Innovate or Die: Post-Recession Impact on Finding Donors

Broken LightbulbThe future has a way of entering slowly, day-by-day. But sometimes the writing is on the wall. The words I see on the fundraising wall are Data Analytics. Sure, you say, we all know that. But what does it mean to your organization? To you? Answer: Innovate or die.

That may sound extreme. And it is. But it doesn’t make it any less possible. Before you dismiss that answer, let me tell you how I arrived at it.

The economic environment is affecting our donors – dramatically.

My favorite magazine of all time is The Economist. Lately they have been writing frequently about the growing inequality around the world and in America. How capital is taking a far greater share of wealth and how income, in the form of wages, is stagnating. Companies froze wages pre-recession, but even though profits have returned wages have not risen.

In his blog post “Where have all the donors gone?” Mark Noll makes the case that the result of these economics is the missing middle donor. Post-recession, people may be employed again, but too often at a lower wage. Where will our gifts come from?

In her book, Nonprofit Essentials: The Development Plan (2007), Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE is but one of many fundraisers talking about how Pareto’s 80/20 principle has turned into the 95/5 principle or worse. Way too much of our funding is coming from a tiny sliver of very wealthy. And where do the very wealthy like to give their gifts?

According to the Million Dollar List maintained by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, fifteen of the twenty largest multi-million dollar gifts by value were from individuals to private foundations associated with their families. Higher education receives the highest number of million dollar gifts.

In the Agitator blog, Roger Craver writes:

“Giving USA 2013 is but the latest report to make pretty clear that sitting on the sidelines waiting for recovery [from the Great Recession] is a strategy only for the suicidally inclined…demands on charities [is] rising at the same time giving is nearly flat….”

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s pretty clear that if fundraisers fail to innovate the organizations they serve will suffer.

So what does all this gloom and doom have to do with data analytics?

Data analytics is the cold method behind a warm philosophy: listen to people when they tell you something. And when thousands of people are telling you something, not only listen, but start digging deeper and ask more questions.

Data analytics allows us to “hear” from our constituents in ways we are physically incapable of hearing. If the data tells us that a large number of constituents click through on messages about one of our program outcomes regardless of where we put those messages (social media, print, etc.), but are not responding to messages about another program we planned to make our strategic direction for the next year – we should re-think that direction, right? Maybe.

Analytics alone is not enough.

It’s pretty amazing that we can “hear” our constituents through data, but don’t be mesmerized by all that glitters. We also need innovation in our approach to attracting donors, finding the “best” out of those and asking them for gifts. If the reality is that we will mostly have very large and very small gifts, how can we change our approach?

In 2012 the Chronicle of Philanthropy featured the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Missouri, which raised $416-million, in part by attracting modest gifts such as $1,000 multi-year pledges. This gave smaller donors the opportunity to express their interest and commitment and to be recognized. Crowdfunding is a similar approach, but might be improved upon to become less transactional. People want to give; people take pride in giving. It’s our job to figure out how to make it easy to give while building affinity.

In addition to gift size there are other changes we need to adapt to. Population changes cannot be ignored. Preeti Gill has written a provocative piece about identifying women philanthropists. In “Hey, Ladies! Thanks for giving. Sorry we missed you,” she notes that many multi-million dollar bequests come from women who are “outside of our databases and away from the corporate and media glare”. In other words, traditional prospect research techniques are failing to identify them.

International donors can’t be ignored either. Harvard University just announced a $350 million dollar gift from a wealthy Hong Kong family. Have you looked at population trends and predictions for your organization?

Are your donors from the local community? Are they international graduating students? You need fundraising programs that meet the needs of the constituents you have and will have in the future, not the ones you wish you could have. Data has to come from outside your organization as well as inside.

It’s All About the People

Data analytics helps us find answers and sometimes it can even help us ask questions, but most of the time data analytics requires someone with curiosity and creative problem-solving skills to direct it.

Fundraisers need to shake themselves awake from the traditional and begin interacting with the data so that they can better meet the philanthropic desires of (all) real people.

Organizations need to be willing to take risks, fail a little and ultimately win.

Ask Kodak or IBM about listening and innovating in the face of change. Innovate or die. It doesn’t sound so extreme now does it? And it is doable.

More Resources:

Research Strategy: Qualification vs. Solicitation

digital world webI’ve been all about the prospect profile for a while – presenting at APRA’s conference in Las Vegas, teaching at the Prospect Research Institute, and creating a profile collection. The one question that has come up repeatedly is “What’s the difference between qualification and solicitation research?”

Many people that have just transitioned into prospect research, especially if they have other duties as well, are often not asked to do a lot of actual research. They are asked to pull reports from products like DonorSearchiWave PRO,Blackbaud’s ResearchPoint and WealthEngine, verify and distribute the results.

Which points out the direction of the prospect development field, doesn’t it? Knowing how to effectively manage the information is becoming just as important as being able to research to find information. Those research screening tools are getting very good! They are so good that you might be wondering if qualification research is even necessary. It is.

The Big Picture – Strategy

The premise behind qualification research is that we need to determine if a prospect is indeed capable of giving at an amount we decide is a major gift and if the prospect is philanthropically inclined. It’s a bit like a home inspection. Before I bought my house I paid for a home inspection and was so glad I did. There’s nothing like a trained professional to point out what you missed, but more importantly, to pull it together intelligently so you can make decisions. Qualification research should do that for your gift officer.

Solicitation research is prepping to ask a prospect for a gift and although the effort varies depending on what kind of research was done prior to this stage, generally we are laser focused on what information will help the gift officer ask for the largest, most appropriate gift. For example, we don’t need to list every gift found. Instead we need to provide as much detail as possible on the kinds of gifts made that relate to the gift we are planning to ask for.

Actions to Achieve the Strategy

So what does the difference look like in terms of actual searching behavior? Qualification means QUICK. Solicitation means FOCUSED.

Qualification is QUICK when you…

1)  Know what you want and need to find

Do you know what will qualify your prospect? This is where a good profile template or in the case of entering directly into the database, a good checklist, will save you time and sanity.

2)  Know exactly where to find that information

Now that you have a template, what is the fastest way to fill in the blanks? My strategy is to start with what I know already (your own database and your organization’s website), then your paid tools and then your collection of frequently used websites. I usually save giving for last because we can only match the gift to our prospect based on his name and what we know about him, such as where he went to school, what state he lives in, his service on nonprofit boards, etc.

3)  Have the discipline to stop looking

Sometimes this is the biggest obstacle for the prospect research professional. We love researching! But nine times out of ten this is NOT the time to follow clues, detail her family history and read countless news articles. If your prospect is listed on the Forbes Billionaire List, why would you detail her real estate holdings? Find her home and favorite vacation spot, but heck, she’s a billionaire! Write a quick summary sentence for the rest. For the majority of nonprofit organizations, being a billionaire qualifies her for capacity to give. End of story.

Solicitation, on the other hand, builds on qualification, including information discovered by the gift officer through cultivation visits. Yes, it usually takes a lot longer, but you should take a very different approach from your qualification research.

Solicitation is FOCUSED when you…

1)  Communicate well with the frontline fundraising staff

If you don’t know what kind of gift is anticipated or what the fundraising priorities are at your institution, you may end up including all kinds of data and spending countless hours being “comprehensive” when that is not what is needed – or even wanted.

2)  Are educated about giving vehicles and trends

If you don’t understand the general concepts of how the very wealthy can make gifts you might overlook important clues. For example, if a prospect owns a few apartment buildings as a way to invest his retirement money, but he still brings in a significant earned income from his job, he might consider giving the apartment buildings’ income to your organization while he retains ownership of the buildings. Now you know that beyond the value of the real estate, estimated apartment rental income could be a valuable piece of information!

3)  Dig deep on relevant clues

So many of us were trained to be comprehensive in our solicitation research, which means that we take as much time as we need to detail every asset and every gift. The closer you work with a gift officer, the more likely you will find that this is not often a useful approach. If I am about to ask a large corporation for a multi-pronged, multi-million dollar gift, what do I want to know the most about? Every division within the company and estimated earnings? Or every detail on how another organization received a very similar relationship and gift? I sincerely hope the answer is obvious!

 Search strategy and experience

 If you are new to prospect research you may be wondering how you will ever be able to learn all there is to know. The good news is you won’t! Part of the joy of our profession is the continual learning. It never ends. Aim for some balance. Learn the nuances of public information and wealth, but also fundraising principles and techniques.

If you are not new to prospect research you might have different ideas on search strategies or stories to tell. Don’t be shy! Why not share?

Other Resources You Might Like

So much wealth in China! So little time!

asiaglobe_smThis past weekend I sat down and listened to frontline fundraisers and prospect researchers talk about how they work efficiently and respectfully to raise money in China. It felt long on a Saturday afternoon, but it was worth every minute. If you can find a viewing, go watch it!

If not, here are some of my top takeaways from NEDRA’s Panel: Inside Chinese Philanthropy recorded from their May 30, 2014 event with researchers from Tufts, Harvard, and MIT, and international frontline officers from Tufts and MIT.

On Teamwork

  • Put in place REALLY skilled fundraisers: the prospecting, cultivating and stewarding I heard talked about was very skillful and effective; this is not the time to practice
  • Teamwork between research and fundraiser MORE important: a constant feedback loop between frontline fundraiser and researcher is necessary to tease information out of sources
  • Develop a network of translators: you may be surprised how many people in your organization are fluent in other languages; these people can turn into keys unlocking the one piece of information that leads to a treasure chest full!
  • Contact information is the most important piece of information and the most difficult to find
  • A story was told about a frontline fundraiser sending cold emails in Southeast Asia and securing three $1M USD gifts for a specific initiative! (back to REALLY skilled fundraisers)
  • Get data collection and entry correct, especially events that are actually attended (back to the importance of contact information)

On Research

  • Create search tip checklists for each prospect: you don’t want to forget or make another researcher re-learn all the clever ways you found information on that prospect
  • Capacity requires country context research: because there are often fewer hard asset numbers to gauge capacity, you need to get a feel for how the prospect stands in her own environment
  • Names are so many different ways that it gets difficult (back to search tip checklists)
  • News is the best source for information: Factiva lets you search multi-languages
  • Access and connection is also key: they almost talked about relationship mapping, but didn’t

On Culture

  • Parents: get them in the first year!
  • This is the first generation of wealth: some may want to enjoy their wealth for a bit; don’t forget they grew up without luxuries like refrigerators; they are just reaching middle-age
  • The wealthy are often followers: showing peer giving is helpful
  • Attitude to U.S.: we appear very wealthy when they still have a lot of poverty; business and local pressures to support home projects; may want to show how their U.S. giving helps Chinese at home or abroad
  • Government: there are restrictions on exchanging USD and a cap on giving; may also want to be anonymous or hide wealth; party members and government dominated firms are not going to give

On Patience

  • Must be committed to cultivation over a long time: philanthropic culture is still transactional and local
  • Some programs started in the late 1980’s/1990’s and just now gaining serious traction

Research Tools Mentioned

Extra:

 Other Articles You Might Like

 

5 Tips to Make Your CRM Successful at Change

ColorArrowsI dare you to try this search! Go to the search engine of your choice and type in…

CRM “change agent”

Are you surprised how many relevant results you get? There are many similar if not the same names for the process of putting the customer, or in our case the donor, first. Here’s a few:

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Donor Relationship Management
  • Relationship Management System
  • Moves Management System
  • Prospect Management System

So what’s this about being a change agent? How could anyone reasonably expect CRM software to be a change agent?!

Obviously CRM software is not a magic wand capable of implementing change. But creating or changing your relationship management system is a powerful opportunity to raise the bar in your fundraising efforts. Unfortunately, all too often this opportunity is missed because its role as a change agent is not recognized.

No matter what size your organization and no matter how many people in your fundraising office, any change to your relationship management system is going to affect a number of different players on your team – most potently when it changes performance assessments and incentives.

Following are five tips to help make your relationship management system a successful change agent:

1 – Listen to the key players first.

You are listening for a few critical items: (a) Are you using the same language as the key players? (b) Do your proposed changes match their values? (c) Might any of the proposed changes create undesired consequences? This is Internal Relationship Building 101. Yes, we must do it internally, not just externally with our donors.

2 – Create an internal campaign to sell the changes.

Have fun with this. Go all out. Create simple explanations you can recite in your sleep. Give it a brand and tagline. Use color. No person’s role is too small not to be an advocate of your change. If staff don’t want it or even know what it is, how successful do you think you’ll be?

3- Research suggested performance measures.

Whether you network with your colleagues, read vendor and association research studies, scan for blogs and articles online, or all of the above, do your homework so you can make as few mistakes as possible. Don’t get stuck on research, but don’t be skimpy. If you are recommending a smaller portfolio size, you’d better know the philosophy behind that approach or you may risk raising fewer dollars while you figure it out.

4 – Make sure you have a thoughtful implementation plan.

Why not find a way to test-run some or all of your changes before a full rollout? I’m not talking just the technology – a person should walk through the whole process too. Consider all the phases of your rollout and don’t forget to include training and re-training.

5 – Evaluation means it’s never over.

Your relationship management system will always face two persistent threats: (1) Change in the external fundraising environment such as donor behavior and the economy, and (2) Change in the internal organizational environment, such as changes in leadership and finances. Hopefully you won’t need to make big changes frequently, but if you regularly audit the performance of the system you will be better placed to react.

No matter how big or how small your fundraising office is, your relationship management system is a tool to help you get focused on your donors and prospects. One of the biggest obstacles to achieving success with any technology or system is getting everyone trained and willing to use it.

Other Articles You Might Like

Don’t Forget the Dividends!

brainwithpeopleSM

Content Review Panel Experts!

I’m building a beginner to intermediate course on insider stock and compensation and guess what I forgot? Dividends! Thankfully, my Content Review Panel Experts spotted the gap. And we had a great discussion about dividends that made my day. Why?

Well, of course, I was relieved to have my mistake corrected before I produced the video lectures, printed workbook and other materials. But really it was about having a topic discussion with varied colleagues who have differing opinions and resources to bear on the subject. I don’t think I’m alone in thriving on these kinds of conversations.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the APRA 2014 conference in Las Vegas just a few weeks ago. Of course the sessions were fantastic, but really memorable was an informal gathering organized by Mary Gatlin of the University of Oregon. She posted on PRSPCT-L asking if anyone wanted to get together and talk about capacity ratings. Boy did we! Around 30 people responded. I had to sit on an end table because there weren’t enough seats.

During the Vegas conversation we could each ask questions without fear of looking dumb and we could offer opinions and suggestions too. I learned what is happening at a big institution and some ideas on rating (or not) international prospects. Some of us made connections and now have new colleagues in our networks.

High-Level Conversations

This hunger for what I like to call “high-level” conversations is understandable because prospect research professionals have to learn vast amounts of information to get on the wagon and stay current. We need to be able to ask a beginner question one minute and share an advanced technique the next. Because that’s the world we work in.

It also helps me understand why Prospect Research Institute participant Lisa Brown yearned for the Profile Peer Review Program. They are now doing their second round of peer review. Not only do they get to have high-level discussions, but they get to have those conversations after giving and receiving written feedback in a controlled environment. Powerful.

Back to Those Dividends

So what did we finally decide about dividends? We agreed that it’s not usually a huge loss if they are forgotten, but that they offer a possible opportunity for a gift. Because they are essentially cash, if the number of shares is great it can be a significant part of the prospect’s disposable income picture.

Don’t forget the dividends when you research your prospects and don’t forget that even if you are brand new to the prospect research field you have valuable knowledge and perspectives – your own “dividends” – to gift!

Other Articles You Might Like

Are You Hiring a Prospect Researcher?

WorkSMI am thrilled to share a guest post from Gil Israeli, Director of Prospect Research and Senior Writer for the American Technion Society.

Let’s say you’re a front-line fundraiser and your organization is providing a prospect researcher to support your work. If you’re new to this professional collaboration, what should you look for when you’re interviewing candidates?

Optimism

Every fundraiser knows that an ongoing normal part of their business involves rejection – rejection by prospective donors. Initially, most researchers are unaware of the challenges faced by fundraisers (be they professionals or volunteers). In an earlier position, one grant-seeking professor soberly told me that his (better-than-average) rate of success was one funded proposal for every five that he submitted to government agencies.

It takes an incredible level of optimism to be a fundraiser and this also applies to the researcher who is one degree removed from direct contact with the prospect. Sometimes an inexperienced researcher has limited contact with the fundraisers. This type of isolation can make it challenging to keep abreast of the broader issues which affect the organization. A good dose of optimism may be the most important trait in a good researcher. It starts the researcher on a solid path to acquiring essential skills and supports him or her in the next career activity: branching out into their organization to know its people and learn its processes.

Curiosity

There are three types of knowledge that are critical to a researcher’s success: knowledge of research methods and data; knowledge of one’s organization and its projects; and knowledge of the overall fundraising process and the actual industry. The best researchers go well beyond the first realm.

Not only do they know how to “drill down” deep to find a level of data that provides a detailed research-based story of the prospect, they need to make connections for the fundraiser that will apply the data to his cultivation efforts. This requires that the researcher understand how the fundraiser strategizes and even interacts with prospects. It also requires organizational knowledge, e.g., in a university operation (and most others), a capital project requires a cash gift to break ground. This information would figure into your analysis of a prospect’s liquidity for a capital gift. A researcher needs to have genuine curiosity that extends beyond the mere data.

Understanding all aspects of the organization’s work enables the researcher to prepare actionable research for the fundraiser. Having a second set of eyes – “fundraiser eyes” – enables the researcher to envision how a prospect’s data may ideally fit into the mission of the organization.

Good interpersonal skills also come into play which aid the researcher as he or she gets to know one’s colleagues and the rich world of fundraising practices, policies and prospect interactions.

Perseverance

Perseverance, the high-octane extension of curiosity and another critical characteristic, is going the extra distance in your work in the most calculated way. It is fueled by curiosity and the knowledge it brings. And perseverance is exhibited best in the type of research reports that researchers produce.

Today, generally, you’ll find two types of prospect reports. One, via the profile template, is organized in sections, which is particularly useful for exporting data from your database. However, it may lack certain types of information which can only be expressed in anecdotal reports of actionable information. This type of information comes out especially in the narrative report and can appear in a database’s open text field. You can also generate a final product that combines these two types of reports. So, what are the benefits of this?

I recently reported on a Boston-based technology magnate. My own position supports a major university with interests in science, technology, medicine, engineering and education programs. As the president of the university was to meet with this individual, I prepared a hybrid report which combined the template (with an estimated capacity rating, assets, boards, etc.) and additional, necessary, narrative sections. These required “insider knowledge,” which I had developed through 13 years of experience with the organization.

In the narrative parts, I was able to draw inferences and connect relevant information such as the prospect’s boards and past gifts to the immediate interests and current project needs of the university. For example, the prospect was critically involved in developing a national database to record comprehensive data about students in U.S. public school systems. Accordingly, I was able to discuss and recommend technology infrastructure projects that would enhance the university’s services to all students and also library projects that would serve the entire university community. The report helped the president strategize at a much higher level before even meeting the prospect. This type of “added-value” research requires real perseverance as it requires that the researcher maintain the most up-to-date knowledge of your organization’s work and the provision that you productively integrate it into your research reports.

Gaining Insight to Know When You’re Off-Target

Over time, perseverance will also bring the researcher experience to better evaluate the “cash value” of his or her own work. It’s also important to be able to recognize when research doesn’t meet the test of practicality. On one occasion, I identified a family that owned a lucrative multigenerational business with several dozen restaurants on the east coast. After my excitement peaked, I noted that their corporate headquarters and residences were located in a locale that made fundraiser visits exorbitantly expensive when compared with our usual visits to prospects. Even more so, allocating funds for these visits would have diverted the monies from other good uses, e.g., special events where several major gift prospects could be gathered and engaged. In this case, my knowledge of the fundraising operation (a business perspective) also helped me determine that this proactive research was simply not practical and actionable. I had gained this knowledge over years as I became involved in additional meetings and had the opportunity to converse more with my fundraiser colleagues.  And it made me better at my job.

Creativity

Prospect research reports can become homogeneous and suffer the problem of omission when we allow ourselves to be limited by our tools. For example, researchers need a reasonable level of comfort with numbers and formula to effectively calculate capacity ranges and ratings. Most of these measures of prospect capacity are then augmented with advanced knowledge that we have gained by analyzing other types of assets such as the value of private companies, pensions, collections, etc. Again, curiosity comes into play and in multiple ways.

Because each prospect is unique, each prospect research report may also need to be unique and require its own creative approach. Creativity turns out to be the critical characteristic for the researcher who can adapt to different prospect types. Learn the rules and then break them at the right time in a practical way for insightful returns.

Conclusion

We all know the litany: computer-writing-communication-analytical skills are essential to high performance in nearly all of today’s urban-based information-processing desk jobs.

I’ve focused on strong optimism, expansive curiosity, unflagging perseverance and practical creativity because they are often not given the explicit attention that they should receive when hiring a prospect researcher. A really good prospect researcher has these characteristics with the skill sets we expect and a social aptitude for connecting with fundraising colleagues. Without these characteristics, he or she remains tied to the first literal level of discovered data and is unable to further contextualize it for strategic use for his or her fundraiser colleagues.

The best news is that when the sparks of these four qualities exist, they can be nurtured with one’s colleagues for mutual professional development and fruitful collaboration.  Finally, these qualities are akin to sustainable energy: they can keep the prospect researcher growing throughout his or her career.

About the Author

Gil_Israeli_photoGil Israeli serves as the Director of Prospect Research and Senior Writer for the American Technion Society, which supports the Technion, Israel’s premier university advancing science, technology and medicine. He holds degrees from Johns Hopkins, Columbia University and the University of Virginia. He edits fundraisingcompass.com , a blog which presents pieces by seasoned fundraising professionals.

Is Disruptive Technology Changing Relationship Management?

PrintYes! Relationship mapping is a disruptive technology with the power to change our relationship management process and procedures. But, no worries! Change will probably come slowly.

Disruptive technology makes for great headlines, but most technology slips into our life a little bit at a time. We don’t have small computers; we have smart phones. We don’t have a wired house; we have a phone app to adjust our heating and air conditioning system.

Mapping out the connections between our prospects gives us linkage. This is one of the three pillars of a good prospect: Linkage – Ability – Inclination.

So far the technology has worked best in for-profit situations like the financial management industry. But companies like Prospect Visual and Relationship Science are nimbly adjusting their products to provide value for the nonprofit industry.

How might relationship mapping be disruptive?

Right now, higher education has the biggest opportunity to make relationship mapping a disruptive – and competitive – edge to their fundraising. Why? Because they have a natural prospect pool (their alumni) and an avalanche of data on those prospects.

Data points include degree, club membership, event attendance, birth date, and so much more! And they have year upon year of graduating (and non-graduating) students. All of this means that higher education can deeply analyze relationships between their alumni.

It’s disruptive because that university might discover that the way they have typically assigned prospects to gift officers is counter-productive. Most organizations segment the prospect pool by geography and/or school of study. It all made sense because that was the data that was available to use for segmenting. Throw in relationship maps and you now have a new perspective.

For example, if my prospect is densely connected – has the most connections to other people – why wouldn’t I assign the densely connected prospect *and his connections* to the same gift officer regardless of where they live? That is a game changer!

And that’s just a shallow view. Deeper analysis will likely reveal other more meaningful ways to assign prospects to gift officers based on how they are connected and other data modeling.

But I work for a smaller institution. What about me?

Huge institutions are always on the trending edge. And while it’s exciting to hear about, it’s not terribly applicable to the majority of nonprofit organizations. Or is it?

Recently I have had some thrilling moments using the relationship mapping tool offered by Prospect Visual. We’ve been working with a client who is trying hard to get a fundraising initiative off the ground with corporations and foundations. But it’s new so everyone is a bit unsure about where to start and how to make the cold calls. And then staff turned over. A familiar scenario to most of us!

So when they asked me to do some deeper research on their top prospects I really wanted to give them confidence to approach the prospect. I really wanted my research to persuade them to pick up the telephone. But how? By giving them a name of one of their own that is connected to the prospect, of course.

And I did it!! It didn’t work for every prospect and sometimes the connections seemed tenuous, but I found connections I would never have found otherwise. I delivered an obvious, and much more comfortable, first phone call to make – to one of their own.

Not so very long ago, finding connections was limited in scope and extremely tedious. Now, using Prospect Visual, I can identify possible connections and then dig a little deeper to verify them. It’s as transformative to my work in research as the microwave was to home cooking!

What Should Every Nonprofit Do Right Now?

Maybe you don’t have a prospect researcher on staff, are not in a position to purchase a subscription to a product like Prospect Visual, or don’t have the resources to outsource research. Even that should not stop you from getting on board the data wagon. And make no mistake – success in the game of life has always been about information!

Eventually relationship mapping and other data tools will become incorporated into your donor database or in some other way made easily accessible. When that happens, you need to be ready. Here’s what you can do:

  • Collect Data. It’s not an option anymore. You should be collecting all of the data your prospects give you. Go way beyond contact and gift information: directorships, education, work history, event attendance, phone calls, mailings, conversations. Whatever they tell you, add it!
  • Invest in Data. You should value and invest in data management. Hire smart, talented people. Keep them happy so they stay with you. Listen when they talk about consistency and longevity in recording and maintaining information.
  • Create a Data Culture. Maybe you’ll think I’m getting a little extreme here, but why not allow the love of data to color the glasses you view your human resources through? From board members to janitors, hire people whose behaviors reflect decision-making based on data.

Of course it’s all about the Relationship!

Relationship management, prospect management, or moves management – whatever we call our system of engaging and staying in touch with our supporters and prospective supporters – starts with a connection.

Relationship mapping can give us a whole new perspective on how we are connected to our prospects and donors. First we climbed a tree to get a good view -we used a database to view our donors- and now suddenly we are looking down from a helicopter -with relationship mapping.

At first it can be a bit disorienting to be able to see so many connections, especially because false connections are mixed in with true connections. But best practices are being developed and tested.

If you are interested to learn more about how relationship mapping can add new perspective to your prospect management efforts, contact Aspire Research Group, sign-up for the relationship mapping work group, or check out the resources and videos below.

Other Resources You Might Like

 

Prospect Visual

Prospect Visual

Melody Song on NodeXL

Melody Song on NodeXL

Marc Smith on NodeXL

Marc Smith on NodeXL

Relationship Science

Relationship Science

 

How to Write Better Prospect Profiles

NewspaperViewSMBoiling down a global corporation into just what matters to a specific organization is WORK! And that’s when I realized how important sales writing skills are to prospect research.

I forgot how difficult it is to do lots of profiles. But it was a first assignment from a new client and my best contractor was busy. So I took them on and it was fun…and hard work.

You should also know that I’ve been prepping to co-lead a workshop at APRA’s conference in Las Vegas in July on Improving Your Profile Techniques. Between organizing my materials and researching lots of profiles I’ve had lots of questions swimming in my head such as…

Exactly which pieces of information should be included and where? How does the way we communicate over the request impact the quality of the work we provide? How much do we, or should we, “sell” the prospect to the gift officer?

The Prospect Profile Collection

Teaching something has a way of making me question everything I think I know. So one of the first things I like to do is collect good resources. And one of the three guiding principles behind the Prospect Research Institute is Shared, so I created The Prospect Profile Collection online.

The collection is a work in progress, but it already has a number of recent blog posts on prospect profiles and nine profile templates, including a surprise profile. If you go on the page and spot the one that’s different from all the others, be one of the first few to comment and you never know what pleasant surprise might arrive in your snail-mailbox!

Do you have a prospect profile template you’d be willing to have added to the collection? Please contact me and let me know!

The Big Takeaway

While I can’t share here all of the content I’ve been preparing for the APRA workshop and the Institute’s first online course on profiles, I can give you at least one takeaway…

Start thinking like a journalist!

If you do nothing else differently you will still have improved if you present your material the way a newspaper reporter would. Why? Because journalists are taught to put everything important and attention grabbing in the first few paragraphs. Heck! The first sentence! The reader must be irresistibly drawn through the article…all the way down to the last few paragraphs with all the dull, ordinary facts.

Now read your last profile over again. Wonder why that gift officer was reluctant to add the new prospect you identified to her portfolio? Look at the narrative on occupation. How much of that is really necessary? Writing less is never easy, is it?

Now imagine if you could transform your profile into a front-page newspaper article. A headline that got the equivalent of retweeted all over your development office! What would it take? Don’t be afraid to play with this one. Playing is a great way to shake our minds out of old habits and gain new insights. Let’s try one for a children’s hospital.

Dina Delight is an executive at a global company who has made two million-dollar gifts and is passionate about pediatric cancer     …Or…    Million-dollar donor, Dina Delight, passionate about pediatric cancer, is EVP at Biggie Co. where we have a really good connection!

If I were a gift officer I would be very excited about Dina Delight! Of course, condensing our prospects into a scintillating headline is not appropriate in the fundraising office. Our prospects deserve way more respect than that. But if you try to make an attention-grabbing headline about the next three prospects you profile, I’ll bet that you wind up going back to shine a light on the pieces of information that are most important to developing a relationship.

Are We Salespeople?

Which brings us back to selling the prospect to our gift officer. Selling often has a negative connotation. We imagine a sales person trying to make us buy something we don’t want or need. But we are all sales people. Every time you try to persuade your child to eat a new food, or your spouse to buy a new and bigger TV, you are selling. It’s no different in prospect research. If you don’t believe me, read about it.

When we recognize that we are selling, that we are persuading our gift officers why or why not to pursue a prospect, now we have a path to learn how to do it better. When it comes to prospect profiles, writing like a journalist and selling our story to the reader is a skill that will set you apart from other researchers.

Ready, Set… GO!

Start with the articles listed below, or check out Prospect Research Institute’s Profile Peer Review Program or Introduction to Prospect Profiles online course. And if you’re attending APRA’s pre-conference workshops, I hope to see you there!

 

Other Articles You Might Like

 

Score! takes the edge off analytics

I just read Score! cover to cover and here’s why I think you should too…

With Score! Peter Wylie and Kevin MacDonell have written a highly accessible book that works effectively as a beginner’s guide to driving your organization’s decision-making with fundraising analytics. It’s no surprise to those of us in the prospect development field. Peter has been writing entertaining and informative books and articles for years and Kevin’s CoolData blog is encouraging and full of easy-to-understand visuals. Both of them write about personal experiences that nicely demonstrate the ideas and concepts in the book.

This is not a do-it-yourself manual. Peter did that already with his book Data Mining for Fund Raisers. This book is for leadership and for aspiring analysts alike who want a guide to getting something great to happen. No-one feels like a fool for not knowing how analytics works (or even how to define it) and although Peter calls out leadership’s common foibles, an ambitious leader can easily swallow that pill because it helps him navigate past the pitfalls.

The book is conveniently grouped into three sections so you can decide what you want to read. Part one, Becoming a Data-Driven Organization, discusses how analytics can help you make decisions that lead to success. Part two, Your Data Driven Job, discusses what it’s like to pursue analytics in your prospect development career. Part three is devoted to case studies.

Part one launches with scenarios that are happening in advancement offices every day, but when highlighted in a short paragraph make one blush with embarrassment. You also get great information on obstacles you are likely to encounter as you seek to invest in analytics and a helpful discussion about whether to hire someone new or train an existing employee.

One of the salient points made in the book from start to finish is that fundraising analytics is all about valuing affinity – the relationship someone has with your organization. Wealth ratings and other external data is nice, but only works really well when paired with affinity. The wealth screening companies have drowned the marketplace with sales, advertising, and educational content that does not shine such a bright spotlight on using analytics to find and leverage the conversation your prospects and donors are having with your organization as recorded in your databases. Score! gets you back on track.

If you are facing the challenge of clueless leadership that does not value data, then this first section falls a bit short. Given Peter’s years of consulting I was hoping for a few guerrilla tactics and approaches to persuading leadership that analytics is the new, shiny object every leader has to use. Instead the authors give us brief vignettes of some of the good stories where leaders model the kind of behavior that encourages analytics efforts to succeed.

Part two is where the aspiring analyst gets some very thoughtful and perceptive advice about the skills needed to take on these kinds of tasks. By including a chapter on soft skills, and putting it first, there is a clear message. You can be awesome at analyzing data, but unless you can translate your results into information others can use and understand, you are not likely to achieve success. Kevin’s CoolData blog is a living example of good and useful presentation. As a bonus, Kevin and Peter share their personal stories on how they came to analyze nonprofit data for a living.

Part two also has some gems that surprised me and made me think more deeply. Although I have been using the term fundraising analytics as an umbrella term here, Kevin and Peter give you an education about the difference between data mining and analytics. You also get some terms and techniques defined – a few fundamentals. But don’t worry! The authors walk you through some step-by-step starter tasks. The highlighted quote is just one of many that should assure you that you won’t break anything by trying.

“Don’t let missing, incomplete, or suspect data stop you from jumping right in and trying to work with it just as it is.” (p.91)

Part three is a series of case studies. As the authors emphasize, these are not do-it-yourself instructions. They are case studies that illustrate the types of questions you might ask your data and some answers others have found. Kevin and Peter do a great job here of outlining the steps they took and then going into detail about what happened as a result. These case studies will give you big picture ideas to guide you as you craft your own projects. They are helpful to leadership too because they demonstrate winning applications.

In particular I was intrigued by the call center data case studies. And, of course, just a few days after reading the book a fundraising colleague described to me how she does not give to her alma mater and will not give to them, yet they have been calling, emailing and writing her repeatedly each year. She just rolls her eyes.

A huge shift is just beginning to happen as younger generations earn and accumulate income and wealth in an era of rapid changes in information technology that is creating new and changing expectations for communicating. The popular LifeHacker blog wrote a recent post with this title: How Can I Donate to Charity Without Getting Harrassed By Them Later?

It will be those organizations that listen to the conversations in their data and respond to them that will win those donors’ trust…and dollars. Score! is written about analytics in higher education, but the lessons apply equally to human services organizations. Don’t miss out. Buy, read and Score!

Don’t believe me? Read what Susan Bridgers of APRA Carolinas has to say about it!

Want to catch up on the most current buzz? Search the Twitter hashtag: #scorethebook

Warning! Wealth Screenings Create a Skills Gap

MindTheGapSMReally good wealth screenings are changing the way we fundraise and they’re bumping campaign results ever higher. That’s definitely good. Yet wealth screenings are putting research decisions into the hands of non-researchers. Like you. Is this a good thing or bad thing? It’s up to you to decide!

I’ve been having more conversations with nonprofits about training prospect researchers. And they haven’t been the typical “I want to set up shop” conversations. The director of development doesn’t want me to help them choose a research subscription or craft a profile template.

She wants me to teach the researcher things like recognizing when prospects have wealth types in common (recognize patterns) or to focus more on the information that will help the gift officer to create a cultivation strategy (fundraising analysis).

Notice I said I’m talking to the director of development (or advancement) – not the director of research. Non-researchers are being pushed into taking the lead on research decisions. And I blame wealth screenings. (Technically, it’s more than screening for wealth. Vendors now give meaningful ratings and data analytics too.)

What exactly is changing?

Imagine you are the director of development for a smallish university, hospital or human services organization (and maybe you are). Your fundraising goals keep getting higher every year and you’ve brought some 7-figure gifts through the door. Your database manager has transitioned into your full-time prospect researcher.

As you gear up for the biggest-ever campaign you are faced with some challenges:

  • Your researcher has been churning out profiles for eight hours a day for months. She’s become a profile zombie!
  • Yes, your researcher can find information, but she doesn’t seem to really understand how prospect cultivation and solicitation works, which makes her work less helpful. She’s disconnected from the actual fundraising.
  • You’ve been prioritizing with wealth screenings and ratings, but now that information is a jumbled mess in the database. You don’t know how to fix it and your researcher is busy doing profiles.

Why are the wealth screening vendors to blame?

Because now that raw data has become more tightly matched, you have enough confidence in it to prioritize your donor prospects and get out on your discovery visits.

You don’t need a prospect researcher to do much.  Until you do.

The path to prospect research used to be a bit wider and longer. In the new, shortened time-frame your prospect researcher isn’t always ready to do more when you are.

So, you, the development director are tasked with managing prospect research in a way you never anticipated. How can you bridge the gap between your researcher’s current skill set and where she needs to be?  Grab your manager’s hat and explore some capacity building opportunities!

MOTIVATE by connecting your researcher with outcomes

Slow down the profile mill ever so slightly – just enough to establish a system to track completed research in your database. Maybe it’s a contact or action item. Whatever field you use, make sure you can pull reports that will demonstrate things like which researched prospects made a gift and were visited.

If you really want to have a little fun, track the researcher’s capacity rating in its own field so you can compare that against the screening rating and against the ask and gift amounts.

We all want to feel like our work creates something. Knowing that her work led to a really big gift is going to be motivating!

But tracking your research efforts is just a first step. Make sure there is opportunity for regular communication between the gift officer and the researcher. You want your researcher to hear how the gift officer sees wealth on those visits. You know what I’m talking about. The “he belongs to this club” or “she had to drop at least a thousand dollars on that handbag”.

Get the gift officer and researcher in a conversation about wealth and a lot of great education will happen both ways. Including more motivation. More teamwork.

INVOLVE the researcher in creating solutions

Work with your researcher to identify ways to solve problems like too many profiles and not enough new prospect identification and qualification.

  • Are gift officers getting too much information too soon? Maybe there should be guidelines about what actions need to happen before a comprehensive profile can be requested.
  • Is your researcher spending too much time digging deeper than needed? Have him track how long it takes to do profiles over a few weeks and reflect on the results. By watching the clock can he get more focused?

You may need to take a lot of the lead in the beginning, but loosen the leash as much as you possibly can. Prospect researchers are notoriously good at learning new things and problem-solving. Give them some room and many can become really good managers.

CREATE some structure around research

As your researcher is getting re-energized and challenged to solve problems, you need to recognize where to create structure to keep everyone and everything moving in sync. You are no doubt under a lot of pressure to make miracles happen in wickedly short time-frames. Keep your eye out for imbalance and act quickly.

  • Is the researcher spending an hour talking shop with a gift officer? Direct her to create a more formal research request process and channel those wonderful conversations into an established prospect review meeting.
  • Is your researcher creating a fully functional but too complex prospect management system? Continue to let her create it, but challenge her to make it simpler. (Playing a little dumb is a perfectly acceptable way to get someone to stretch a little. You have my permission!)

BIG fundraising doesn’t happen without prospect research

It’s a fact of fundraising that you need to harness the power of prospect research to raise the kind of money your mission needs and deserves. And yet, new tools like wealth screenings can allow a skill gap to creep up on you just when you need it the LEAST.

You don’t have to become a prospect research guru to make good decisions about it. And you don’t always have to fire and hire. Strengthen your managerial skills and use them to stretch and grow the prospect researcher and other staff that have an aptitude for prospect research.

Motivate. Involve. Create. And you and your organization will find yourself doing some really BIG fundraising!

And if you need a little outside help to train your staff, evaluate your procedures or create some, Aspire Research Group and the Prospect Research Institute are only a phone call away at 727 202 3405. And we have email too!

Other Articles You Might Like