To paraphrase one on my colleagues, “Do you know what the all major gift donors have in common? They had the money to give!”  If you think about it, it is a pretty rock solid concept.  One of our challenges in fundraising is that we will run after new shiny objects.  For example, last week Forbes published an awe inspiring article about America’s Millionaire Capitals which talked about concentrations of wealthy individuals. It might be a good plan to check your prospect pool for anyone who lives in those communities.

I want to encourage everyone not to get too distracted by the big houses, fancy cars, etc.  While there are many generous donors, who live in these houses I am always struck by the other donors I meet and am convinced no one would think they have the resources that they do based on their life style — often a very middle class or upper middle class existence.  Note this guy’s house in Omaha (note: Omaha was not on the Forbes list) I found on the web, admittedly a nice house with a taxable value of $690,000. Most people would not assume that the world’s 3rd wealthiest person and a great philanthropist lives there – Warren Buffett.

What is the point of showing you Mr. Buffett’s House? Stay focused on the people you have had a relationship with and believe can make significant gifts.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go off hunting for mega-gifts, but don’t do it at the cost of abandoning existing prospects.  About once a month you see the article about the little old couple down the street that shocked everyone with a $13 million gift to their alma mater or hospital.

Prospect research is a powerful thing, but it is not perfect.  Check your prospect list and examine individual donors through personal interaction:

  • Why do I think this prospect may have resources? Where would they have come from (inheritance, investments, income)?
  • How does their lifestyle mesh with resources acquired?  High income, but simple lifestyle. Modest income, flashy lifestyle. The list goes on…but be a detective.

Stay focused on your prospects no matter where they live.  Millionaire’s have capacity whether they conveniently congregated for development staff to find them or whether they are living in middle class neighborhoods.  Good Luck!

-          Mark Marshall

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