Hints & tips for using prospect research to increase donor diversity – UK Fundraising

Melanie May | 19 August 2021 | News
For many charities, donors still tend to be older, white and middle class, but there are issues with this – not least that this doesn’t accurately reflect the UK population. Research can help to improve prospect pool diversity, and help with inclusivity. Before starting, here are some areas to consider.
Diversity comes in many forms – gender, age, ethnicity, religion, geographic, disability, socio-demographic, and more, so the first step is to decide what areas you want to focus on, and ensure you have a good understanding of them.
Ben Rymer, Senior Manager, Prospect & Portfolio Management for the Aga Khan University and Chair of the CIoF’s Researchers in Fundraising special interest group, which is producing a handbook on best practice says:
“Considering these carefully and thoughtfully is essential to successfully raising funds from diverse audiences. In my experience, the best way to learn about these is to really immerse oneself in the area, as far as possible. Read widely, speak with lots of relevant people, challenge your own existing beliefs.”

In fact, it’s not always easy to tell because some of the relevant data points, such as ethnicity and sexuality, are classified as special category personal data by the UK/EU data regulators, and subject to additional protection.
Certainly though major donor fundraising for one has long been focused on the certain sub groups of established money or people who have made money in certain fields of business, meaning major donor bases often aren’t very diverse. 
A lot of data selections also tend to be based on existing donor profiles, as Scott Logie, Customer Engagement Director at REaD Group explains:
“One of the challenges is how charities request prospect data. Manual selections tend to be very broad brush and are based on the profile of the existing customers/supporters. Models will not take into account diversity – they rely on there being a good split in terms of diversity in the dataset being modelled and for most charities that is not currently the case.”

Even if a charity isn’t looking for a specific demographic, diversity in general is necessary if prospects are to reflect the profile of the UK population. It’s also important for ensuring long term financial stability – if you’re always targeting the same group of people, eventually your prospect pool will run dry.
Suzanne Lewis, MD of Arc Data says:

“If you only ever chase that same group of people, you’ll eventually reach the point of diminishing returns unless you keep significantly changing your pack, your proposition and your story.

“What happens too when a file you rely on comes off the market, or one of those files changes how they divide the data, or you can’t use a particular channel? These issues occur and if you don’t diversify and have a broader prospect pool, you’ll run into problems.”

In general, prospecting is done in groups where there has been previous success, so if your base is white, middle class and older then your recruitment will be too. Research can help to widen this out by helping to identify more diverse audiences, but it helps in other critical ways too, says Logie:
“It can help you understand which other groups are likely to engage with your charity, and find ways in which you can appeal to those groups not likely to engage.”

Regular online or face-to-face panels can be useful for gaining valuable insights into how audiences feel about a charity and its communications, which can then be used to direct future activity, while testing into different areas and audiences can also provide a low-risk route to expanding reach.
Lewis comments:
“With testing, everything else about that data selection remains the same, so because you only change one variable, you control the risk.”

As for where to look, for major donor prospecting Kerry Rock, CEO of Prospecting for Gold, gives some tips:

“As a starting point, it can be worthwhile looking at some of the key ‘influential’ lists such as female leaders/BAME/LGBTQ+ that are published by various newspapers and magazines.  You will need to go beyond these, but they may help kick start your research.

“Another way of looking at it is to start to seek out potential major donors that more broadly reflect the UK population or more particularly the work/audience/ambitions of the charity.

“Looking at family businesses might also be a good place to start searching for new prospects that are wide ranging.  Often this brings in multi-generations, female and male members of the family as well as ethnic diversity.

“We often do research too focusing on ex-pat or diaspora communities to help widen the prospect pool and include the up and coming people within the UK community.”

For some low cost ideas, Rymer also highlights the value of using a mix of off and online activities for prospecting and relationship building, with an hour in the local public or academic library likely to throw up some leads, particularly if you make use of their free subscriptions to normally paid-for resources.
And, he says:
“Consider too working with affinity groups based within a corporation who are often looking for good causes for project work or even to make grants or give donations, network with diaspora groups and/or organisations such as faith groups and those working with LGBTIQ constituencies in your base country and/or overseas, and do some research into the networks of your current and former staff who may have connections you can utilise.”

Overall, whenever researching prospects, including diversity criteria helps to improve inclusivity but also helps to ensure that all opportunities open to a charity are explored. 
Whatever approach a charity takes with its prospect research and choosing of data however, one key thing to keep in mind is data protection, particularly in terms of special category personal data, where extra care must be taken as Rock explains:
“When doing prospect research, you always have to keep data protection principles in mind. There are some areas of research where you need to be mindful of the restrictions on processing special category personal data such as race/ethnicity, and sexuality when including these criteria or when preparing reports on individuals. Where the information is ‘self-declared’ there are circumstances where it no longer has to be treated as special category data. So choosing your data sources carefully is important.”
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About Melanie May
Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via www.thepurplepim.com.
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