3 Good Reasons for a Research Request Process

Whether you work in a large office or are a solo researcher, a process for managing research requests quickly becomes important if you expect to use your time efficiently.

I’m talking about a process, not a form, for managing requests, because many offices have quite happily and successfully abandoned the notion of a form to ensure human interaction for better communication.

Besides, discussing the process allows you to piece together a system that works best for you, your team, and your organization. Discussing the process does not give you the exact steps you should take in your office, but that’s research, right?

There is rarely a predetermined path to answer a question, but there’s a method. Research is not a model airplane kit; it’s a bucket full of building blocks with some suggested projects.

I recommend creating a list of the types of research requests you receive. It might look something like this:

  • Qualification and Solicitation Profiles
  • New prospect identification
  • Suggested prospect assignments and prospect management reporting

Click to see larger

Now build a flow chart for each request type. It could be a more graphical visual or like the list pictured, but it disciplines you to think through the process. Get as detailed as is helpful. By documenting the process you can identify where you might alter it to solve a problem.

Why not create a flow chart that starts with the fundraising goal the task supports? This will help everyone on the team recognize that you are not in charge of managing the printer, but of managing critical information that will help reach the goal.

Following are three really good reasons to create a process for managing your research requests:

1. Consistent communication produces consistent behaviors.

Let’s face it. Many frontline fundraisers have never worked with a professional researcher before. Myths abound. If you want consistent behaviors from fundraisers, like providing you with complete information on a prospect, you need to consistently communicate.

Following are some ideas:

  • Create standard profile types that include items the fundraiser has identified as most important for common scenarios. Then create the request form with those standard options, but also a place for the fundraiser’s specific needs and anything that helps you better prioritize your time on the request, such as “Yes or No. I anticipate asking this prospect for a major gift this year”. It doesn’t matter if the fundraiser ever knows the form exists. It helps you remember what to ask.
  • Create the expectation that you will call before doing the work to ask additional questions. Be sure you call and ask additional questions, which could be on your request form. Before long the fundraiser might begin providing the answers before you ask!
  • Make a habit of under-promising and over-delivering. If you want the fundraiser to trust that you will get the work done on time, set your standard turnaround time so that you can deliver at least a day early. Call immediately if you expect to be delayed.

2. Measuring outcomes requires good tracking.

Your process needs to include more than receiving a request and delivering the work. What are your key performance goals? How are you providing value to the fundraising effort?

Following are some scenarios:

  • Does your CEO insist on in-depth profiles for every name that crosses her desk? Go ahead and do them, but mark the record with an action of “Profile completed” so you can pull a report that tells you total giving for each person you researched. Now at the end of the year you can present your CEO with how much money it cost (your time, subscription resources, etc.) and how much was raised as a result. Effective? Or time for a change?
  • You may be tasked with identifying and qualifying prospects for a campaign. Tag the records that were identified and your capacity rating so you can pull reports throughout the campaign to see how many of those prospects turned into donors. Make sure leadership knows without you those dollars would not have been received!
  • You know you are identifying high-capacity prospects with affinity, but the fundraisers won’t visit them. Sit down with the most ambitious, successful fundraiser. Review the capacity ratings of her prospects. Demonstrate how she could raise so much more with the new high-capacity prospects you identified. Then track her progress so she can share her secret to success (you, of course!) with the rest of the team.

3. Documentation gives you the ability to work faster and smarter.

It takes time to document your work and to track information as described above. Researchers do it (and often love it) because documentation allows us and our organizations to achieve more.

I may spend a week keeping a detailed time log to discover just how long it really does take me to perform a specific research task and how much time I spend on administrative trivia. And now when I get a flood of requests, based on my documentation I know how much I need to outsource.

Following are some typical types of documentation:

  • Cheat Sheets on how to do advanced functions in research subscriptions – because you might not use those functions every day, but they are powerful when you need them.
  • Reasoning and steps behind your most-used database reports – because when your reports require changes, you don’t want to have to start from scratch.
  • Reasoning and steps behind the way you record your researched information in the database – because you need to be consistent if you expect to do any automatic reporting.

Communicating consistently, thinking about the outcomes first and documenting tasks underpin a smooth and successful research request process.

Do you have a specific question or some great advice for researchers looking to implement or improve their request process? Please share!

Other Resources You Might Like

Three Reasons Why Research Request Forms Are a Terrible Idea

List of Prospect Research Blogs

Assert Yourself, post by Preeti Gill

Top Secret! How to Bulk up your Prospect Pool

HappyKeySMIn this article I’m going to share the secrets of finding great prospects. Maybe you’re one of those fundraisers who is always reading the Business Journal scouting for a lead, but they don’t pan out. Do you wonder how those other organizations pull in the big gifts? Or maybe you’re new and all the best prospects are assigned to senior fundraisers. You can get great prospects too!

If you read a lot of blogs (like I do) now is where you get skeptical. Is she just going to give me theory I already know (and hasn’t yet helped me find good prospects) or will I get at least a couple of nuggets I can actually use? I’m aiming for the latter. The “trick” is that you still have to work hard!

Fundraising research theory tells us that you need to know who you are looking for so you can spot them. We use jargon like linkage, ability and affinity. And there are tools that give you a competitive edge with that. But you can do it even without bright, shiny tools.

The First Thing…

The first thing any good fundraiser (and prospect researcher) needs to do is learn what it looks like to be wealthy. Watching soap operas may seem like a good education here, but much better is reading through some of the wealth reports like the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2014. You’ll find links for other reports in the sidebar on your right.

And the second first-thing-any-good-fundraiser-needs -to-do is get in front of people, especially donors. You should read and get in front of donors at the same time. Start with known donors because they are the most likely to give (again) and it’s always better to get a gift, right?

Call, visit, and read.

When you are reading about the wealthy at the same time as you visit prospects you’ll start making the connections. When the prospect talks about how he and his wife are taking classes in gemology and he has a watch collection, you’ll remember what you read about this being an investment hobby for the very wealthy. And when a different prospect brags about taking regular trips to Europe on mileage points you’ll recognize that what you thought were luxury vacations probably aren’t.

You can do that without any tools except your eyes and ears. Well, I guess you need to use your mouth to place the phone call…and, okay, guide the conversation. But you get it, right? Recognizing the wealthy – the truly wealthy – takes an education.

Get Your Toolbox Dirty

Getting an education on spotting the wealthy still isn’t likely to fill your prospect pool with GREAT donors – those with linkage, ability and affinity. If you have tools that assign ratings to the prospects in your database, use them! Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out perfectly the first few times.

For example, you might pull a report of people who rate high for ability and likelihood to make a gift, but find most won’t take your phone call. You may need to add additional criteria depending on your organization. Maybe it’s “donor within the past two years” or “attended an event in the past two years” or some other criteria that makes it more likely they will let you visit with them.

Keep track of your efforts so you can repeat what works best. And, yes, this does mean you will have to make a lot of phone calls that end in “no thank you I don’t want a visit”.

It’s the same even if you don’t have tools that provide ratings. Without tools you have to get more of an education. You might use a free tool like the Washington Post’s interactive map** of the nation’s super zips to identify wealthy zip codes to search for in your donor database and combine that with “donor within the past two years” or other criteria that suggest a “warmness” toward your organization.

The Secret Weapon

If you are really lucky, you have a trained prospect researcher on staff. Use all your fundraising powers of relationship building to get this prospect research wizard on your side!

HOT TIP: your researcher is likely to get the most excited about searching out top prospects if you reward her with feedback from your calls and face-to-face visits.

With a prospect researcher on your team you are more likely to out-produce even seasoned professionals in the race for fundraised dollars. Really, really!

…and if you can’t support a trained prospect researcher full-time, you can always outsource. Just sayin’!

**Julie, Prospect Research Analyst in Pennsylvania and Groundbreaking Student at the Prospect Research Institute, shared this fantastic resource with the class!

Did you get a nugget or two?

I hope you found a useful tip you can apply in your office. Maybe you have great suggestions you’d like to share with others. Please comment and share!

Jenz Favorite Wealth Reports

Common Prospect Research Myths


For best results, rub vigorously!

I sent a request out to prospect researchers on the APRA PRSPCT-L list-serv asking them to share common prospect research myths. Following is a summary of my favorite responses!

Myth: Everyone over age 60 is a planned gift prospect.

Fact: While age is a factor, affinity is also an important predictor of planned giving and statistical data modeling is even better at predicting who is a likely planned giver.

Myth: Lots of real estate holdings makes someone a major/planned gift prospect.

Fact: We have a lot of real estate investors, large and small, in the Pacific NW.  People buy a few apartment or commercial buildings as a retirement investment and they accrue in value, so development officers think the prospects can give big.  I have to educate them that, unless they are giving us the building, capacity is based on income from the building and that I calculate capacity differently for personal real estate and income-generating real estate.

Myth: We need to know the prospect’s net worth.

Fact: Net worth is all of someone’s assets minus all of their liabilities. We can’t know all of either, because that includes a lot of private information.

Myth: Prospect researchers can find anything about anyone, including: how much is in their bank accounts; personal tax records; credit history; social security numbers; or wills.

Fact: Much information is private, like the examples above, and is not available to us legally or ethically.

Myth: Google. You can find everything on Google. Researching is really just Googling a prospect. “I don’t need you—I use Google.” “If you just look harder, you can find out everything about him.”

Fact: Internet search engines can only find about 20% of what is available on the internet. Just ask Mike Bergman who coined the phrase.

Myth: You can just get a report from the “database” with everything, right?

Fact: While software companies that pull information together for us have gotten very sophisticated, there is no “one” database.

Myth: A prospect can be fully researched in less than half an hour, especially with one of those fancy research services we subscribe to—just push a button and a complete profile comes out, right?. Or better yet, do a “quick 10 minute profile” on a prospect. (Sorry, but is this ever possible — ten minutes?)

Fact: Searched, verified, and synthesized information barely starts with an hour. Anything less risks being haphazard, which might help in a pinch, but is far from ideal.

Myth: Very little data about a prospect is needed in order for the researcher to produce a comprehensive profile (such as: name spelled correctly, address, occupation, how someone is related to our organization).

Fact: Names are far more common than most people suspect and a good match requires as much starting information as possible.

Myth: When asked for “a little more information about so-and-so,” true prospect researchers intuitively know exactly how much more information is enough.

Fact: Good communication is a two-way street between the requestor and the researcher. Some process or structure usually helps too.

…And the last MYTH? Well, it isn’t one really. It’s a FACT: In ancient times, before the discoveries of electricity, personal computers, and the internet, prospect researchers lived in lamps and responded to vigorous rubbing.

Other Post You Might Like:

Can you really trust prospect research? 10 things you should know

Do Your Own Research? You Bet!

To Certify or Not To Certify – That is the Question

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery now again the question surfaces, like a blur in the photograph that may or may not be the Loch Ness Monster – should the prospect research field have its own certification? Many professions have certifications to demonstrate proficiency and professionalism in the field. Why not us?

Who is Doing It?

It is often helpful to look at other similar or related fields to discover how they have solved the same problem. For this article I considered the following certifications:

There are many certificate programs offered at nonprofit centers and universities around the country in these professions, but there is something special about having the premier association for your industry offer certification. It implies that a broad swathe of practitioners labored in love to create a comprehensive evaluation of what makes someone in the field good, if not great.

And many times it has the added benefit of being supported by lower costs and financial support in the form of scholarships.

What Do They Have That We Don’t?

Fundraising and library sciences are well-established fields so it’s not so surprising that they would have certifications. And since most in the library sciences receive a Master’s degree in library sciences, it’s not surprising that their certifications represent specialized areas of the field.

But if a relatively new profession like competitive intelligence has a certification, what might be holding prospect research back?

Maybe they have something that we don’t – a name for their professions … Fund Raising .. Competitive Intelligence .. Library Science

A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet

Prospect research is widely recognized within the field of fundraising. Do we need a better, more appropriate, more all-encompassing name?

As many of you know, I am launching a new company, Prospect Research Institute, and am doing phone surveys (so far 44 calls and 19 states plus Canada and Australia) as well as an online survey.

I was taken by surprise to discover that most of the people I have spoken to felt “prospect research” was limited to searching for information on identified prospects and did NOT include data analytics or prospect management.

But then during the ensuing conversation many lapsed unconsciously into using “prospect research” to reference the entire field.

APRA has come out clearly on the subject naming the field “prospect development”.  If we had a recognized name, would certification would follow?

Consider the association examples given. AFP’s CFRE is essentially a test you can take after meeting certain criteria, such as years in the field and dollars raised and requires continuing education credits. SCIP and SLA require completion of a series of courses as well as testing.

Even starting without a readily identified name, if there is a measure of the tasks required to perform our jobs, then training and tests can be developed and shaped into certifications. Perhaps then the names of those certifications could reshape the language of the professionals performing those jobs.

I don’t about you, but I am eagerly anticipating the release of APRA’s newest endeavor – The Body of Knowledge – which will outline what it takes to be good at what we do. And by that I mean prospect search, analytics and management.

graduationcapSMBut Do We Want to be Certified?

The remaining question to be deliberated is not can we have a certification, but do we need or want one?

Common sense suggests that a certification is useful for those entering the field or looking for promotion to a new skill level or skill set. Certifications demonstrate proficiency to employers, especially when they include testing and have a strong reputation.

But many questions remain.

  • In our relatively young profession, will a certification become outdated each time information technology creates new terms and expands the scope of the tasks we perform?
  • Would certification give birth to future generations of researchers with a higher quality, more uniform set of skills?
  • Would different levels of certification encourage more people to join the field or crossover to ever-growing specialties?
  • With a certified “definition” of our field would fundraising employers better recognize our value and create more specific jobs?

Speculation is all part of processing information and defining our future deliberately. I’d love to hear your speculations and opinions on certification in the prospect research field!

Do Your Own Research? You Bet!

KeyboardCoffeeSXCsmOne of the hot topics in the prospect research field is whether we researchers are going to be replaced by all of the great software products out there. With the click of your mouse you can search multiple public records databases and spit a profile out of your printer. Even data analytics has become more accessible with easy software interfaces. When it’s that easy, you’d be crazy not to do your own research! Right?

Well, nothing involving people and the parting of their money is ever that simple, is it? Yes, you can find raw information about your prospects and have it formatted into a printable document or have key items seamlessly imported into the donor database record. No, a software program can’t verify that information for accuracy or provide useful insights into donor motivation and wealth.

But there’s way more to the fundraising role of prospect research than donor profiling.

Prospect research is about managing information in a manner that leads prospects toward a gift. In that sense, everyone in an organization plays a prospect research role at some level. Program staff record accurate contact and participation information. Gift entry records the gifts. Frontline fundraisers record information about face-to-face contact.

The professional prospect researcher uses her skills in process and analysis to corral all the information and produce actionable insights, leading to solicitations and stewardship.

Are you confused? Let’s use an analogy.

Fundraisers expect everyone in an organization to participate in fundraising and they work to create a culture of philanthropy. From the janitor to the program staff, all the way up through leadership, everyone is responsible for representing the organization and giving people the opportunity to give in a meaningful way.

The fundraiser uses her skills to coordinate all those messages and contacts with donors and prospective donors, leading to solicitations and stewardship.

Fundraisers focus on messaging and people-to-people contact. Prospect researchers focus on information. They both work together make sure fundraising goals are met.

So, should you do your own research after all?

Of course! In this world we have to be constantly learning and using new tools. There are very few excuses anymore for not making use of software tools that provide you with critical information on your donors at the click of a mouse.

But a professional prospect researcher can take you way beyond prospect profiles and into a world where the power of your fundraising information is harnessed and used to drive your fundraising up to a whole new level of success.

With a prospect research professional your fundraising “shop” becomes a fundraising “machine” – persistently methodical, lean, and more productive.

Care to brag about your professional research staff? Wondering what it takes to find a professional prospect researcher?

Comment below or email Jen at Aspire Research Group.

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An “Insider” Peek at Executive Compensation

dollararrowup.thumbI thought it might be worthwhile (and fun!) to explore a well-known public company executive’s compensation package to illustrate a few of the many and creative ways executives are compensated. Sometimes I forget that the Wall Street world of finance and juicy executive compensation packages is a mystery to many, even in prospect research. My career began as a legal secretary and included editing proxy filings just as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) transitioned to its electronic filing system called EDGAR. Filings can be tedious, but that’s partly because they are packed with information.

Public Company Insiders

Carol Meyrowitz is the president, Chief Executive Officer, and director of TJX Companies, which operates stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and Home Goods. TJX Companies’ stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the ticker TJX. Meyrowitz is both a top executive and a director, which qualify her to be a public company insider. If she owned 10% or more of the company’s stock, that would also qualify her. Any of those three roles qualifies someone as a public company insider.

For the most part, the only people who are required to report their stock holdings in public filings with the SEC are insiders. And when you stop to think about it, there are very few public company insiders compared to the large number of people who own stock. This means that many of your wealthy prospects who own substantial portfolios of stock will not be found in any SEC filings.

Incentive Plans in Public Companies

The SEC requires public companies to detail their compensation packages for top executives. Each company decides on its own how to reward executives for their performance. Especially since the 1970’s, theory has it that executives – and directors too – need much more than salary to keep them interested in the company’s success and achievements.

Below is a chart of Meyrowitz’ compensation in fiscal year  2013. We are going to walk through each type of compensation she received. Keep in mind that I am no tax expert! This is meant to be a big picture, brief explanation with tips on applying the information to fundraising.

Fiscal Year



Stock Awards

Stock Option Awards

Non-Equity Incentive Plan Comp

Change in Pension Value & Non- Qualified

Deferred Comp Earnings

All Other Comp











 Salary and Bonus

Just like you and I, insider executives receive a salary, paid in cash, for doing their job every day. They might also receive a bonus based upon their job performance, which may also called a short-term incentive. Notice how Meyrowitz has not received a bonus in the past three years? The word “bonus” took a real beating during the recession. Even though she didn’t receive a bonus, there are still some really big numbers in her compensation package.

Stock Awards

Stock awards represent the value of the stock Meyrowitz was given by the company when they gave it to her. The idea is that when she meets her performance goals, she gets to share in the rising value of the company through its stock. There may be all kinds of confusing language around this. She might be given restricted stock that do not vest (become fully owned by her) unless she meets certain goals. And she might be required to own a certain number of shares of stock as long as she is an executive.

HOT TIP: Just because this stock awards number is high, it does not mean that all of the stock is available to her to gift or sell. Her salary, the paycheck she cashes just like you, is $1.4 million. Some or all of the $10.9 million stock awards could be untouchable.

Notice how stock is the biggest part of her pay package? That’s no accident. Cash payments are taxed as income. Stock is not. When Meyrowitz sells her stock she will pay capital gains tax on money she makes as a result of the sale (the gain). Can you guess which tax rate is likely to be higher – income or capital gains?

Stock Option Awards

Stock options give Meyrowitz the option to buy stock at a future date. These options are valued in the compensation table, but that dollar figure is more of an accounting mechanism and is not the current value.

The idea is that Meyrowitz will be more focused on the company’s financial improvement if she stands to make significant financial gains if the company’s stock price increases. So she is given an option to buy stock at a future date (the exercise date) at a locked-in price (the exercise or strike price).

For example, today she gets an option to buy 100 shares of stock at $70 per share. The stock is currently trading at $62 per share. If she buys those 100 shares today, she would have to pay $70 but could only sell them for $62. She would lose money! But if we give her options today as an incentive, we’re going to tell her she can’t exercise her options until next year. Now she has a year to get the company’s stock higher than $70 per share.

A year later, she can buy the 100 shares of stock for $70, and hopefully, the stock is trading at $71 or higher. She spends $7,000 and can turn around and sell them for $7,100 ($71 per share), earning $100 on the sale. When the exercise price is lower than the market price and she can sell at a profit, we say her options are in-the-money. If we turned it into a formula, it might look like this:

($market price – $exercise price) x number of shares = $value
($71 – $70) x 100 = $100

HOT TIP:  When trying to determine if Meyrowitz might use her options to make a gift to my organization, I want to know when she will be able to exercise her options and if they are in-the-money. If she can’t exercise them yet or they are without value, we can’t get a gift.

Non-Equity Incentive Plan Compensation

Non-equity means that it is a non-stock incentive. For TJX Companies, this means it is part of its short-term cash incentive plan and its long-term cash incentive plan. So Meyrowitz receives cash for doing a good job in the current year, and even more cash if she keeps it up over a certain number of future years. It’s possible that she could get fired today and still be owed cash under the long-term incentive plan if the company continued to perform!

HOT TIP: You might be saying to yourself, “Cash incentive – isn’t that the same thing as a bonus?” Pretty much. But the word “bonus” has gone out of fashion.

Change in Pension Value & Non- Qualified Deferred Compensation Earnings

The IRS closely regulates retirement plans and there are many vehicles for stashing your cash for retirement. A pension is usually tied to the employee’s salary and years of service. I didn’t dig deep to find out details about Meyrowitz’ pension, but it’s in the SEC filings. Non-qualified money is money that does not receive tax-favored status from the IRS for retirement. Deferred compensation is owed but not paid to the employee until a later date, typically to reduce the amount of individual tax paid in a particular year. Changes in regulations have lessened its popularity.

All Other Compensation

These are the perks! And while some might seem extravagant to us ordinary folk, there are some good reasons behind a few. For example, having life insurance on a key executive provides a cash cushion if the company has to replace her on short notice. Very high-profile executives might need the personal protection a private jet provides. Below is a table from the SEC filing that gives us the detail behind the other compensation for Meyrowitz.


for Financial
Planning and

Legal Services

Contributions  or
Credits Under
Savings Plans

Company Paid
Amounts for Life

All Other






HOT TIP:  Other compensation is not cash and that means it doesn’t factor in directly to the prospect’s ability to make a gift.

Your Top 5 Take-Aways

If everything else about executive compensation was confusing to you, I hope you at least come away with these nuggets:

  • A public company executive’s total compensation is made up of many different items. The actual cash portion and number of shares of stock available for immediate gifting to your organization is likely to be much less than the total.
  • The current incentive plan fad is to not pay bonuses, and sometimes not even to pay a salary at all (see Meg Whitman), but you can bet the executive still receives hefty compensation in the form of stock.
  • Stock Options require the executive to shell out the cash to buy the stock first. The executive does not receive a profit unless she buys the stock at a discount and then sells it at the higher market price.
  • Stock Options might have zero value if the company stock price has fallen.
  • Other Compensation is not money available for gifting, even though it is reported as a dollar figure.

Do You Have a Proxy To Read?

Do you participate in a 401(k) plan at your work? Or maybe you own shares in a mutual fund. I hope this little bit of explanation has you really curious – curious enough to start reading some of the financial documents you receive in the mail. If you are new to SEC filings, the best one to read first is the proxy, also called SEC Form DEF 14a.

The proxy for TJX Companies is where I found all the information for this post. You can visit www.sec.gov yourself and look up that proxy online.

Do you have hot tips on executive compensation to share? Please add to the comments below!

Other Articles of Interest

Meg Whitman Agrees to Work for $1 – Or Does She?

US CEOs break pay record as top 10 earners take home at least $100m each

America’s Highest Paid CEOs


Secrets of Top-Performing Major Gift Officers

ShhhhDid you know that major gift officers who use prospect research raise more than their colleagues who go it alone? Prospect research is the secret sauce that has been helping some organizations out-perform others for years. Think about it. Can you name a higher-education fundraising powerhouse that does not employ prospect researchers? When I was working on the book, Prospect Research for Fundraisers, I had conversations with the very talented Nancy Lee, consultant and Executive Director for Donor Services at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia. She told me that fundraisers need to realize that it is the researcher who decides what goes in or stays out of a prospect profile, based on the request. Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it? But it fits right in with what we need most in this world of too much data – content curation. A good prospect researcher will sift through the overwhelming amount of information and give you what you need most. Or will she? The source of tension There is a natural tension between frontline fundraisers requesting prospect research and the researchers who deliver it. Requests for research are as varied as the organizations and the people within them. Requests might be emailed, left as voicemail or they might be a completed form or online request system. But even when requests are made face-to-face, there is room for misunderstanding. This causes tension. When you consider what is on the line – the success or failure of your major gift solicitation – it makes sense for you, the person talking with the donor, to take ownership of the requests you make for research. And you might be surprised how easy that can be. Two easy things you can do to get what you need 1. Be specific Any prospect researcher worth a grain of salt should be filtering prospect and donor data based on your organization’s mission, programs and overall culture. Beyond that you should be specific, regardless of what is or is not available on any form you are required to complete. By specific I mean that you should disclose what is worrying you, causing confusion, or has you excited. Let me give some examples.

  • I think she is related to the Moneybags family and could be a million+ donor!
  • I know he is a loyal donor to Knowledge University. I’m worried he has already made his stretch gift and there isn’t enough left to make a campaign leadership gift.
  • I have tried to figure out her interests, but she’s very reserved. Any clues on what might get her talking would help.

That’s not so difficult, is it? Recognizing why you decided to make the request and then clearly stating it to the researcher. If you do this you will get the information you need. Except that sometimes you still don’t get those info nuggets you were hoping for, right? It could be that your researcher needs more training, but you could try one more thing. 2. Feedback If you get a prospect profile that does not answer your questions, or that appears to be missing important stuff, take it back to the researcher and ask what happened. It might be that she could not find the information, but didn’t state that in the profile. There could be so many things going on. And the only way you’ll find out is if you ask. But you’re good at asking, right? Because it’s up to you to make the right ask to the prospect. Had any good conversations lately? It’s so easy for conversations between frontline fundraisers and prospect researchers to get negative. But I have worked with many frontline fundraisers who have helped me to help them. I love being part of the team that closes the big gift! If you have been reading this article and nodding your head the whole time because it validates what you have been doing so well already, won’t you comment and share your success? Need Help? Jen Filla helps fundraisers and researchers communicate and create process. Through Aspire Research Group she also provides organizations with outsourced prospect research. Call 727 202 3405 x700 or email jen at aspireresearchgroup.com

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Data Mining Resources

I was poking around to see what I might find on the internet and thought I would share my favorite finds related to data mining. I hope you enjoy them too!

Five ways to promote in-house data mining
by Kevin MacDonell

5 reasons every nonprofit should use analytics for fundraising
by Joshua Birkholz

From Stories to Evidence: How Mining Data Can Promote Innovation in the Nonprofit Sector
by Technology Innovation Management Review

Fundraising Analytics ABCs
by Helen Brown

The Do’s and Don’ts of Data Mining in Nonprofit Fundraising
by Daniel Neel

Getting Started in Data Mining (It's easier than you think!)

I have had a few requests for articles on simple data mining techniques and the related database maintenance necessary to make the results meaningful. Look for my upcoming companion blog post on data mining resources, too.

Before we get started, let’s talk a little bit about what might be holding us back.

  • Fear that it’s too complicated – Not much anyone can do about this one, except you. Jump in! The water is warm!
  • Assumptions that leadership will not invest and support it – Data mining and analytics are keyword candy to leadership. Leadership loves to get intelligent answers to questions like “What percent of donors rated at $100K+ gave at that level?”
  • No clear understanding of the pain/need/goal – What keeps your leadership awake at night? Is it prospect pools that don’t perform? Finding leadership donors for the upcoming campaign? If you don’t know, you can’t make a compelling case for data mining.

Donor Database Reports

Do you remember that scene in the Sound of Music where Maria is trying to teach the von Trapp children to sing? She stops singing “Do-Re-Mi” and says, “Oh, let’s see if I can make it easier”. We can do that in data mining too. (I haven’t come up with a song yet, but I’m working on it.) Here is an easy and fun way to get started in data mining – explore all the canned reports in your donor database. I’m not kidding! Even if you have no idea what deep, insightful questions you want to answer, you can begin with reports.

Consider these common reports:

  • Consecutive years giving – When donors give many years, especially consecutively, it usually means they really like us. Who are these people? Do they have high wealth ratings? Could they be good planned gift prospects?
  • Top donors – Are all of your top-giving donors getting regular attention?
  • LYBUNT, SYBUNT, & new donors – Within these reports you might find donors capable of increasing their gift, some major gift sleepers, and some new donors with wealth.
  • Lifetime giving and number of years giving – So many forgotten donors can be found in this list as well as some very good planned gift prospects.

Digging a Little Deeper

MS Excel is on most of your desktops. If you take a little time to learn to use it – I’m not talking complicated formulas, just tips and tricks – it will truly open the world of data mining to you. Imagine that you pull a report into Excel with all of the key fields in the above reports (last gift date and amount, largest gift date and amount, lifetime giving, etc.). Add in wealth ratings if you have them.

Now consider this scenario:

Custom sort:  First by largest gift amount (descending), second by lifetime giving (descending), third by last gift date (descending)

Analysis:  By scrolling down the list you can see if any donors who have made larger gifts (largest gift amount) and have lapsed (last gift date). Is there some high lifetime giving low on the list? Why?

Imagine sorting first by wealth rating and then largest gift. How about lifetime giving and wealth rating? This is fun! (I told you the water was warm.) Just be sure to watch your time. Prospect researchers have gotten lost in the data mining game.

The Secret Data Mining Trick

The secret trick to analyzing your donor information is to understand your fundraising fundamentals. Remember the fundraising pyramid?

The pyramid illustrates your areas of opportunity:

  • Occasional: Did that first-time $1,000 donor get personal attention?
  • Annual: Are there small annual gift planned giving prospects in there?
  • Annual: Can we motivate annual donors to move up a giving level?
  • Major: Do any of your major gift donors have unexplored planned gift potential?
  • Planned: Are there any planned gift donors who could make a cash gift?

Common Data Errors that Under-Mine Your Efforts (pun intended)

Now that you have the idea that you can sort on specific fields in your donor database, you will very soon realize that even sorting becomes problematic if the data is full of errors and omissions. Use your blossoming interest in data mining to clean up the database! Then when you are ready for more complicated data mining challenges, your data will be ready for you.

  • Data errors in any of the fields you pull – e.g., incorrect or missing dates or dollar values
  • Duplicate records – often happens in gift entry or multiple hands in the database
  • Deceased or bad address – if you don’t mail to your list, you probably aren’t getting your list cleaned; if you are mailing, you might not be getting a file back from the printer to update the records

What can you do about problems like these? People don’t usually like to hear this, but you need some documentation.

  • Your database probably has some maintenance reports. Set up a schedule to run them and fix the errors.
  • Do you need to run a report of all changed records daily or weekly?
  • Gift entry staff should be trained to search for the donor name first, instead of entering a new record. As in, create your own training manual for how gift entry is performed in your organization.
  • Someone should review all gifts entered, probably daily.

Robert Weiner is a consultant with some excellent free articles about keeping your database up to snuff. You can find his articles here: http://www.rlweiner.com/articles

Taking Data Mining to the Next Level

Once you have your data in order, some understanding about how the information is stored, how you can retrieve it, and what kinds of things it can tell you about your donors and prospects, I suspect you will be a lot more likely to sign up for that data mining webinar or take advantage of the APRA Analytics Symposium. It feels good to be ready, doesn’t it?

Get Worried! About Asking for Too Little

When was the last time you had a knot in your stomach because you were worried you were going to ask for too small of a gift? If you are like many fundraisers, the answer is not often enough!

  • $8 Million gift from Glenn Korff to University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Music.
  • $2 Million gift from Gene Feaster, an inventor of Superflab to the University of Kansas.

How badly do want gifts like these?

The wealth screening companies tell us – perhaps with some bias – that organizations which raise more money and get whopping big gifts, screen their donor database for wealth regularly. This does not surprise me. Does it surprise you?

Bias aside, large organizations are much more likely to worry about asking for too little. It’s a high-pressure, go-get-the-gift environment and the winners are those receiving the largest gifts. And large organizations invest in fundraising, including prospect research.

Research gives them the facts that can validate what they suspect, or disqualify a prospect, or find new information that impacts gift type and size.

But what can I do?
Hey! I heard that! “But we have no money for a screening.” “We can’t hire a prospect researcher anytime soon.” “Our leadership won’t invest in research.”

And I have a response! (It wouldn’t be much of an article if I didn’t, would it?)

Whether you are a smaller organization dreaming big or one of a hundred gift officers, you are in control of your own behaviors. And here’s a few winning behaviors to adopt – and maybe even influence others, like your leadership.

Get worried about asking for too little.
Words matter. When you talk strategy for a gift, state your target ask amount and then say, “But I’m worried that might be too low.” (That was easy!)

Get wealth-educated.
Pay attention to articles, blog posts, studies and conversations about wealth. Because when someone asks you – “why do you think that ask is too low? – you will need an answer.

  • He sold one company. Could there be others?
  • He seems like the kind of guy to have a vacation home, but I don’t have the tools to find out.
  • Jane board member says he owns a number of restaurants, but I don’t know for sure.

Get search savvy.

No, you don’t have to be a full-fledged prospect researcher, but every fundraiser should be able to find key information online about prospects. When was the last time you visited your county tax assessor’s online database? How about Zillow.com? Do you have rule-of-thumb formulas to create capacity ratings?

Wealth screenings are one tool in the research toolbox. Even so, I hope you are actively thinking about a future budget that includes a screening. You might not need it now, but you will need it sometime soon.

Your mission and the people and causes you serve deserve funding. And if for no other reason, that should get you concerned about asking for too little.

If you want help finding information about your prospects, click here to contact Aspire Research Group.

Other Resources You Might Like:

Fall Fundraising Trends by Preeti

Filla Fast Favorite Links – a categorized list with wealth studies at the bottom