Finding a connection to a prospective donor, be it an individual, foundation, or corporation can be the first great step toward a fruitful cultivation process. All too often as fundraisers we identify a potential donor whose interests clearly align with the work that we do, who are publicly philanthropic, who believe would make a charitable gift to our organization, if only they knew that we existed and had the opportunity to get to know our mission.

Showing these names to your board members and senior leadership is always a great first step, and can sometimes prove to be highly productive, especially in terms of getting them to think about who else they might be able to introduce to the organization. Sometimes, however, that step is not enough. In those cases what you really need is research.

If you’ve read the Donorly blog before, then you’re likely familiar with how we feel about donor research. We’ve advocated using research to make the most of your gala, using research to design your charity auction, and getting creative with free research tools (such as The Wayback Machine). In short: we love it. In the case that you have a prospective donor that you’d like to find a way to engage, what we recommend for you is time and resources spent on connections research.

Connections research creates a series of narratives that connect Subject A (you or your organization) to Subject B (your prospective individual, foundation, or corporate donor) through first and second-degree connections.

For example:

Let’s say April is a member of your board, and she is also on the corporate board for The Now Corporation.

Then let’s say May is also on the corporate board for The Now Corporation with April, as well as a Trustee for The Later Foundation.

If The Later Foundation is a prospect, then your research stops there and you can start strategizing with April about how to engage May.

But, connections research could even take it a step further. Perhaps The Later Foundation’s funding priorities aren’t a match for your organization, but there is another Trustee on The Later Foundation’s board, let’s call her June, whose personal philanthropy indicates that she’d take an interest in your work. Then your conversation with April might be about leveraging her relationship with May to get an introduction to June.

In other words:

April  (The Now Corporation) leads to May (The Now Corporation, The Later Foundation) leads to June (The Later Foundation).

Taking the time, or spending the resources, to put connections research to work can help you open doors to new contacts that may have otherwise been out of reach—a worthwhile, and relatively easy, way to take your donor prospecting to the next level.