes they, their spouses, and their foundations have made charitable donations to over a lifetime of giving.

By conducting a gift search on one of your existing donors, you can see what types of causes they support and analyze giving patterns.

Filter charitable gift amounts within a philanthropy database by year, amount, state, and other criteria.

Optimize ongoing fundraising opportunities

There are some nonprofits that have an ongoing cycle of new potential donors through the services they provide. Prospect screening can provide crucial information about these potential donors such as their charitable giving histories, financial indicators, or nonprofit involvement. This information will enable your development staff to prioritize which high potential donors to focus on. Here are two examples of how you can put prospect research into practice:

Fill in gaps in your donor data

Are you missing key pieces of information about your donor population such as:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • Spousal data
  • Date of birth
  • Email address
  • Telephone number

Many companies, including Brian Lacy and Associates, provide data appends  to fill in missing information about your list of donors.

So, remember that a little prospect research can go a long way toward benefiting your fundraising program.

14 April, 2015
By Richard Smith



Expert Advice for Making the Most of Prospect Research

February 2nd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Database, Fundraising, Planned Giving

Whether your organization is a seasoned veteran with prospect research or a wide-eyed rookie, you should seek ways to get the most out of your investment. DonorSearch’s team has compiled advice from twenty fundraising experts on how nonprofits can make the most of prospect research in 2015.

Use tools and available resources to save time and increase efficiency

Make sure your development team is taking advantage of the various tools and resources available to conduct prospect research. New applications and prospect screening services can improve the effectiveness of your prospect research efforts. Also, explore the free resources available to nonprofits to see how they can supplement your fundraising activities. 

Elizabeth S. Zeigler, President of Graham-Pelton Consulting, says: “In 2015 more so than ever before, major gift fundraisers must craft individualized cultivation and solicitation strategies in order to best engage prospective donors and match their interests to the needs of the nonprofit.  Graham-Pelton Consulting relies on DonorSearch research culled from dozens of sources to provide informed counsel that results in solid solicitation strategies and increased confidence in the person that will make the ask of the donor.”

Marge King, President of the InfoRich Group, says: “Using simple tools like bookmarking services and Evernote can increase a researcher’s efficiency. All prospects are unique, so finding tidbits of information about a prospect’s neighborhood or business sector may be just as unique or obscure. For example, how many taxidermists have you researched? None? I’ve researched one in 15 years and it took some time to sift through sites related to taxidermy to find the useful sites for prospect research purposes. Using a good bookmarking service that allows user tagging or comments so that you may find that website that lists taxidermist fees or other obscure sites is key to efficiency. What is on the Internet today may be gone tomorrow. So, I also recommend using tools like Evernote to collect, organize, and store useful data like salary surveys.”

Chris Dawson, Senior Prospect Researcher at University Hospitals, says: “My main advice is to be aware of all the possible tools that you can use as a researcher. By that I mean that while it’s easy to pick up a subscription for a service like DonorSearch, or LexisNexis, iWave, or any of the other companies (and I always do recommend that researchers look into these companies and get what subscriptions they can), a good researcher should always be aware of other resources that may be available that they didn’t originally consider, allowing them to expand their research capabilities, often at no cost. The Foundation Center, with locations in New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Washington, are full of free resources to help researchers … and the Foundation Center also partners with a variety of local libraries and college libraries to have certain resources freely available there.  And speaking of libraries … I can’t speak to every city library out there, but we found out almost by accident that Cleveland’s public library system had a host of research resources that were freely available to anyone with a library card. We were actually able to reduce our research budget by switching over to some of the research products that were available for free, rather than paying for them. We were able to access a surprising amount of newspaper databases, biographical databases, and business databases (including one that I knew had an annual subscription fee of $45k/year) all for free. Other cities have similar research databases available through their public libraries, or via college libraries. So I always urge researchers to seek out what their public library has, as well as area colleges (many of which allow local citizens to get library cards to access their collections). In a single swoop, researchers can expand their capabilities, for no extra cost. These new sources certainly allowed us to offer better and more extensive information in our profiles, which has benefited our gift officers.”

Incorporate Social Media into your Fundraising Activities

The rise of social media has huge implications for prospect researchers. Consider how your nonprofit organization can use social data to learn more about potential donors.

Jay Frost, Senior Partner at Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, says: “We are witnessing the biggest shift in the history of organized philanthropy. No longer do we just reach out to new friends for support. Donors are now coming to us. And reaching out to their peers to support us as well. The universe of contributors is no longer local, or even national, but international. And we can learn far more today about what is in the minds and hearts of prospective supporters than ever before. All of this is the direct result of the social media revolution. And it is up to us, this generation of fundraising professionals, to determine if we want to be merely marketers or relationship builders. To become true advocates for philanthropy, we must pay careful attention to how people define themselves and their relationships. The largest opportunities for advancing our organizations exist at the intersection of great financial capacity and deep affinity. And the map to that intersection is available to us through prospect research informed by social media.”

Maria Semple, Owner of The Prospect Finder LLC, says: “Don’t forget to set up some “Saved Searches” on LinkedIn’s Advanced Search page so that you can put some proactive prospecting on Auto-Pilot for 2015! So simple to do and you can save up to 3 searches under a free LinkedIn account and LinkedIn will email you the search results on a weekly or a monthly basis….you decide.”

Create processes and systems to organize and implement your prospect data

Too much data can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to use it. Put into place systems that can capture the information your organization gathers and establish processes to put that information into action. 

Joshua Birkholz, Principal at Bentz Whaley Flessner, says: “Encourage your research team to move from providing facts to offering judgment. You will be well-served to leverage this function for prioritizing your work. Development will always involve sitting in someone’s living room asking for money. This activity is not easily scalable. Determining which prospects to see is scalable. Let Prospect Research help choose which living rooms.”

Thomas Sonni, President of Greater Mission Development Services, says: “In our work with clients, prospect research has been a powerful resource because of how we have learned to organize, cross-analyze, and further develop the data by integrating the findings with client-supplied giving data and local knowledge. We use our own custom rating strategy for potential gift levels. The combination of refined information translates into creating strategic tools such as gift tables, goals, campaign timetables, and particularized plans linked to how many likely lead gift candidates exist at each key pledge level. One specific example of this approach is the way we often set a minimum threshold for active giving. Then we identify which active donors meet any of the capacity criteria for significant large gifts. Looking at combinations of key data simultaneously leads us to identify those constituents who are most likely to be qualified leadership gift candidates for our clients.”

Brian Lacy, President of Brian Lacy and Associates, says: “It is important to keep donor databases clean! Prospect research is less effective when you start with the wrong addresses for too many top prospects. Limited annual giving budgets are misspent when appeals are mailed to old addresses, student callers call wrong phone numbers, and e-solicitations are never received. By keeping your donor database updated and with the fewest possible errors, you lift the fundraising effectiveness of your team and their results.”

Adam Weinger, President of Double the Donation, says: “Don’t forget about integrating matching gift data into your prospect outreach strategy. Many companies offer matching gift programs to their employees which can increase the potential value of individual donations. What’s more, some companies will even match major gifts of $5,000 or more.”

No matter what tools you use, don’t forget the basics

No amount of fancy tools, tricks, or shortcuts can replace the basics of fundraising. It is important to remember that your organization should not lose site of its fundamentals as it develops its fundraising capabilities. 

Margaret Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of CCS Research, says: “Prospect Research is an integral part of any fundraising campaign. Getting the correct information to the individuals who will be cultivating and soliciting can be challenging, but seasoned prospect researchers know just where to look. After completing a screening with a service like DonorSearch, the client will assess their results and see which matches yield the most promising potential. At this point, the researcher steps in to see if there are any additional nuggets of information available that might yield a higher ask amount. I liken getting all the information about a prospect to putting a puzzle together. You need Biographical information, like address, education, date of birth, and any other pieces of information you can find. Corporate information can provide the most interesting piece of the puzzle in that it may include compensation. Honors, awards, and corporate affiliations give you some insight into the personal behavior of your prospect and just how engaged he or she is with their community. Wealth Assessment information can include real estate values, stock holdings, other director compensation, lawsuit winnings or any other information obtained that affects the monetary piece of the pie. Finally, charitable contributions will show you where and in what amounts your prospect has given in the past. Don’t forget to include political donations. The best indicator of future giving is the prospect’s history of past giving.”

Don Souhrada, Vice President of Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt, says: “It’s important to be focused on a group of people that you want to bring to conclusion. For example, when you screen an entire database, you can get greedy when evaluating potential prospects. Instead of running too quickly through your list of prospects, try focusing on a small group of high potential donors to bring them to resolution and foster a positive perception of your organization.”

Alison Sommers-Sayre, President of APRA, says: “The promise of technology is great and one we should all embrace, but we must beware of being led astray by that promise. Today we need highly skilled prospect development professionals more than ever, to navigate the tools available, to use them effectively and at the end of the day to do the critical analysis and investigation that turns all of that data into something on which our fundraising partners can act.”

Poonam Prasad, President of Prasad Consulting & Research, says: “The new trend in Prospect Research is a focus on Data Analytics and Visual Analytics. These are amazing new tools for understanding and presenting large volumes of information. However, not too long ago, I attended a presentation about a very large billion dollar campaign at an Ivy-League university. In the end, the campaign succeeded because of less than 10 transformational gifts from donors who had been cultivated over a long period of time. Be sure you never lose sight of who your top 10 donors are, or could be, as you review and present data using the trendiest new tools.”

Sarah Bernstein, blogger at the The Fundraising Back-Office, says: “Capacity assessment has an important place in prospect research and fundraising strategy, but it is not the only language in which the story of a prospect can be told, and it never paints a complete picture. You can use capacity to prioritize prospects, but you should make the most of prospect research by looking beyond the numbers to discover relationships, interests, and conversation starters. Prospect research has a role at every stage of the cultivation cycle. As I wrote in my final presidential column of the APRA Wisconsin newsletter, The Research Report, last year: ‘Our goal in ratings, profiles, and bios should always be to tell a story that creates interest and informs the development of a donor-centric strategy, whether the immediate next action is to make the first phone call, cultivate affinity for our mission, solicit a gift, or steward a lifetime of generosity.’ Prospect research increasingly needs to leverage both familiar and emerging technologies to seek innovative ways to tell more compelling stories using more efficient tools.”

Make sure prospect research is always done with your fundraising goals in mind

Success in prospect research is defined by success in fundraising. Consider how each new piece of data on your prospects will help your fundraisers be more successful when soliciting donations. 

Tom AhernPresident of Ahern Donor Communications, says: “Fundraisers are sales people. They have to make a sale to a prospect. Knowing that prospect as thoroughly as possible before attempting a sale is simply the smart way to prepare. You still might fail, but you’ll fail for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.”

Jennifer Filla, President and Founder of Aspire Research Group, says: “Prospect research developed in response to fundraisers’ need for more information. The research should always serve to enable fundraising. The question to answer is: ‘Does the information I find and the delivery format enable the fundraiser?’ Too much, too little, or in the wrong format? You need to adapt and change.”

Helen Brown, President of Helen Brown Group, says: “Plan prospect identification projects in close collaboration with frontline fundraisers. You’ll get a better end product that will meet their needs and get them excited to get out the door.”

Bill Tedesco, CEO of DonorSearch, says: “It’s important for nonprofits to understand the variety of data types that fall under the umbrella of prospect research. Organizations that focus too much on one type of data such as wealth indicators are losing out on additional types of information, such as philanthropy data, which may more accurately predict a prospect’s likelihood of making a charitable gift. By compiling a complete prospect profile with a diverse array of properly weighed data points, you provide your fundraising team with everything they need to be successful.”

But remember, a good development team is more than just front-line fundraisers

Prospect researchers have a unique set of skills that can help balance out a nonprofit’s fundraising team. They can bridge the gap between the raw data and the story it tells about a specific prospect.

Diane Valdivia, President of Pinpoint Prospect Research, says: “… I think that, despite the prospect research profession’s evolution and substantial growth in the past 10-15 years, there remains a lack of understanding by nonprofit management of the value and return on investment prospect research brings. For example, if provided the staffing dollars in 2015, would the average director hire additional development officers or prospect research staff? From what I’ve experienced in over twenty-five years of fundraising — both as a development officer and a researcher — prospect research would not be a first consideration. And that’s too bad because a good researcher is not only an analyst but a strategist who is, essentially, a match-maker in finding key partners and supporters for your organization.”

Don’t ever lose sight of the ultimate philanthropic mission

While raising money is important, it’s ultimately a way to help achieve your mission as an organization. Always remember to keep your nonprofit’s mission as the focus when connecting with potential or existing donors.

Amanda Jarman, Principal of Fundraising Nerd, says: “Be effective, efficient and ethical by doing research for a reason. Know the “why” behind your research, and keep your efforts focused on the just-in-time information that’s necessary to take the next step with the prospect.”

We hope this expert advice can help you get the most out of prospect research at your nonprofit organization!

By Richard Smith
26 January 2015

About Richard Smith: I’m in charge of nonprofit resource development and blogging at DonorSearch. I’m passionate about prospect research and how quality data can improve nonprofit fundraising outcomes.

Interpreting data with humility

February 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Database, Fundraising

I’ve read dozens of articles about the human capabilities we possess for detecting patterns in small data sets.  It’s why we gravitate toward simple charts.  The results are easy to understand.  It’s also why we tend to avoid complex reports, dashboards and infographics.  The vastness of the information exceeds our innate abilities for easy pattern identification.

Which leads to a common pitfall: “a little knowledge makes people believe they are more expert than they really are.”  Quote from Pearl Zhu, blogger at Future of CIO.


As we take bold strides in 2015 to compile robust reports and data visualizations, let’s remember to be inquisitive about our data, examine preliminary findings with curiosity rather than certainty and seek to fully understand the context of our results.  Let us remember to examine our data outliers rather than ignore or remove them from consideration.  And let us remember to give ourselves time to think.  Our best ideas emerge when we give our brains time to percolate.

By Diane Korb
January 14, 2015