Identifying Prospects

A fundraiser may wish to identify new High Value or Major Donor Prospects for a campaign or appeal or as part of the overall fundraising strategy for core funding.
What constitutes a High Value or Major Donor Prospect will depend on a number of factors; there is no strict definition of these terms as organisations work within diferent parameters. The difference between a High Value Donor Prospect and a Major Donor Prospect is one of scale. A High Value Donor Prospect occupies the ground immediately before Major Donor territory, so if your organisation’s definition of a Major Donor Prospect is someone who is believed to be capable of a gift of £10,000, its High Value Donor Prospects are typically those who can give between £1,000 and £10,000.
The main fishing grounds for new Major and High Value Gift prospects are:
Press searches
Debrett’s, Who’s Who and other biographical sources
Philanthropy databases
Corporate databases
Rich lists
Databases of lawyers and barristers
Industry-specific databases where appropriate (e.g. an industry association)
Competitors’ websites and annual reports
General internet searches
The exercise here, as with database screening, is one of cross-reference to identify a confluence of wealth with affinity to the organisation or cause. This affinity can take many forms, including geographical proximity, biographical/personal reasons to support, personal interests and business interests. Sometimes it is not possible through desk research to establish why someone supports a particular cause, but clearly the fact that they do or have supported a relevant issue in the past is an indication that they are of interest. The root of their motivation may become apparent at a later stage, maybe through information that comes to light during a face-to-face meeting, but equally it may not. Sometimes there is no traceable rationale behind support for the cause in question. Consider the case of Jane Asher, President of the National Autistic Society. No member of her immediate family suffers from autism, but she is quoted in various press articles as deriving motivation to speak out on behalf of those with autism because she felt moved by the plight of those struggling to communicate.

Wealth Information

Evidence of wealth is usually necessary to ascertain that an individual is a Major Gift or High Value prospect and can form part of the intelligence needed to assess gift capacity.
It should always be remembered that we will seldom be in a position to make an accurate “wealth estimate” as the public domain will not provide us with sufficient access to comprehensive wealth information to enable us to do so. It is also important to keep in mind that the reason for seeking wealth information is always to determine gift capacity and that evidence of past gifts is more likely to give an indication of the level at which a prospect might be expected to give than evidence of wealth alone.
However, many philanthropists prefer to give anonymously and some prospects may not have a history of donating, but may still have the potential to give, so it is usually useful to gather some information to guide us as to the approximate level of wealth a prospect may have and therefore to give some indication of the approximate level at which it would be appropriate to ask for a gift.
The main wealth indicators we can see within the public domain are:
Stakes in private companies
Shares in public companies
Receipt of dividends
Exercise of share options
High salaries
Profits per partner or salaries for solicitors
Revenue per barrister (minus chambers contributions)
Property and land ownership
Press articles and rich lists
Evidence of large charitable gifts
Evidence of expensive hobbies
Bear in mind that some types of wealth are more interesting than others when we are looking to use wealth as an indicator of gift capacity. Liquid wealth such as that derived from salary, bonuses, dividends, or held in shares in public companies is of more significance when assessing gift capacity than that held in land or other assets such as art collections or stakes in private family companies because it can more easily be accessed to make donations.
Wealth held in the form of large estates or private companies is of interest, but often prospects with this type of wealth are more likely to be able to help by using their assets, influence and connections rather than by making an especially large personal donation. The value of such influence should not, however, be underestimated. Large-scale landowners tend to be highly-connected and may also be in a position to provide an impressive venue for an event. Imagine, for example, the impact of a personal invitation from the local lord of the manor to attend an event at his beautiful estate, in comparison to that of an invitation from a non-profit’s Chief Executive to attend an event at a hired venue, no matter how smart.

Corporate Wealth Information

The most reliable source of information about corporate salaries, shares, dividends and share options is company annual reports. These can generally be downloaded from the company’s website in the case of quoted companies and a handful of larger private companies. For most private companies, however, these will need to be retrieved for a small fee from Companies House.
There are many corporate databases now available, the most comprehensive and searchable of which have high subscription charges. A corporate database such as ICC Information’s Plum or Bureau Van Dijk’s Directors and Shareholders database (DASH) is extremely useful for conducting complex searches, layering different criteria on top of one another to hone one’s list of suspects quite tightly. However, not only are these types of database expensive, but also may contain occasional inaccuracies. Information should, where possible, be confirmed against the source documents such as annual accounts and returns available via Companies House.

Legal Wealth Information

Information about the profits per partner of solicitors and barristers is now made available online by The Lawyer (which provides UK and global league tables) and Legal Business (UK league tables only). In addition relatively accurate estimated salaries of pre-partnership City solicitors up to 3 years post-qualification can be found at the Roll on Friday site.
Figures published by The Lawyer and Legal Business are presented in the form of ranges and averages rather than exact amounts for individuals and therefore require interpretation – we have to use discretion to establish whether a particular solicitor is likely to be an equity partner and then to decide where they are most likely to fit into the spread of equity; or, if they are likely to be a salaried partner, where they are likely to sit in the overall earnings rankings for their particular firm.
Information which has a bearing on the likely level of earnings for solicitors will include: the field of law in which they specialise – obviously those fields which generate greater income for the law firm tend also to generate higher earnings for the lawyer in question; the length of time they have been qualified; and how well respected they are in their field. In order to gather the background information which allows for these assessments, you can look at a number of sites such us Chambers and Partners, more general biographies such as Who’s Who, Debrett’s People of Today, etc., news reports, and of course look at any profiles provided on the law firm website.
Once you have decided approximate earnings, you need to deduct 35% which is usually retained to cover costs such as healthcare, pensions and to even out income over a period of years.
Again with barristers, you need to apply judgement about how their particular earnings are likely to relate to an average revenue per barrister figure based on information about their career and then make a deduction for chambers’ contributions according to the percentage figure given for this at website.

Property and Land

We can sometimes find information about a prospect’s property value from land registry figures via or a free resource such as It is usually unclear whether the prospect owns the house outright or whether they have a mortgage. It is also common to find the prices at which their neighbours’ houses have sold rather than finding the price for which they bought or sold their own property and therefore an estimate of the value of their house has to be made.
Sometimes we can see from a Debrett’s entry or a news source how much land a prospect owns. The Who Owns Scotland website is another valuable resource for such information. It is surprising how many apparently London-based prospects own land in Scotland, so such searches generate more results than might be anticipated and can also provide further information which may be relevant to a prospect’s interests and/or connections. Agricultural land values per acre as estimated by Strutt and Parker are published in the Terms of Engagement section of The Sunday Times Rich List. This can be used to establish the approximate value of a prospect’s land.
A very informative read on land wealth and its significance is Kevin Cahill’s Who Owns Britain.

Published Rich Lists and the Press

There is now a vast number of rich lists, power lists and pay lists to search. Simple keyword searches can reveal some interesting prospects with high levels of wealth, but of course the main Sunday Times Rich List will deliver prospects who are likely to be deluged with approaches from deserving causes, so it is only worth considering those prospects from this source which have a particularly compelling reason to support your organisation. Some of the rich lists which are specific to a geographic area or industry or professional field consist of many names also on the main Sunday Times Rich List, especially towards the top of the rankings, but further down the wealth scale, you will find some less trawled waters. Keyword searches within the press can also be a good way of identifying relevant wealthy people – although one should proceed with caution in cases where the only evidence of personal wealth is a single press article or where a number of press articles which might be seen to confirm a story appear, on closer inspection, to have all been derived from copying information from one another. Lexis Nexis and Factiva are two of the news search sources which have the most flexible search functions and also the most content. However these come at a price and many organisations simply cannot afford them. There are other options, free to access through many libraries.

Evidence of Large Charitable Gifts

Clearly people who have made large gifts to not-for-profit organisations in the past have, or at least have had, the capacity to do so. This type of information is extremely useful as it demonstrates both capacity and propensity to give. Such gifts can be searched for using keyword searches in the press, via internet search engines, by identifying settlors of grant-making trusts and also by looking at the websites and annual reports of other charitable organisations. Strong Internet search skills serve the researcher well here.

Expensive Hobbies

Whilst these have the disadvantage of being impossible to quantify, they do indicate that a prospect has some liquid wealth and can add extra evidence when we suspect but cannot confirm that someone may be wealthy.

Biographical Information

Biographical information spanning family history, current family status, career history, positions within companies, geographical connections, hobbies and interests, club memberships, positions within philanthropic organisations and further, can all be extremely valuable in helping to determine which aspect of the organisation might be of most interest to a prospect, to which events they should be invited, what approach might be the most appropriate, who might be the best person to approach them and who might be the best person to cultivate and ultimately solicit a gift.
A combination of searching the press, biographical directories, philanthropy databases and general online searches to uncover an individual’s personal websites, or profiles on company, charity, or professional bodies’ websites, can be extremely revealing.