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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 7.2


Prospect Research

Prospect research is indispensable for any development office. It identifies who to ask and informs cultivation and solicitation strategies, particularly in the area of major gifts.

Good prospect research:

  • Identifies the most promising prospects and assesses their capacity and propensity to give to your cause,
  • Covers both individuals and organisations (trusts, foundation and companies) and
  • Increases the efficiency of the office and increases the chances of fundraising success.

Prospect research can either be subcontracted to a freelancer or conducted ‘in house’.

Where to Find Information

Prospect researchers are the detectives of the fundraising world, searching out clues about people’s wealth and spotting synergies between prospects and the institution.

You can use a variety of resources to obtain this information, including public records, business and financial publications, Internet databases, media, ‘word of mouth’ and extensive Internet searches.

You will spend a considerable amount of time interrogating the existing data ‘owned’ by the institution to look for prospects with indicators of wealth, such as senior jobs, addresses in expensive areas or a private education. You then use this information as the starting point for detailed research.

In fact, when you’re first starting out, internal sources of information should be good to get you started. You can ask academics, alumni, existing donors and other contacts for names of people they know who might be potential supporters. You can develop a simple form – a ‘who do you know’ template – asking for contact details, any biographical information known, what the person’s relationship is to the institution and why it is they should be considered a potential supporter. If you aim to leave every meeting with academics or notable alumni with three new names, you can very quickly build up a decent list of people to start visiting.

When you are ready for more detailed research, you can find many prospect research resources on prospect research websites, such as the one listed below, which are maintained by prospect researcher Finbar Cullen from Researchplus. Keep returning to these lists (primarily focused on the UK) as they are regularly updated, and use them as the basis for developing your own list of resources. Not all resources are free and your may need to set some budget aside for subscriptions, books and fees.

For information about companies, directors and shareholders

For biographical sources

  • Go to libraries for free access to KnowUK and Credo Reference (formerly xreferplus).
  • Debrett’s People of Today ( is a biographical guide to contemporary Britain. It is available as a book, CD and online, with more than 25,000 biographical entries.
  • Debrett’s Peerage & Baronetage ( provides details of the Peerage of the United Kingdom.
  • Who’s Who ( has a book and online versions, with more than 32,000 short biographies. Visit libraries for free access.
  • Who’s Who in the City is a book with details of more than 17,500 key decision makers.
  • Who’s Who in European Mergers & Acquisitions  is a book and CD with more than 8,500 merger and acquisition executives and a comprehensive list of firms arranged alphabetically by country.
  • Who’s Who in Charities is a book with more than 50,000 biographies of the people who have shaped today’s charity world.
  • City of London Directory & Livery Company Guide (City Press Business Publishers/Seatrade Communications Ltd) has details of livery company membership and a small Who’s Who in the City section.
  • Rich lists, such as the annual Sunday Times Rich List,

    For information about charities, trusts and foundations

    • The Directory of Grant Making Trusts ( covers more than 2,500 grant-making trusts.
    • The Grant-making Trusts CD-ROM ( compiles the more than 4,000 trusts listed in The Directory of Grant Making Trusts, the three Guides to the Major Trusts, the four Guides to Local Trusts, A Guide to Scottish Trusts and the Welsh Funding Guide.
    • contains all the same data as the Grant-making Trusts CD-ROM, but it is updated throughout the year. Subscribers receive emails alerts when updates are made.
    • A Guide to the Major Trusts, volumes 1 and 2 (, has more detailed entries on some of the trusts listed in The Directory of Grant Making Trusts and other publications mentioned above.
    • The Welsh Funding Guide (
is about charitable giving in Wales.
    • A Guide to Scottish Trusts (
is about trust giving in Scotland.
    • A Guide to Local Trusts (
covers Greater London, South of England, North of England and the Midlands.
    • Dresdner RCM Top 3000 Charities is a guide to the latest financial results of the top 3,000 charities, available in book and CD formats.
    • Martin Currie Top 1000 Charities in Scotland 
is a guide to the top charities in Scotland, available in book and CD formats.
    • UK Top 10,000 Charities CD-ROM  is a database of the UK’s top 10,000 charities with search capacity for analysis of the charity sector.
    • DSC
    • The Charity Commission,

    For information about companies

    • Hollis Sponsorship & Donations Yearbook details ‘over 1,000 top UK companies which use sponsorship as part of their marketing strategies, or provide donations as part of their corporate citizen policies’.
    • DSC Guide to UK Company Giving (
includes details of more than 500 companies in the UK.
    • The CD-ROM Company Giving Guide (
includes details of more than 500 companies in the UK.
    • Finding Company Sponsors (
    • Welsh Funding Guide ( covers
charitable giving in Wales.
    • Business in the Community ( has 700 member companies, with a further 1,600 participating in programmes and campaigns.
      Other Sources of Help and Advice

      Prospect research is largely an Internet based activity, with there are many online sources of help and advice.

      Useful email discussion groups and forums

      The Prospect Research Toolkit ( has great advice for people new to prospect research from experienced researcher Mathew Iredale.

      RBA Information Services ( ) has information about using electronic resources effectively.

      THINK Resource (

      Doing It Ethically

      As the Data Protection Act relates to prospect research, you need to be familiar with its guidance. Remember that the act entitles any prospect to read what information you have stored about that person, so make sure that what you record is evidence based, justifiable and unlikely to offend.

      You may find this report, published by the Institute of Fundraising, Researchers in Fundraising Group, a useful overview of how the act relates to prospect research (

      Never rely on hearsay for information. Check that the information you have been given can be independently verified or assigned to a source. Do not misrepresent yourself or your institution in order to obtain information.

      How to Record, Present and Use Your Research

      You should record your research with as much detail as possible, stating the date it was obtained and the source(s) where it was found. Most prospect databases will have somewhere you can write your notes. If you are using a paper-based system, you might want to develop a template to help you to organise your findings.

      Prospect research is only useful if it is presented in a meaningful way to fundraisers. Skilled prospect researchers will use the information they have gathered to develop educated assumptions about a prospect’s propensity and capacity to give. They need to share these assumptions, and the evidence to back them up, with fundraisers in the form of written reports or at prospect meetings on a regular basis.

      Research will date quickly, so researchers need to work closely with fundraisers to decide when research should be updated.

       The level of detail a prospect researcher presents depends on how the information will be used. A fundraiser about to solicit a major gift will want as much information as possible about the prospect, but an event organiser might only want a few biographical sentences about each guest to share with ‘hosts’.

      Presenting prospect research in template forms helps the recipients access the relevant pieces of information quickly.

      Action Items
      • Determine who will be responsible for prospect research, which prospects will be the priority to research and how you can gather in-house information about prospects, and develop templates for what other detailed external information should be gathered (depending on the type of prospect).
      • Make sure prospect research is saved in your database or files and updated as appropriate.

      You might also want to look at:

      Cultivation of major gifts
      Cultivation of trusts and foundations
      Cultivation of corporations
      Development operations
      The database
      Contact reports


      CASE provides products and articles about philanthropy trends and prospect research and management (including information on data mining and predictive modeling, as well as methods and resources).

      Salmon discusses propensity modelling.
      T.J. Rawlinson talks about data and indicators on annual giving and the focus her institution has on retention, participation and profiling.