Rating Donor Capacity and Inclination

Posted on 03/01/2023

When it comes to raising money, advancement professionals have no shortage of things to do. That’s why it’s so important that they focus on the right prospects—those who truly care about the institution and also have the ability to provide philanthropic support. Unfortunately, the fundamentals of prospect research are often overlooked. When you discover a new prospect (or potential prospect), one of the first things that needs to be done is an assessment of their capacity and their inclination.

If a prospect has capacity, it means that they have the financial ability to make a significant gift. There are several ways to identify capacity. Analyzing their biographic and demographic characteristics is a good start. For example, having a zip code from an affluent area (e.g., 90210), a senior level job title (e.g., CEO, Vice President), or an advanced degree (e.g., JD, MBA, MD) can all point to the possibility of wealth. Past giving can also be an indicator of capacity. For example, if someone has donated $1,000 in the past, it suggests that they may have the means to do it again in the future.

When someone has inclination, it means they have some interest in making a gift. Similar to capacity, there could be many clues within your data (and other data sources) that reveal something about someone’s inclination. For example, there’s a correlation between past giving, event attendance, volunteering, and even recently-updated contact information (e.g., email, phone number, home address) and the likelihood that someone will make a gift in the future. These and other details can be a sign of donor inclination.

Of course, not everyone will have the same level of capacity and inclination, so it helps to have some kind of scoring system that allows you to track and compare prospects. For example, assign alphabetical codes to prospect records on a scale of A through E so that A suggests very high capacity and E suggests very low capacity. Then assign numeric codes on a scale of 1 through 5 so that 1 suggests very high inclination and 5 suggests very low inclination. Someone coded as an A2 is likely a better prospect than someone coded as an A3 and someone coded as a C1 is probably better than a B5. This system will help you and others prioritize prospects.

Understanding donor potential in terms of capacity and inclination will help you develop the best possible plan for communicating with and engaging prospects. It will also help you determine how to allocate your institution’s resources, your time, and the time of others. Researching the capacity and inclination of prospective donors doesn’t need to be complicated, but it is important to do from the start.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

AGN Members receive unlimited access to our resources, discounts, and other benefits. Click here to learn more.

Want to stay up-to-date on best practices in annual giving? Click here to follow AGN's Page on Linkedin!