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How to Use Public Records for Fundraising

As a business student, I have learned how public records like financial statements and consumer protection information are important to the worlds of accounting, finance, and management. However, these professions are not the only career options for business students, and the other choices uniquely use other types of public records to inform decisions and thrive. I have chosen to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector as a fundraiser, so I will likely use public records not to help me decide whether to invest in a company or release a new product, but instead to decide who my target market will be in campaigns and what fundraising method will produce the largest results. There are two main types of public records that will assist me the most in my fundraising career: population data and nonprofit documentation.

What Types of Public Records Can Be Used for Fundraising?

The first major category of public records that will be useful to my career is population data from censuses. One of the most important fundamental components of fundraising is knowing how to connect with the target market so that they will value your cause over other options for their money; in order to accomplish this, fundraisers must know who they are talking to, where they come from, and what will motivate them to donate. Censuses can provide data on average incomes, family sizes, ages, professions, and many other categories that fundraisers can use. Population data is crucial when finding the answers to important fundraising questions and making informed decisions on what will result in the most successful fundraising campaign.

Population data can also assist nonprofit organizations in deciding who would benefit the most from their services. If a certain area within a city has a lower average income than the national, state, or city average, that area would likely benefit more from poverty elimination efforts. Another example is deciding to advocate for or against one side of a controversial debate in a place where the public opinion differs from the organizations’ mission; advocating for LGBT+ rights is likely more necessary in a state like Kansas rather than a more progressive state, such as California. While LGBT+ rights may be lacking in both places, California is likely to have more advanced and comprehensive protections for those individuals than a traditionally conservative state like Kansas. By using and analyzing data from the public census records, organizations can find the area that they want to focus on in order to be as effective as possible.

Public Records Usage for Nonprofit Organizations

nonprofit public information

The second category of public records that is valuable to fundraising is documentation for nonprofit organizations. These can include 990 tax forms for 501(c)3 classified organizations, incorporation statements, and annual reports, all of which are available to the public. Unlike for-profit companies, nonprofit organizations are required to post these kinds of information to databases and the like for potential donors to see; however, these documents can also be utilized by other nonprofits to inform business decisions. Although this may sound unethical as it usually is in the for-profit sector, there are many ways that nonprofit employees can use this information responsibly. For instance, looking at the financial statements and tax forms can show where people are donating their money and the types of organizations they connect with; this can also lead to understanding what types of campaigns are most efficient and productive when used in comparison with basic research of what that particular organization is doing to raise funds.

Looking at other organizations’ information can also help nonprofits distinguish and differentiate themselves from similar organizations. Usually, even though nonprofits still have an element of competition, they generally don’t want to see other organizations fail. If the missions and visions of two local nonprofit organizations are more or less the same, their combined donations are likely to be lower because their potential donors would have to put more thought and research into which organization would make better use of their money; on the other hand, if one of the two nonprofits focuses on eliminating poverty through food distribution and the other focuses on advocating and spreading awareness of widespread hunger, donors will more likely choose the organization that they connect with more strongly. By using public nonprofit documents, organizations can distinguish themselves from other possibly similar nonprofits in the area.

For many business students, public records like financial statements and consumer protection information are crucial for informing business decisions. For my career in the nonprofit sector, these types of public records may be utilized occasionally, but it is more likely that I will find myself using population data and nonprofit documents while working as a fundraiser.

Author: Emily Hull 

Emily Hull is a second-year business analytics student at the University of Kansas and the winner of the Infotracer Education Grant for the 2019-2020 academic year.