5 ways to find donors hiding in plain sight

Posted April 29, 2014 by Timi Paccioretti

LGL is pleased to announce our new partnership with DonorSearch, a leading prospect research and screening firm, and to publish this guest post from Bill Tedesco, DonorSearch’s founder and CEO, on our blog.


In the financial sector, past performance is not an indicator of future performance. In the fundraising world, the opposite is true: past performance strongly correlates with future performance.

Based on a back testing of $5 billion in known giving to 400 nonprofit organizations, the five factors that most accurately predict future giving are, in order of predictive strength:

  • Previous giving to your organization
  • Previous giving to other organizations
  • Participation as a foundation trustee or director
  • Federal political giving
  • Real estate valued at $2+ million

This post will offer some insights into these factors.


Factor 1: Previous giving to your organization

Previous giving—that is, demonstrated loyalty to your organization—is measured using RFM: 

  • (R)ecency: How recently someone has donated to your organization (more recent is better)
  • (F)requency: How frequently someone donates to your organization
  • (M)oney: How much someone donates to your organization

Loyal donors tend to remain loyal donors, unless you neglect them, your organization changes significantly, or their circumstances change. As an aside, according to a study by Lawyers.com, 78% of planned giving donors gave 15 or more gifts to the nonprofits named in their will during their lifetimes. In many cases, these were such small gifts that gift officers hadn’t even noticed the donor. USA Giving noted that 40% of all planned giving donors were unknown to the organization.


Factor 2: Giving to other organizations

Someone who gives substantial gifts to other organizations, especially if those organizations have a similar or complementary mission, is a very likely prospect. In an analysis of the $5 billion in known giving mentioned above, someone who made a $100k gift elsewhere was almost 33 times more likely to donate to a like-minded organization than someone who hadn’t.


Largest Gift Elsewhere

% of Records

% of $$

Predictive Strength






















Factor 3: Position as a foundation trustee or executive

This one is obvious: people who are heavily involved in nonprofit foundations understand the importance of philanthropy. They support their own organizations as well as others.


Factor 4: Political giving

There is a very strong correlation between political giving and charitable giving. In fact, someone who has given at least $2,500 in his/her lifetime to federal political campaigns is almost 15 times more likely to give a philanthropic donation than someone who hasn’t. Even a $500 donation makes someone five times more likely to donate to a nonprofit. When we looked at the $5 billion in known giving mentioned above, here’s what we found:


Back Testing Database

% of Records

% of $$

Predictive Strength

All FEC and Charitable Giving above $2,500




All FEC and Charitable Giving above $1,000




All FEC and Charitable Giving above $500





Factor 5: Value of real estate

The likelihood of philanthropy rises along with the value of someone’s home. Since real estate values are the broadest publically available marker of wealth, this is a piece of information that’s easy to find for any property-owning prospective donor. The short version:

  • Real estate $2+ million = 17.55 times more likely to make a charitable donation
  • Real estate $1-2 million = 4.17 times more likely to make a charitable donation
  • Real estate $750k-1 million = 2.25 times more likely to make a charitable donation
  • Real estate $500k-749k = 1.25 times more likely to make a charitable donation

Below that, prospects are less likely to make a charitable gift than the average person.


Hiding in plain sight

Data mining and analytics can uncover the best prospective donors who are hiding in plain sight in your prospect/donor list. By understanding the factors that pinpoint those prospects, you can identify your top prospects and use your development resources most efficiently.


Bill’s Bio:

Bill is Founder and CEO of DonorSearch; former CEO of WealthEngine, Executive Vice President of Target America, Principal at BFTConnect/ContactReporter, Director of Development for the Fund for Educational Excellence, and major gift officer at the University Of Maryland School of Medicine.


LGL customers who use DonorSearch will have comprehensive research data accessible right from within their LGL account. With DonorSearch tools you’ll be able to research prospective donors from over 25 public and proprietary philanthropic and wealth databases, and will have access to DonorSearch’s sophisticated analytics to predict donors and formulate ask amounts. LGL’s partnership with DonorSearch gives LGL clients access to special pricing. Please contact Ryan Woroniecki (ryan@donorsearch.net) for more information. 

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