3 Steps to Building a More Comprehensive Prospect Profile

By Jill McCarville, Marketing and Communication Manager, iWave Information Systems

head-746550_1920It’s almost lunchtime when a fundraiser comes to you with a new assignment:  They have a meeting with Suzie in two weeks and need to know who this person is – does she have a history of giving, does she have a connection to your cause, how much does she have to give?  Next stop, your prospect research tool.

The 3 fundamental steps to building a prospect profile remain the same: Create, customize, complete.  Okay, so those may not come as a surprise to you.  But from a software company’s point of view, there may be some profile building features within your tool that you haven’t been leveraging.  Use these features to gain deeper insight into your prospect and make your job easier. At iWave we recognize that there are many different research tools, each with different functionalities.  However, some of the features highlighted below may exist in your tool and you just didn’t know about them or haven’t had a chance to try them.  Try these steps to make your profile building easier and faster and -who knows- maybe even in time for lunch.


Our data tells us that the majority of users begin with a general integrated search (360search) across all datasets at one time.  In fact, in our tool, there were over 1.3 million 360searches done last year alone.  This broad search will help you identify which datasets/categories contain lots of information on your prospect and in which datasets you’ll need to dive deeper.  Now you can start painting the picture of your prospect’s employment, income, real estate holdings, board affiliations, net worth, stock holdings, history of charitable giving and political giving, etc.  Simply start selecting the records that you know, or are pretty confident, are your Suzie and add them to her profile.

Now, you might be saying, “But what if it’s a common name?”  No problem.  Once you’ve done a broad search across all of your tool’s datasets, you can narrow your search to find more information about your prospect, their spouse, and even their private companies or trusts. Exploring individual datasets with additional filters might even uncover key information you weren’t able to find using a broad, high-level search.

For example, if you’re trying to find Suzie’s real estate holdings, but your initial search didn’t turn up any property, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t own real estate.  As you know, it’s much more likely that she does.  After all, real estate accounted for about 20% of a HNWI’s total assets globally (CapGemini World Wealth Report 2013).  It’s possible that the property is listed in someone else’s name, a trust, or LLC.  Time to check the real estate database.  Try reverse searching by Suzie’s mailing address (rather than her name) because in many cases people link all of their properties to a primary residence for billing and other mail.  You can find additional search tips for other datasets here.

As you explore each of the datasets and “tease out” real matches to your prospect, select those records and add them to the profile you created in the broad search.  But first, ensure your tool automatically filters out duplicate records to maintain the accuracy of your scores and ratings.


A common perception we hear in the industry is that profiles must be created externally because tools simply don’t deliver the quality of profile you need.  For some tools though, this isn’t the case.  In our tool alone, researchers create over 40,000 profiles each year containing over 1.8 million records.  One of the keys to creating so many profiles is customizing your research tool.

In the first step, you chose which records to add to Suzie’s profile.  Now, you need to add and delete records as you validate them.  This will eliminate false positives so you can be confident in the accuracy of the profile and the scores/ratings within it.  Depending on your tool’s features, you’ll also want to select your own capacity ranges (used to determine Suzie’s capacity rating), and the proper affinity ranges (so the score accurately reflects Suzie’s connection to your specific cause).


Almost there!  Once you’ve sketched out the prospect profile, it’s time to add the finishing touches.  Consider adding Suzie’s picture to the front for easy identification.  Then add any articles you may have found on her from other sources.

Jen Filla, along with other industry leaders, also suggests you add additional value to a profile by synthesizing the data you’ve gathered.  As a researcher, you are the expert on your prospects.  This is your chance to analyze the records and provide observations.  For example, what do Suzie’s SEC transactions tell you about her?  Do you see any patterns or trends in her charitable giving?  What clues can you find from her board affiliations?

Use the front page lead summary section to summarize your prospect’s current situation and provide recommendations.  In fact, in our tool, this lead summary was created based on the requests of researchers. A front and center spot to highlight the one thing the fundraiser needs to know about Suzie.  You can then use the built-in notes sections to tell the full story about Suzie as a prospect – who she likes to give to, when she likes to give, and how much she can give at one particular time.

Many people like to create and use the profile, score, and notes built within the tool.  However, this isn’t the only option.  Feel free to export the profile in a Word document for further treatment, or print a short summary profile to share right away.  And don’t forget to set an alert on the profile so you receive updates when there are any changes to Suzie’s records.

You are the expert at creating prospect profiles for your organization, and hopefully these tips will help you leverage your research tool to build better, smarter profiles.  Happy profiling!

Now, what’s for lunch?

About the Author
jill color

Jill McCarville is the marketing and communication manager at iWave Information Systems, a company that delivers software solutions to education, healthcare and nonprofit organizations to help them raise more major gifts.  iWave’s solutions are an asset to fundraising departments of any size. From Ivy league schools like Yale and Stanford, to healthcare and arts organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the Smithsonian Institution, iWave has assisted organizations in the United States, Canada, and overseas.

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5 Reasons Public Company Insiders are Great Prospects

Unless you are fundraising for a prestigious business school, you probably don’t come across a whole lot of private company insiders as prospects. Maybe you wonder what all the excitement is about. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings are complex. Why bother understanding that world if you have those prospects so infrequently?
Apart from the noble pursuit of continual learning, following are five reasons public company insiders make such good prospects.

1. The wealthy get and keep great wealth through capital, not income.

Have you heard about technology companies like Yahoo! or Oracle paying their CEOs a symbolic salary of $1? It’s true! Earned income – the salary or cash paychecks you and I take home – is taxed at a much higher rate than capital gains.
Capital gain is the “income” or value received when you sell capital, such as stock, at a profit. If I am awarded stock at the market price of $10 and it is $25 when I sell it, I have made a capital gain of $15 on that share of stock.
Any self-respecting public company CEO would much prefer to have the bulk of their compensation subject to lower capital gain tax rates AND have it grow in value. Wouldn’t you choose to lower your taxes and watch your paycheck rise in value? Especially if your million+ cash income covered your living expenses?
If you have been reading about rising income equality, this article in The Economist magazine helps to put the rise of capital into historical perspective:  To those that have shall be given.

2. There are so few public company insiders, and they keep good company.

In 2015 there were 3,700 public companies traded on a major stock exchange in the U.S. Compare that to nearly six million private U.S. companies in 2012 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Publicly traded companies are an exclusive club. To be listed on the NYSE or the NASDAQ you need revenue in the multi-millions. This means there are fewer top executive and board positions. Not just anyone gets asked to serve on a public company board!
And if your prospect does sit on a public company board, who else might s/he introduce you to?

3. You can find out if they have gifted stock in the past.

What a wonderful philanthropic indicator this is! You might not know who was the beneficiary of your prospect’s goodwill, but when you view your prospect’s insider transactions in MarketWatch, it clearly indicates when stock was gifted.
Watch this 2-minute video to learn how to find whether your prospect has a history of gifting stock.

4. All compensation is public, which can help with strategy.

When you have a well-trained prospect research professional on staff, she will know how to tease out all of the important bits of an insider’s compensation. Ask your researcher for her suggestions on gift timing and she can tell you when the prospect is likely to receive stock awards, have stock options in the money, or receive cash awards from derivatives (such as performance stock units (PSUs) based on the stock price, but which are not actual shares of stock).
Combined with the rest of the prospect’s wealth and philanthropy picture, this information goes a long way toward informing your cultivation and solicitation strategy.

5. Even retired public company executives are public.

Whether your prospect retires, gets merged out of a job, or gets fired, if it is a public company you can know everything about the financial and other benefits the prospect received from any separation package – even many years later. It can often be difficult to assess a retired prospect’s capacity to give, but with public company data you have some actual numbers from which to begin estimating.

Success is Preparation Meeting Opportunity

Those words of wisdom have been spoken many times by many people and I couldn’t agree more. If you ever doubted the value of a well-educated and well-trained prospect research professional, find yourself a public company prospect and you will doubt no more!
The Wall Street world of high finance is complex and opaque. It is also an extremely exclusive club of individuals capable of making transformative gifts to your organization. Whether you are hiring a prospect research consultant or considering continuing education for your in-house professional, make sure an understanding of the world of public companies is on the skill list.

Why a Really Good Prospect Profile Isn’t Good Enough

chess-454098_1920I don’t know if this has happened to you, but all too often I find an amazing product – a special soap or leak-proof mug – only to discover a few years later that the company is out of business and the amazing product is gone forever. Good products perform, but successful companies steward their customers.

We researchers provide great products – such as prospect profiles – that perform, but are we stewarding and listening to our end-users? All too often we are not.

We complain that our end-users think we can press a button and print a profile; that people tell us we should just Google it; or that gift officers demand every prospect be deeply researched before making the first phone call.

You are not going to want to hear this, but I’ll tell you anyway. It’s our own fault!

We accept work requests without any conversation. Sometimes we even create complicated forms to avoid contact. If we really fall down the rabbit-hole we obsess over the process of requesting, completing and delivering. And then we deliver as if we dropped the profile over the cliff never, ever to be seen again.

Okay, I am being dramatic.

But imagine if we did things a little differently…

  • We talked to the requestor. “Gosh, Jan, this prospect just made a $10M gift to us two years ago. Was there something specific you were hoping I’d find? Oh, you are looking for planned gift opportunities. Sure thing.”
  • We talked to the requestor. “Hello Josh. Do you have a few minutes to talk? Great! I wanted to ask you about Mr. Bucketloads. I had so much fun researching a hedge fund manager. It doesn’t happen every day. So I wanted to be sure I presented his information clearly. What did you think of the occupation section?”
  • We talked to the requestor. “Liz, thank you for taking time to meet with me. Another year has passed and as I was reviewing my work I realized that you have asked for twice as many profiles as anyone else. I’d love to know what you like best, what we could change to make them better, and how you feel it helps you raise more money.”
Are you noticing a pattern here? Talk to the requestor.
Mass Produced vs. Fine Art Masterpiece
When we ignore our end-users, our prospect profiles become a mass-produced item. We are training end-users to ask these kinds of questions:
  • This is cookie-cutter stuff so why can’t I get more faster?
  • Why are we spending so much on research? I bet we could find a way to do it cheaper.
  • A specific piece of information is missing. I’m not sure we’re even getting quality.
  • There is an error here. How many other errors are in the work?

When we talk with our end-users – creating relationships where questions are regularly asked, ongoing dialogue occurs, and improvements are made to the product – trust builds and our prospect profiles become perceived as fine art masterpieces!

We are training our end-users to ask these kinds of questions:

  • I really want to see a specific item on the first page to help make decisions in the prospect meeting. I wonder if the researchers can add that?
  • The vendor at the conference says many research departments use their tool. It’s amazing! I have to ask our researchers about it. They would know if it’s hype or not.
  • This profile is fantastic! I feel so much more confident about my gift proposal.
  • Geez. There is an error here. It’s probably just a mistake, but I’d better mention it.
This is Chess, not Uno.
Building relationships and trust is a slow process with setbacks and triumphs along the way. You need the focus and attention required for a game of chess, not the immediate gratification from a card game of Uno.
And the reality is that sometimes our ability to build relationships is complicated by the hierarchical staffing structures of our organizations. If we have no contact with the vice president, it’s tough to build a relationship.
We can find a million (mass-produced) reasons why we can’t build relationships. It’s the top performer who collects (fine art masterpiece) relationships. Make no doubt about it, you can too. One conversation at a time.

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3 Strategies to Choose a Research Tool

austria-sign-2-1489248Whether I’m teaching the Introduction to Prospect Profiles course at the Prospect Research Institute or talking to an Aspire Research Group client, I get asked the impossible question: “What’s the difference among research tools and which one should I buy?”

Information technology has been good to the prospect research profession and that means we have a wild array of tools from which to choose. And equally wild can be the price ranges! This makes it tough to assess the value of each and if they will meet your needs.

My crystal ball is in the repair shop so I can’t predict the perfect suite of tools for you, but I can give you three strategies to approach your decision-making challenge.

Strategy 1: Linkage – Ability – Inclination (“LAI”)

In prospect research it boils down to three key categories of information you want a tool to help you with:

  • Linkage: How can we connect to this prospect through peers? How is our organization linked to this prospect?
  • Ability: Does this prospect have enough wealth to make a large gift or increase her/his giving?
  • Inclination: Is this prospect philanthropically inclined? Is s/he willing to give her money to nonprofit organizations and institutions?

You already know about LAI, right? But have you considered narrowing down your research tool choices by those three categories? If you had to number them in order of priority in your fundraising efforts and/or weakness in your ability to research, how would those categories shake down?

Whether you need a tool to help you with all three LAI categories or just one can help you narrow the field considerably.

Strategy 2: The Five Profile Building Blocks

Once you know how the LAI categories rank in importance, you can begin to dig into exactly what types of information you want to find in a particular category.

This is where the five building blocks of the profile come in handy. No matter how your profile template is organized, there are five major categories of information a fundraising profile might have. Check out the Anatomy of a Profile illustration below to see if you agree.


  • Linkage would fall under the Institutional Information Is the prospect an alum, donor, or volunteer? Is s/he serving on the same company board as your trustee? Vendors you evaluate might include ProspectVisual, RelationshipScience, and WealthX, among others.
  • Ability can be found in the Occupation and Assets What kind of wealth is being earned and how is acquired wealth being held? You might evaluate vendors who aggregate sources such as iWave PRO, Lexis Nexis, DonorScape, DonorSearch, ResearchPoint and WealthEngine, as well as specific vendors for ability such as LinkedIn or J3DonorWatch.
  • Philanthropic Inclination is in the Biographical and Community Involvement Did her child die of the disease you are on a mission to eradicate? Does he make gifts to other organizations or organizations like yours? You might evaluate the same vendors above who aggregate sources, as well as specific vendors such as Foundation Center Online, Guidestar, NOZA, and NewsBank.

Examining your needs in more granular detail through the profile building blocks will identify whether a potential product can give you the information you need most. For example, if you have a lot of public company insider prospects you may need a subscription tool that can make your research faster and better. On the other hand, if you are a lawyers’ association, you might shell out for the current AM Law 100 from The American Lawyer to make better estimates of capacity.

Strategy 3: Free Trials and Peer Review

Even after you know exactly what you want in a tool you will want to evaluate its usability. Taking advantage of free trials and asking your peers for their candid comments is a great way to test the user-interface of a product and what information you will really get from its sources. One of my favorite places at conferences is the exhibit hall so I can learn about new products and tools on the spot.

You might have questions such as:

  • Will it integrate with my donor database?
  • Can I print a reasonable looking profile right from the tool?
  • Can I look at the “raw” search results or will it only show me results matched with its proprietary filter or algorithm?

And, of course, you always have to consider what kind of learning curve users will likely have. Is it easy to figure out? Is there live and DIY training available? What is customer service like?

The Process of Choosing Never Really Ends

Choosing the right product or suite of products doesn’t happen just once and then you are finished forever. Instead, it’s more like eating. Sure, you have your favorite recipes, but you go to restaurants or cook new dishes. Sometimes the new meal – or the new research tool – becomes a new favorite.

Information technology is an ever-growing field globally, not just in fundraising research. We can’t hope to keep up with every tool that enters the market, but we can be strategic about evaluating whether a tool is likely to be a good investment.

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Click here to get your copy of the Profile Search Tool Comparison Chart. Be smart. Choose well.





PRRgraphicProspect Research Review offers in-depth, comprehensive, and unbiased reviews of your favorite tools. Learn more>>>

The Devil’s in the Data! When should you get an audit?

binary-503598_1280Guest post by Darrel Spacone

Stop and think about the health of the data in your donor database.  When was the last time any cleaning or maintenance was done? Is it part of a normal routine?

We all run into situations on an almost daily basis that scream “Dirty Data”, “Duplicate Data”, “Useless Data”, etc.  But what are you doing about it? Do you know what to do or how to do it?  There are always issues with data that will creep up over and over again until they are addressed.

Your donor database is highly complicated and detailed. Over the course of time, how many staff and volunteers, with different skill sets, have been allowed to edit your data in some way and contribute to the less than stellar shape that it is in?

Most organizations face the same issues, but how they deal with or ignore them separates them. An audit is the starting point to finding out exactly what and how much is amiss, addressing it, and then making maintenance and cleaning part of your normal routine.

In my career I have had direct experience with wearing many hats and having heavy workloads thrust upon me as a nonprofit employee. Sometimes there is little or no time to navigate the data trail, finding and fixing common, glaring issues.

You know or suspect you have problems, but how and when can you tackle it?

If you don’t have someone on staff with the expertise to clean up your donor database, consider hiring a consultant to provide you with an audit. An audit will identify what you are doing right, what is going wrong, and what steps you need to take to get back on track.

So, when should you get an audit?  NOW of course!

Following are some of the benefits of an audit:

  • Mailings: An audit will expose missing titles, names, addresses, addressees, salutations.  Are you mailing to or soliciting minors? What about your service area or state? Do you target solicitations to certain counties? Is the county field populated?
  • Duplicate records: Do you have the same person with multiple records?  Are they necessary?  Are you mailing to spouses or other household members separately? Should you?
  • Duplicate addresses: Every time you add a new, preferred address, are you checking the address tab?
  • Merged records: Duplicate information can be copied over during this process.
  • Security: Are you lazy when it comes to security?  Does everyone have the same access regardless of their job function and capabilities?  Often this is the single largest problem and causes the most damage.
  • Deceased constituents: Are you mailing to or soliciting dead people? Have you overlooked the surviving spouse?
  • Record archiving: How long do you solicit a prospect? How long has the record been in the system without any activity?  Do you know how to keep your history, but remove from your mailings?

Data underpins all of your development efforts from gift acknowledgement, invitations, prospect identification, stewardship and beyond. When your data becomes a tangled web, your ability to fundraise suffers. Donors are not thanked and renewed. Major gift opportunities are lost forever. When you add up the losses incurred from bad data, the return on investment in your data skyrockets.

The Devil’s in the data! Make it Good.

darrel.spaconeAbout Darrel Spacone, bCRE
Darrel Spacone is the Chief Information Officer at Donor-Data-Done, LLC, a Blackbaud Certified Raiser’s Edge Consulting firm. With thirteen years of experience with Raiser’s Edge, he has helped healthcare, arts, child welfare and social services organizations identify problems and fix their donor databases. He provides audits and solutions, so that you can focus on your day-to-day tasks without missing a beat, saving you time and money while you are raising money.
Connect with Darrel:

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Let’s Talk Research Life, Not Your Job

Many of the important decisions about your life are made when you are not in the room.

Don’t believe me? Tell me, were you there when…

  • Your spouse decided whether or not to keep dating you early on?
  • The sellers decided to accept your bid on the house?
  • Your mortgage company decided to risk a loan on you?
  • Your boss decided to hire you over other candidates?

Who is going to be in the room when you go for a pay raise or a promotion? Who decides whether your department has enough in the budget to send you to an industry conference?

The recent APRA Prospect Development conference in New Orleans demonstrated with gusto that our field is alive and thriving. Many in our profession have become a driving force for success in their fundraising departments. How did those individuals get to the place where the decision makers felt really good about fundraising research?

Maybe you feel a bit like Dorothy when she first approached the Wizard of Oz – a little intimidated by leadership. But let me take you behind the curtain…

The Influencers

In social media we hear a lot of talk about finding the influencer – the person with the biggest following and the highest engagement.  In your office, many of the same rules apply. Influencers are those who interact with a lot of people and have direct control or influence over decision making.

Make a list of how many people you interact with. How many of them directly control or influence decisions that are important to you?

You might be surprised who turns up on your list. What about the president’s assistant? She might interact with a large number of people, including you. Does the president listen to her when she has an opinion?

The Plan Man

Now that you have the list of people you interact with in your organization, pull out a fresh sheet of paper and make a list of all of the people who influence the decision that is most important to you. Maybe that’s training and using analytics tools, attending a conference, or implementing a new process.

Take your two lists and identify a few people that are on both lists – not too many – that you could develop a better relationship with. Treat them the same way you know how to treat donors. Create a cultivation plan that builds rapport, engages the person on relevant topics of interest, and gives the person more of what s/he wants. Ask good questions. What is her biggest pain point? Help her somehow.

You might also find that by developing a deeper relationship with a few key people, you meet more of the decision makers in your office.

Now that you have your cultivation plans, decide what three words you want people to think of when they think of you or your department. Think it through carefully. Now use those words when you talk about yourself and your work. I don’t mean to go bragging on yourself, but in regular conversation consciously use those words.

Not only will people begin using those very same words to describe you and your work, but you will begin more closely aligning your behaviors with those descriptors.

For more than 15 years , my three words have been:
Integrity | Accountability | Growth

And, yes, I need to be reminded to use them more!

Relationship Time

At conferences like APRA’s Prospect Development conference, the visionary ideas presented, the cross-pollination of ideas and sentiments with colleagues, and the new skills learned can be transformational.

But this year, my biggest takeaway was how important it is to choose time spent on relationships very thoughtfully.

We all know in life that not everyone will like us. But making decisions about who to spend our precious time with is never easy. If there are people in your life who energize you, who excite your curiosity by being different, who bring out the best in you (add your own criteria), then invest in them. If there are people who don’t do all those good things for you (or you for them), then gently step away.

When you deliberately examine your social networks both inside and outside the office, strategically choose the people to invest your relationship energy with, and understand and promote your own core values, you will succeed. Paths will illuminate. Opportunities will arise you couldn’t have dreamed up.

Your Job or Your Research Life?

It’s up to you to define success in all aspects of your life. For me, research infuses almost every part of my life. Methodically approaching any kind of problem – treating it like a research project – has been my modus operandi since I was a child. Back when it felt like I could learn about anything just by reading books in the library. Nothing is too difficult if you have a method, an approach.

If you want more out of your research job, consider tweaking the phrase to research career – or even research life!

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Takeaways from other APRA peeps:


Carla Harris has been inspiring my career for years! Maybe she will inspire you too.


Speaking of methodology, check out Marianne Pelletier’s resource: What Analytics Can Do for Your Fund-Raising Shop



What’s in your Wealth Screening?

Wealth screenings have been around for over a decade now and we all pretty much know how helpful a screening is to prioritize donors, but what’s inside a screening? Usually the answer is a long list of names of sources, but DonorSearch has turned that into an engaging visual description of why those sources are important. I hope you enjoy the InfoGraphic below as much as I did!

Sweating it out in New Orleans with APRA

APRApd2015ButtonsThe APRA International Prospect Development conference is about to begin with the Analytics Symposium,  Researcher’s Boot Camp and pre-conference workshops starting tomorrow.

And WHEW! is it ever hot out! (this coming from a Floridian who loves summer)

I’ve been reading hints on Twitter about the cool (and cooling) swag the APRA chapters have on offer at the chapters table. I will be scooping up my conference treasure, but I have some conference doubloons of my own! Check out the photo for a picture of the pins I have to give away – but only to those who can catch me and ask about #gogirlresearch!

HINT: Take a peek at who is presenting on 7/25 at 8:30am!

Fundraiser Alert: Politics Is Central To Identity For Many Wealthy Americans

direction-654123_1280Guest Post by Joe Clements

For many of America’s wealthy, politics is a central part of their identity.

A recent study by Pew Research revealed that 60 percent of wealthy American’s give money to political campaigns and causes. A 2011 University of Chicago study further showed radically disproportionate political participation levels among the wealthy. Whereas only 26 percent of Americans follow politics “most of the time,” 84 percent of the wealthy attend to politics daily.

Evidence also suggests that America’s wealthy are politically polarized. Pew Research shows that 44 percent of highly engaged Democrats and 51 percent of highly engaged Republicans view the other party as a “threat to the nation.”

Maybe you remember grandma’s advice not to discuss politics at the dinner table? Well, today’s politically engaged classes don’t really have to worry about such “mixed company”. About a third of partisans report that they prefer to live in close proximity to and befriend people who share their political view.

For many of your donors, politics is a part of their identity and daily lives. In fact, you are competing directly for their dollars with presidents and governors.

If your research only includes information about wealth, then you are not flagging some of the most intense passion points of your prospects. Worse, your development officers may be inadvertently stepping on political landmines they never knew existed.

Fortunately, if you know a prospect’s federal and state level donor history and some basics from her voting record, you can convert even the most intense ideologues into lifelong donors. Below are a few tips for approaching politically engaged prospects.

  • Send like-minded fundraisers to develop the prospect. If you’ve got a Koch brother to prospect, make sure a conservative leaning development officer is assigned the file. The same goes for introductions. Ask for introductions to new prospects from politically like-minded current supporters.
  • Try to avoid using political “dog whistle” words like “fairness,” “social justice” or “personal responsibility.” You want to avoid accidentally suggesting ideological purpose to your organization.
  • Highlight ideologically appropriate aspects of your organization. Left leaning donors tend to be interested in environment and social programs, whereas right leaners gravitate to business and economics issues.

You’ll find additional benefits from political persuasion research. For example, in voter records we often find useful information not only about political participation but also vacation home address, family members in the prospect’s household and leads on whether the prospect has children in college or the military.

The good news is that most of the data you need to determine political identity is public record – from political contribution records to voter files. Researchers can find political information manually or use a tool like CivicBridge that analyzes a prospect’s political and civic engagement.

When it comes to a prospect’s political passions, a few moments of research can mean the difference between losing a prospect because of a political faux pas during the ask and winning a major contribution because the development officer connected on an issue important to the prospect.

About the Author

Joe Clements is a Florida-based political data analyst and founder of Strategic Digital Services (SDS) and CivicBridge. CivicBridge is a platform for helping researchers evaluate the civic engagement of prospects and connect those prospects with their relevant public records.  Connect with Joe via email at Joe@chooseSDS.com

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How To Keep From Being Automated Out Of A Job

robot clockLet’s not be shortsighted. Information technology has improved rapidly and many of the tasks that fall under the prospect research umbrella are automated. They are. Wealth screenings have replaced me as the first course of action in a small organization. They have. No use crying over it. And it’s not going to stop there. So how do we stay relevant in our field?

Find >> Analyze >> Synthesize

We researchers like to use the word analysis to justify our role, but we need to do even more than that. According to Merriam Webster, analysis is an explanation of the nature and meaning of something. But synthesis is something that is made by combining different things such as ideas.

Yes, we need to analyze information to point out the pieces that are relevant to fundraising – whether that is in a profile, trends in our relationship management system, or statistical analysis of our database.

But what if we could learn to take it a step further and routinely synthesize the information, churning out insights that our development officers can act on? It would be another step towards job security, that’s what!

What might that look like?

Charlie is a good prospect for a legacy gift. He has announced he will be retiring in five years. When he retires he will receive a lump sum payment of all of his restricted stock units in the company’s deferred compensation plan, which is currently valued at around $45 million. He has been a top executive for fifteen years and is not likely to be relying upon that sum for retirement and may be interested in ways to offset tax liabilities.

You are not just analyzing and preparing the pieces of information in that profile, you are doing that PLUS putting the different pieces together to create a new idea: he is a good legacy gift prospect.








Janice is a good prospect to leverage for peer giving. She is past president of the local Chamber of Commerce and has the most relationships with others in your prospect pool. She has a high wealth rating and served as co-chair for the campaign of Local Organization.

Applying external data to evaluate the prospects in your development officer’s pipeline is not enough anymore. Not if you are capable of pulling those external pieces together into a recommended action that will move her entire pipeline forward.






We should run an additional analysis to identify women major gift prospects. In this table are the prospects that have the highest predictive value for making a major gift to our campaign, but only one percent of them are women. Sixty-five percent of our active donors are women and as of 2009 women controlled 39% of U.S. wealth with predictions of that number increasing.

Sometimes the method of analysis is technically accurate and perfectly defective. It takes a curious mind and some sincere synthesis to process information in both micro and macro environments and make a recommendation.







Practice, Practice, Practice … and Be Bold!

It’s likely that no-one has ever explicitly taught you to synthesize the information and provide recommendations. You may have even been made to feel foolish or been chided for providing recommendations in the past.

Be Bold! Oil your feathers and let the water roll off of them! You won’t get better at this skill if you don’t practice. And when your insights and recommendations are shot down (and they will be at least once because development officers don’t always share what they know with us), shake off the embarrassment and write down what you learned.

When you recognize that you, I mean you the individual, are a really amazing person, then you can also recognize that you may or may not be good at providing insights and recommendations. That’s okay. You weren’t good at cursive either, until you practiced. (Do children still learn cursive in school?).

So forget your fear of failure and start practicing the art and science of providing insights and recommendations. Synthesize that data baby!

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