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Prospect research:

Why nonprofits should use open source intelligence for prospect research

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As a prospect research or fundraising professional, it might feel like you’ve already got information overload from search engines. Here’s how open source intelligence – and the right tools – can help.

When you enter a prospect’s name into Google, the search engine might return thousands of pages of results. That’s far too many results for you to read through. But even if you did find the time, these pages still wouldn’t contain everything there is to know about your prospect. 

It’s estimated that search engines display results from around just 4% of the internet. This part of the internet is called the surface web. The rest? That’s the deep web. 

Although the deep web is difficult to navigate using search engines, much of it is publicly accessible with the right tools. And that’s where open source intelligence (OSINT) comes in.

In short, OSINT is publicly available information gathered and analysed to gain insights and understanding about a particular subject. The European Commission offers a useful definition of OSINT: 

“Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is the practice of collecting and analysing information gathered from open sources to produce actionable intelligence.”

What is open source intelligence, really?

Open sources that contribute to OSINT fall into six categories.

  • Public media: This includes print newspapers, magazines, and television sources that provide publicly accessible information.
  • Internet: Online publications, blogs, discussion forums, and social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram are valuable sources of open information.
  • Public government data: Government reports, budgets, press conferences, hearings, and speeches offer insights into public affairs and policymaking.
  • Professional and academic publications: Journals, conferences, academic papers, and theses provide specialised knowledge and research findings.
  • Commercial data: Commercial imagery, business and financial assessments, as well as databases, offer insights into the corporate world and industry trends.
  • Grey literature: Technical reports, patents, business documents, unpublished works, and newsletters provide additional valuable information outside traditional publishing channels.

In the past, OSINT was primarily used by government departments and agencies, who had the tools and resources to do so. Today, anyone can do it.

They might not be using all types of OSINT, but a growing number of nonprofit organisations are now using it to uncover hard-to-find information about prospects’ personal backgrounds, philanthropic histories, wealth markers, and charitable motivations.

And even if nonprofits can access all that information, there’s still a problem. OSINT holds immense value, but it can easily lead to information overload. 

We’ll explore how to tackle this later, but first, we’ll run through some of the benefits of using OSINT for prospect research.

Uncover deeper insight

OSINT gives nonprofits a comprehensive view of potential prospects. By accessing a wide range of data sources such as social media, public records, news articles, and online forums, nonprofits can gather hard-to-find information about prospect’s backgrounds, interests, affiliations, wealth, and philanthropic activities. This understanding allows nonprofits to tailor their approach and develop personalised engagement strategies.

Target the right prospects

OSINT helps nonprofits identify which prospects align with their mission, values, and goals. By uncovering information about an individual’s interests, hobbies, and previous charitable contributions, nonprofits can pinpoint shared passions and causes. This creates a solid foundation for building authentic relationships and trust and increasing the likelihood of a donation.

Better engagement 

Armed with insights from OSINT, nonprofits can develop more targeted and effective engagement strategies. Understanding a prospect’s communication preferences and online presence helps nonprofits tailor their messaging and outreach efforts. This personalised approach increases the chances of capturing the prospect’s attention and cultivating a long-term relationship.

OSINT research can also lead to major cost savings when used to build stronger relationships with existing donors. Boosting donor retention by just a few percentage points can increase revenue from donations by 30 to 50%. In fact, it costs up to five times more to acquire new donors than to keep them onboard. 

Efficient resource allocation

OSINT helps nonprofits allocate their resources more efficiently during prospect research. By taking such a savvy approach, they can uncover deeper insight about prospects to inform whether – or how – to approach them. This streamlines the research process, saves time and effort, and allows nonprofits to focus on high-potential prospects. 

Avoid risks 

OSINT can help nonprofits find any red flags, controversies, or conflicting interests more quickly than if they relied on search engines alone. As a result, nonprofits can make informed decisions about whether to pursue a particular prospect, as well as develop responses to any issues that might arise from accepting a donation from them.

Example: OSINT research in practice

Let’s say a nonprofit focused on environmental conservation conducts OSINT research. Results from Companies House show that a potential donor has been involved in sustainable energy initiatives, although she has never spoken publicly about this and the information does not appear on search engines.

Armed with this information, the nonprofit is able to tailor their approach, emphasising the alignment between the donor’s interests and their conservation efforts. This targeted engagement results in a significant donation towards their renewable energy projects. 

How nonprofits can use OSINT… and avoid information overload

As a prospect research or fundraising professional, it might feel like you’ve already got information overload from using search engines. It’s normal for prospect researchers to check the first 20 pages of results after searching for a prospect, and hope that there’s nothing important in the following 2,000 pages, which few nonprofits have the time to look through. However, you can never be certain that you know everything you need to know.

Bringing OSINT research into the mix will lead to too much information for any researcher or team of researchers to ever process manually. 

However, AI tools such as Xapien can help you uncover valuable, relevant information from OSINT.

How AI unlocks OSINT for nonprofits

The more you know about a prospect, the better. But in today’s fast-paced world, time is of the essence when securing funding for nonprofit causes. 

If your prospect research process is slow, it can result in missed opportunities to engage with potential donors. Worse still, they might choose to support a different nonprofit.

Meanwhile, discovering important information about a prospect only after you have already invested significant time and resources in soliciting them can be frustrating… and demotivating. And it can reduce the level of trust potential donors have in your nonprofit.

Why do it manually, when you’ve got Xapien? 

Powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI), Xapien searches the entire indexed internet, from websites to databases, media outlets to company records, and more. If it’s available online, Xapien will find it. 

But that’s not all. Xapien presents everything it’s found in a comprehensive report on individuals and companies in minutes. These reports highlight risks, wealth estimates, assets, and associates. They also accelerate fundraising efforts and provide essential transparency on donors’ backgrounds and sources of funds.

Xapien’s capabilities extend beyond language barriers. It compiles and translates information in over 130 languages

Xapien’s OSINT research in action

Let’s examine a scenario where a prospect approaches two different nonprofits with a significant donation offer. 

The first nonprofit relies on manual research methods and dedicates an hour to researching the prospect using a search engine. Through this process, they uncover the prospect’s business affiliations with fossil fuels. Based on this information, they decided to reject the donation, concerned about the alignment with their organisation’s values.

The second nonprofit uses Xapien to check the prospect. In minutes, they can see that the prospect has severed her previous ties to fossil fuels and has recently formed a new company that is a champion of effective carbon offsetting. This information was publicly available, but very difficult to find without Xapien’s OSINT processing capabilities.

As a result, the second nonprofit confidently accepts the donation and directs it towards meaningful causes.

Conclusion

Traditional search engines only scratch the surface of the internet. 

OSINT research allows nonprofits to tap into the extensive collection and analysis of publicly available data sources, including social media, public records, news articles, and online forums. This comprehensive approach equips nonprofits with a deeper understanding of prospects, enabling them to approach the right prospect in the right way.

But this is impossible to do without the right tools, which is where Xapien excels. It’ll help you cut through the noise and find the OSINT insights that’ll boost your nonprofit’s fundraising. Speak with the team today.  

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