Five Ways to Use GIS to Strengthen Your Nonprofit Fundraising

Devon Reeser


If you are a typical nonprofit fundraiser that prefers to leave data crunching and technology to finance colleagues and program scientists, you might be surprised that integrating GIS into your development work is not only simple, but can also improve your results. Finding the best donor prospects and then communicating your message to them are the two critical dimensions to nonprofit development work – and they are two dimensions that GIS data and maps can enhance. Here are five ways to use GIS maps and data to strengthen your fundraising.

Prospect Research

Your boss hired you because you know where the money is. Even if you do know where some is, you don’t know where it all is. Plus, the better you can hone your targeted cultivation efforts to the most likely suspects, the higher your success rate will be. GIS can be a fantastic resource toward this end.

  • Where is the money? Philanthropists think alike – especially those that give to similar causes – and they live in pockets. Take your top donors and map them. If you do not have donors yet, take the top donors of your nonprofit competition and map them (look at annual reports, etc.). Nonprofit Technology Network (2011) walks through a two-step free identification process where you use Excel Geocoder to convert addresses to geographic coordinates and then use Google’s free Spreadsheet Mapper to turn those coordinates into an easily readable map.[1]
  • Now use a tool like Lexus Nexus to generate prospect lists from the addresses on the particular streets and neighborhoods where your best donors live. The resulting list will be much shorter and much better as well.

The Competition and Potential Partners

You can use GIS to figure out what organizations are offering similar or complementary services in your work area – not just to understand the competition for a market analysis or to poach donors, but also to develop partnerships. The heart of GIS, spatial relationship analysis, or looking at overlapping geographical zones for different entities, can turn a static list into a light bulb.

  • First define your work area geographically, using addresses and then converting them to GIS coordinates with your Excel Geocoder or other similar tool.
  • Figure out what other nonprofits, schools, and government resources for your same population target are in your area. Use a data lookup resource like Melissa Data, which will generate a list of nonprofits for free.[2] It will produce addresses for a fee, or you can look up the addresses yourself and make a spreadsheet to turn into geographic codes. If you are particularly looking for schools and local city resources, you can probably find datasets on local public government websites.
  • Then map the data together with your nonprofit’s geographical range to see where organizations overlap with your work.

Showing Need

The most important aspect of a proposal is the quantifiable link between your services and community need (see Winning Grants, the Bible of proposal writing).[3] You can use GIS data to elaborate community needs in your proposals and pitches. To make it even easier, here are some examples of how you can use maps others have already created.

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  • If your programming helps air pollution, show how it is particularly high in your area with com’s pollution mapping.
  • If you deal with job skills training, community development, or anything related, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has tremendous amounts of data and maps available for unemployment, earnings, and jobs for everywhere in the United States.

Showing Outputs

Then, use comparative maps to show how your organization is impacting those community needs. For examples:

  • A Google Earth map might be fantastic for showing how you have managed to reforest an area plagued by air pollution, and you just need to plug in your address on Google Maps to download it!
  • If you are working against high crime in your area with at-risk youth programs, you can show how the 10 block radius around a school for which you offer an after school program has less crime incidents with a tool like Crime Reports, which maps crime reports by ZIP codes.

Evaluation and Reporting

There are hundreds of ways to use maps and GIS in your evaluation process. It will show that you are conscientiously tracking your program success and will help organize complex data from survey results, program participation numbers, etc. For examples:

  • Ask museum visitors for their addresses, and map from where your clientele is coming. You can better design and market programs if you know the geographic areas you are serving.
  • Track where you are selling your farmer’s market produce from your community garden by asking for client ZIP codes. Then map where food-related health problems are highest in your area (CDC data) and use spatial overlap to show how you are helping address a critical community need.

GIS can be a powerful fundraising tool, saving time and increasing effectiveness. Whether you use maps and data already available or easily collected, GIS can help you clarify your goals and your impact in a few simple steps.


[1] Spiker, Steve. 1 Mar. 2011. The Fantastic Five GIS Tools for Nonprofits. Nonprofit Technology Network.

[2] Melissa Data. Nonprofit Organization Lookup.

[3] O’Neal-McElrath, Tori. 2013. Winning Grants Step by Step: The Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing, and Writing Successful Proposals. Jossey-Bass: 4th Edition.

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Devon Reeser