Forbes Billionaire List Alert: What you’re missing

dancingwomensmWomen may be just under half of the world’s population, but they represent 11% of the 2015 Forbes World’s Billionaires List. Of the 197 women on the list, 29 are self-made billionaires. These may not sound like inspiring numbers, but consider the women on the rise.

Elizabeth A. Holmes is the youngest self-made woman billionaire – ever.

And she happens to be female. And she founded a company using her scientific prowess. So if you’ve been reading all the nasty headlines about how women suffer from misogynists harassing them in the tech field, consider that some uber-successful women have simply stepped around that hot mess!

Ms. Holmes is 31 years old, has retained 50% ownership of her company Theranos valued at around $9 billion, and makes time for philanthropy:

  • Board President for Improve International, an organization launched by fellow Georgia Tech alumna Susan Davis, which is devoted to education, partnership, and monitoring the sustainability of water and sanitation projects worldwide
  • Active mentor for young professionals within Elavon, a payment processing company
  • Volunteer at Georgia Tech, participating annually as a judge for TAG’s Educational Collaborative
  • Member of Women in Technology and On Board
  • Financial supporter of Girls Inc.

The real question is this: If Ms. Holmes wasn’t on the Forbes list, would you even know she existed?

Because I bet there are many sweet major gift prospect gems inside your databases and within your organization’s social circle, but you have no clue.

How Do Women Hide in Your Database?

Of the 168 non-self-made female billionaires on the list, many inherited their wealth from fathers and husbands. But don’t let that fool you. They own it! Did you pay attention to those women before their fathers and husbands died? You should have.

Even before they are widowed these women are usually the influencers and even the drivers behind household philanthropic decisions.

In her debut publication What About Women? prospect research professional Preeti Gill suggests you take a walk through your database …as a woman.

  • When a couple makes a gift, do you credit them both?
  • When you have a couple as donors, do you create a separate record for the woman?
  • What salutation does the woman have?
  • Are you paying attention to how she wants her name listed?

How Do Women Hide Among Your Organization’s “Family”?

Perhaps the easiest way wealthy women are hidden and not recognized by the organizations they love is when they are never entered into the database to begin with. Way too many organizations do not track and include volunteers in their fundraising vision and plans. Your prospect research professional can’t find major gift prospects in your database if they aren’t in there.

And what do we know about women? They do their due diligence before investing! And part of that due diligence is often volunteering for the organization.

Wealthy Women are Still Women

Ignore women in your fundraising at your own peril! Women are different from men. They think about money differently. They want different interactions with your organization from men. And they might even give differently from men.

Fundraising with a focus on women will require adjustments and adjustments require time, money and resources.

But very wealthy women are on the rise and they bring rewards:

  • Quick to make referrals through word of mouth
  • Frequently give unrestricted gifts, small and large
  • Loyal donors who advocate to others within their network

Are you interested in learning more and staying current on women in philanthropy? Click here to sign-up for the What About Women? email list.

More Articles You Might Like

Researcher Sued for Scraping!

Can you imagine if that headline was about you? How would that impact your organization and your fundraising career? Would it be fatal or a blip in the radar?

I’m an emotional person. Because of this I could easily spend hours chatting about the law and ethics. But when I talk with a highly analytical, logical person, the conversation is usually quite short. Is it legal? Is it public? What’s the problem? Emotions! That’s what!

No matter what your personality type, the only thing that really matters is what your donors and the community believe. Because if they perceive that you have done something unethical and possibly illegal it can be very damaging to your fundraising revenue, not to mention the organization as a whole.

Sarah Bernstein did a very good job of examining the APRA Social Media Ethics Statement so I won’t go over that here. Instead I’d like to have a very specific conversation evaluating a specific situation – scraping on LinkedIn.

Scraping LinkedIn

I’m not starting this conversation. That already happened on the PRSPCT-L list-serv. You can search the archives for these threads:

  • Using Scraper with LinkedIn
  • Experience with ProspectVisual’s LinkedIn Alumni Employment Info?
  • INFO: and permitted uses

As a prospect research professional I would love to have a way to get all that wonderful LinkedIn data in a format that I could use for analysis!

According to Wikipedia, Web Scraping is a software technique that simulates human exploration of the web and transforms unstructured data on the web, typically in HTML format, into structured data that can be stored and analyzed in a central local database or spreadsheet. Because it is automated the software can process large amounts of information.

An example of successful scraping we take for granted are the giving databases we subscribe to. We know that the vendor scours the web for giving recognition reports and other public information about giving. The vendor indexes the information and we merrily search the resulting database.

LinkedIn Public Profiles

The first question in the LinkedIn Scraping discussion is whether the information being scraped is from the outside of the service – the public-facing side – or whether it is being scraped from behind the login – the private-facing side.

ProspectVisual, a relationship mapping software, scrapes LinkedIn data from the public-facing side. ProspectVisual never logs in to the software. It doesn’t have to. For example, my LinkedIn profile is almost 100% public. You can find my LinkedIn profile on a Google search and never login.

At the very beginning of the LinkedIn User Agreement in Section 1.2 it states:

You agree that by clicking “Join Now” “Join LinkedIn”, “Sign Up” or similar, registering, accessing or using our services…you are entering into a legally binding agreement.





ProspectVisual never enters into the agreement. That’s quite clear and simple from a legal perspective. And given the prospect research field’s warm embrace of many other vendors who scrape the web, it would seem it passes the ethical test too.

LinkedIn Private Profiles

Once you login to LinkedIn you are now bound by the LinkedIn User Agreement.  A search in the agreement for the word “scrape” brings up this line under Section 8.2, the things you promise NOT to do:

Scrape or copy profiles and information of others through any means (including crawlers, browser plugins and add-ons, and any other technology or manual work);





The question on the list-serv was whether it was okay to login and scrape small amounts of data for the purpose of identifying new prospects for the nonprofit organization.


It could easily be argued that this scraping is illegal and violates the user agreement because scraping, automated or manual, implies taking a bulk of data from LinkedIn and transferring it for another purpose.


But how much data or at what frequency crosses the line into scraping territory? And if you are not scraping information to re-sell it, but instead to further your fundraising, is that a use that is either appropriate or unlikely to be prosecuted?

Ethical or Unethical?

If it is unclear whether our scraping data when bound by the user agreement is illegal or not, is it ethical to continue scraping? How would our donors and network feel about the way we are accessing the data they have placed behind the LinkedIn login?

Healthy Conversation

Ethics stirs emotions. But that doesn’t mean we can’t engage in healthy conversation. I was delighted that the most recent thread had all the hallmarks of a mature debate:

  • Asking lots of questions
  • Making statements based on found information, not pure emotion
  • Not disagreeing quickly, but working to be sure you understood the other person
  • Recognizing that others may disagree in part or in whole and that’s okay

Now at your next staff meeting you have a juicy topic to bring up under “New Business”. And if you are a blogger, maybe there’s a piece of this conversation you’d like to take on?

More Articles You Might Like

Speedy Research Verification

1160561_45274657Looking back on 2014 I realize that I’ve done quite a few screenings and research verification projects. And that means I’ve had lots of conversations with fundraisers who ask a lot of the same questions. I thought you might like to eavesdrop on some of those Q&A’s!

Very soon after I get into a conversation with a fundraiser about prospect screenings, this question gets asked in some form or another:

Why should I get the results verified? Does that mean the results aren’t accurate?

Every organization has different needs, but generally speaking, verifying results is necessary for at least three reasons:

  • Lots of people have very common names – this can confound even the most talented prospect research professional and it certainly confuses computer algorithms!
  • Sometimes the data going in is less than perfect, so the data coming out is less than perfect too.
  • Prospect screenings were never intended to be accurate to the last detail. That would be nice, but the primary function is to prioritize a large list of names based on limited pieces of information. Some mismatches and omissions are a necessary result and that’s okay.

Once we start talking about where the data comes from and why there are bound to be some errors and omissions, the next question is this one:

What exactly does “verify” mean? What are you doing when you verify?

Verify means deciding which pieces of information are most important and then checking or verifying those pieces of information. It’s like a quality control check in manufacturing. Instead of each garment getting a sticker that says “Inspector #32”, each name gets a once-over by a prospect research professional.

Following are some illustrations of how this might differ from organization to organization:

  • In a small office with a total of three fundraising staff, the development director might eyeball the top-rated prospects, look up their company bio in Google, and make a phone call for a visit. Batta-Boom-Bang!
  • Another organization might hire an intern to check the top-rated prospects and leave it to the intern to figure out what that means.
  • A solo prospect research professional might select a portion of lesser-known prospects in each capacity or likelihood to give range, verify key items such as real estate, occupation, largest gifts, and volunteer leadership, and make recommendations for discovery call assignments.
  • A prospect research department supporting well-paid, highly-skilled major gift officers might take the top tier of top-rated prospects and go beyond verification to qualify that the prospect does indeed match the vendor’s capacity range and likelihood to give rating. They might then methodically verify and make recommendations, working their way through the tiers of prospects.

Why such variation in approach? Always look for the money! Spend the most time and resources where it will bring in the most gift dollars. Common sense tells us that there should be a different approach for verifying results where the highest gift capacity is $500,000 from verifying results where the highest gift capacity is $100 million.

And then people always want to know:

How long should it take to verify a name?

By now you will probably understand when I say, “It depends”. How long depends on how much you are verifying and at what capacity rating levels. Sometimes there are lots of assets and hundreds of possible gifts – that could take a while. On the other hand, prospects with less capacity can sometimes verify quite quickly.

Take a name or two in each category you plan to verify and time yourself. Now you have a good idea of timing.

Data >> Information >> Insight >> Action

Everyone in the fundraising office needs to know a few things about data these days. We need to turn data into information and information into actionable insight. That requires both fundraising and research knowledge. But you knew that, right? Because you are the future of fundraising!


More Articles You Might Like

Prioritizing Corp & Fdn Prospects

1334987_68502097Corporate and foundation research is different from individual research. Could it be so simple? About as simple as stating that boys are different from girls! They are different, but also the same in many ways. It’s complicated! Let’s take a quick peek at how corporate and foundation prospects differ when we need to identify new prospects or prioritize a long list.

Identifying Corporate and Foundation Prospects

There are some great tools out there for creating a good list of corporate and foundation prospects. Foundation Center Online and Foundation Search immediately come to mind. Pretty quickly you can create a long list of good prospects that fit some general criteria. Unlike individuals, many corporations and foundations don’t require a deep, personal connection to make a substantial gift.

And yet many times when you start digging deeper to craft your proposal, you realize that the prospects on your list aren’t as good a fit as you originally thought. For example, maybe they are listed as giving nationally but have only ever made gifts in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Or maybe they give to education, but only scholarships and not program.

Early on in my Aspire Research Group LLC career I was not interested in generating corporate and foundation prospects lists. There were plenty of grant writers around who could do that very well – and write the grants too!

But later on I started getting calls from people who had received a long and very broad list from a consultant or sourced the list themselves using products like Foundation Center Online. Now they were facing 100 or more prospects with no idea where to start and the pressure of meeting a fundraising goal.

When it comes to individuals, there are some great tools for narrowing a list like this. We have wealth screenings, predictive modeling scores and often, some giving history to our own organizations. As the Giving USA research has made quite clear, individuals provide the clear majority of overall fundraised dollars and it’s not surprising that the industry has invested in developing great tools for individual prospects.

Nevertheless, corporate and foundation partners are important players for many reasons, not the least of which because they help us engage with the individuals they employ and sell services to. And starting with the letter “A” and working through to “Z” is rarely ever the best use of time and resources.

I wanted to help people prioritize their corporate and foundation prospect lists, but in a way that would give them a good return on investment. In other words, I needed a way to prioritize that wouldn’t take much time so I could charge less. So I got creative. Maybe you have done this too?

Simple Scoring Scores!

Whenever I take on a prospect ID or prioritization project now, I create a simple worksheet based on my first interview with the client. Then we walk through the worksheet together answering the questions about what a really good prospect should look like. A fundraiser might want a prospect who will give to a certain project, but I make sure we get specific.

“Gives to after-school education” becomes “Has made a gift to a similar initiative of $5,000 or more”. I will probably try to define “after-school education” more specifically too. Are we talking science, computer literacy, reading or all of them?

While we are going through the questions on the worksheet I might add or delete some of my questions as I learn more about the projects and needs. I also keep my ears open on which criteria are the most important. When we are finished with the questions I summarize and confirm which criteria are simply preferable and which ones will disqualify the prospect entirely.

An easy example is geography. If the foundation only makes gifts in New York City and the client organization is in New Jersey, the foundation is not a prospect.

The next step is to translate the worksheet answers into a rating legend. And by playing a little bit and giving some criteria extra weight – a higher rating value – I can get the prospects to sort out in a very obvious way based on the client’s funding needs.

By taking time up-front to determine what disqualifies the prospect and what is most important, I can zip right through the project. Doesn’t give where my client is located? Done with that one. Next!


All’s Well that Ends Well

Some of my prospect ID projects have gone stunningly well and others not so much. The difference has usually been the quality of communication with the client and how early I discover that what the client wants just doesn’t exist. I’m careful now to do an initial search and communicate quickly if I am struggling to identify prospects that meet the agreed criteria.

Your organization might have a straightforward relationship with corporate and foundation funders such as asking for a grant and getting a grant, or you might have many layers to your corporate and foundation relationships such as providing the funder with volunteering, cause-marketing, or fulfilling other needs.

If you are tasked with corporate and foundation research you know you have just as much opportunity to help create wonderful and rewarding relationships as with individual prospects. Maybe you have helped the frontline fundraiser connect with your organization’s vendors, sourced donor relationships with corporate foundation executives or leveraged your organization’s constituency in other ways to identify prospects.

However you do it, identifying corporate and foundation prospects is different from individuals. And as is usual when working with together with other humans, success often requires good communication matched with the creative application of skills!

Do you have a prospect identification success story? Have you heard about new technology solutions for corporate and foundation prospecting? I hope you’ll share with us!

Other Articles You Might Like

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


 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!


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?


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.


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, 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.


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.


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 , a blog which presents pieces by seasoned fundraising professionals.