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  • Writer's pictureRachel Niemczyk

How to Find Potential Donors Using Reference USA

Image by angiechaoticcrooks0 from Pixabay

Have you heard of Reference USA before? I hadn’t until this past Monday (5/13/19) and it’s a game changer for nonprofits. (It’s also helpful for researchers or businesses that need donors; as a grant writer my mindset just tends to go nonprofit.)

If like me you hadn’t heard of it before, Ref USA is a research and reference tool available for public use. It gives you access to several databases full of consumer and business information - the kind of information that makes you feel horrified as a private citizen, but that you value as a nonprofit.

See, the information available on Ref USA can be used to find potential donors for your organization, program, project etc. This is incredibly valuable to nonprofits who need additional sources of income for program sustainability and grant viability. Below I detail the steps to find potential donors on Ref USA.


The first step is to gain access to Reference USA. As a NJ resident I have free access to it (my tax dollars at work!), but I don’t know if that holds true throughout the other 50 states. (According to their website you can access it through your local public library as long as it has a subscription.) Once you’re in, the homepage will look like this:

Your next step is to access the U.S. Consumers / Lifestyles Database.

Once you’re in Consumers / Lifestyles you’ll be directed to the search engine. Go straight to Advanced Search.

Here’s where things get interesting (or horrifying). This database allows you to sort information based on categories like geography, housing, lifestyle, and more. This info is gained from credit card companies who sell it databases like this one. You’re going to use these categories to find your ideal donor.

The categories you do want to focus on? Housing Selections and Lifestyles. Under Housing Selections you’re going to select Estimated Home Income, and under Lifestyles you’re going to select the sole option: Lifestyles.

Once you click on those categories the details appear in the center of your screen.

As you can see below, by selecting Estimated Home Income you can now narrow your search results to a specific income range. This gives you an idea of an individual's potential spending funds (the larger the income, the higher the chances of their disposable income).

By selecting Lifestyles you can narrow your search results to what the individuals in this database like to spend on. You can find individuals who like to give by selecting the Charitable Donor Lifestyle Category. Charitable Donors has 2 subcategories: Charitable Donor and Wildlife & Environmental Donor.

After choosing the Charitable Donor subcategory, play around with the other categories available to you on the left hand menu. I focused on Housing Selections and Lifestyles, but you may want to use Geography to find individuals living in a city, county, state, metro area, etc. near your organization. You may even want to focus on individuals of certain age, marital status, ethnicity, and more depending on your nonprofit's focus.

After choosing all the relevant categories and subcategories, click view results.

Congratulations! You now have a potential mailing list of known donors, with a certain income, within a specific geographic region, to send brochures to!

(I’m not going to show an image of the results page here because it lists people’s names, addresses, and telephone numbers. Even though it’s legal to access this information, it’s still not something to share with everyone from an ethical standpoint. Just imagine a spreadsheet with those category fields and you’ll know what the results page looks like. Or better yet, follow the steps above to see them yourself!)


This database is a great opportunity to find potential donors who are inclined to give to organizations with your particular mission. If you have a longstanding physical presence or are a new nonprofit and have ways for potential donors to learn more about your organization (social media, articles verifiable news sources), you may be on your way to establishing new donors that can support your nonprofit for years to come!

Have you used Reference USA to find potential donors before? Share any tips in the comments below so we can all learn from each other!

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Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next week with another article!

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