Communicating Better with Researchers in 5 Questions

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone that felt like an argument or debate, but it turned out you were both saying the same thing, just differently? I had one supervisor where this happened quite a bit before we realized what was happening. Many times the very skills that make great frontline fundraisers and great fundraising researchers translate into two very different languages!

When it comes to conversation starters, donor motivations, and wealthy lifestyle indicators, fundraisers like you have deep and intuitive knowledge and awareness. How else could you be so successful at raising large gifts?

Recently a long-time client came to me with a completely cold prospect pulled out of a news article. The article was about an 8-figure gift to another institution for the same cause, but a completely different aspect of that cause. He wanted contact information so he could follow-up on his letter to the couple.

I was skeptical. The data (the news article) was not suggestive of a good fit. The prospects’ affinity was clearly elsewhere.

And then the couple accepted a meeting!

We did more in-depth research and found quite a bit of data suggesting that, indeed, there were indicators that a relationship could be developed. I will not doubt a veteran fundraiser’s intuition again, I assure you.

If frontline fundraisers and fundraising researchers have such complementary knowledge about prospects, why do they many times struggle to communicate with each other?

Prospect research professionals operate in the world data. We need to be very specific and to break things down into pieces. We need to be analytical and able to turn text into numbers to efficiently prioritize prospects. And we often struggle to focus on or see the big picture, feeling more comfortable among the tasks that lead to the bigger goal.

If this sounds like your researcher, or if you have ever struggled to communicate with a researcher, consider the following questions before your next encounter:

  1. How will you use it? When you ask for research to be performed, try painting a picture of what you expect the resulting research to look like and how you will use it. This avoids confusion over the amount of time you expect the researcher to spend. “Get me everything on this guy” is a painfully vague request for a researcher. Explain what actions you plan to take using “everything” and you might get what you really need.
  2. How important is this request? When you are talking to someone who loves process and procedure – like many researchers do – it is important to emphasize how your request fits into other priorities. Profile research can feel high priority when there are meetings scheduled, but finding new prospects to fill a campaign gap has a much higher priority when you recognize the lead time you need to cultivate for a campaign gift. More targeted profiles or outsourcing could be time-freeing compromises.
  3. Do I need to know this? We researchers get excited about our work! If you start feeling overwhelmed in a conversation about a request or project, just let us know. “I feel like that’s more detail than I need right now” is a very helpful statement – especially if you follow it up with a clear picture of what you need (see “How will you use it?” above).
  4. Do I need to help my researcher make a decision? Maybe you don’t like going deep into the details, but sometimes details matter a lot – especially with data. You don’t want your organization in a news headline about data impropriety! Asking the obvious question can help you and your researcher get through a lot of detail: “Do you need help making a decision about this?” (If the answer is “no”, see above.)
  5. Have I given feedback? Until ESP becomes a requirement for employment, researchers need feedback on the work they provide to you. Especially if you are unhappy because you didn’t get the information you needed, take the time to discuss it with your researcher. It could easily be a case of saying the same words, but defining them very differently.

We know that staff diversity leads to better outcomes for our organizations, including fundraising, but it also creates friction as different personalities and perspectives struggle to communicate. Taking the time to think about frustrating conversations afterwards can help you identify tactics to communicate better in the future.

Some type of prospect research is behind every fundraising success. If you are fortunate enough to have a prospect research professional on staff, your efforts at better communication are bound to turn into big wins for you and your organization!

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To Advocate or Not to Advocate – there is no question!

advocate
“Advocate” by Nick Youngson, is licensed under Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

Something big and very exciting is happening in the field of prospect research. It is at once both thrilling and terrifying, but then again, the best things in life usually are! Do you know what I am talking about? Prospect research has become the center of attention concerning the use and abuse of data in nonprofit fundraising.

The Thrilling Aspect

For years prospect research languished in basements, yearning for that exclusive seat at the leadership table. Thrillingly, prospect research professionals in the U.K. have been thrust into that seat with all the anticipation of slowly ratcheting up the roller-coaster-mountain and the subsequent terror of being dropped with a 5.5 G-force speed down the other side.
It’s official. Data is a big deal. And the guardians and operators of data in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are prospect research professionals.
So after working long and hard behind the scenes, after advocating to fundraising leadership for the use and respect of prospect research, we have arrived at the leadership table. And my, what an entrance we have made!

The Terrifying Aspect

In the U.K., the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has been fining charities for violations of the Data Protection Act 1998. The fines have ranged from a low of £9,000 to a high of £25,000. The IOC has done a lot of interpretation of the Data Protection Act 1998, and has surprisingly used emotional language.
The fines include best practices in prospect research such as the following:
Is this the end of prospect research in the U.K.? I doubt it. There will be changes as NGOs adapt their data and privacy policies to carefully reflect their fundraising practices. Some NGOs will even seize this as an opportunity to share their fundraising “data story” with the public.

New Perspective Fueled by Advocacy

After this terrifying plunge, the interpretation of the Data Protection Act 1998 by the ICO may shift as NGOs, fundraisers, prospect researchers, donors, and other constituents react and lend their voices to the conversation. For example, the Institute of Fundraising issued a report, Good Asking, exploring why charities research and process supporter information.
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On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, instead of a tightening of data privacy, the U.S. has been experiencing a loosening of data privacy. On April 3, 2017, President Trump repealed a set of privacy regulations requiring “internet service providers to request authorization before selling sensitive customer data to advertisers, or using that same information for marketing campaigns.” (Click for article)

What Can You Do? Advocate!

Whether you are in the U.K., the U.S., or any other country, we prospect research professionals are most often the guardians and operators of fundraising data in our organizations. We may have little or no leadership authority (yet), but that doesn’t mean we can’t advocate for our profession and for solid data practices – before we find ourselves the subject of unflattering news headlines.
It’s easy to say we should advocate, but what might that look like in real life? Following are three steps to help you advocate effectively:
  1. Define the change you desire. Just as in goal setting, clearly defining the change you want to effect is important. Are you advocating for the creation of a data privacy policy, or are you advocating for your prospect research position or department?
  2. Determine your strategy. Strategy comes before tactics. Who needs to be persuaded to make change happen? Where are the obstacles to the change you seek?
  3. Craft your tactics. Tactics are the kinds of actions you take to fulfill your strategy and effect change.
Consider the story of Suzanne Harris at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is a classic case of advocacy gone right! Suzanne wanted to introduce RFM scoring. She talked up RFM scoring and quoted gurus in the field. She built a relationship with IT to create an automated score that could be refreshed. Then the Development Department threw a party for all staff, on a day fundraisers were likely to be in the office, and used games to educate and demonstrate the value of the new scores.
Advocacy isn’t just for associations or organizations with a cause. It’s something all of us do all the time. We advocate for a raise, to have dinner at a certain restaurant, or to visit somewhere special for vacation. Advocacy becomes more complex when there are more players and procedures in between the current status and the change we desire.
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Considering the level of strategic complexity we navigate when we provide insights in prospect profiles, analyze prospect portfolios, and perform data mining, we can handle advocacy!

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You Turned the Prospect Into a Donor – Now Keep Them!

“Compliance” by Nick Youngson, is licensed under Creative Commons 3 – CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s another day of prospect research – which wouldn’t be complete without surfing the internet for brilliant strategies for improving the effectiveness of your efforts. Thanks to keen prospecting guidance from Jennifer Filla, you’re taking a deeper dive into your wealth information, pulling your fundraising team into the wealth conversation, and you’re on the path or reducing your prospect-to-donor ratio. As you welcome those donors into the fold, there’s something to keep in mind – fundraising compliance.

Why Compliance Matters

Why does fundraising compliance matter for your donors? While you research a donor, that donor researches you. There’s an excellent chance that your organization is incorporated in one of the 41 states that require charitable solicitation registration. There’s also an excellent chance that you have built your fundraising clout to a notable level. You’ve done an incredible job with your programming and have maximized the impact of each dollar raised. Your donors are impressed and telling their friends about your impact every way they know how – on social media, by word of mouth, and more. Their networks are your network and as unofficial ambassadors they are spreading your message, expanding your outreach, and asking prospects to give. That’s solicitation.

It’s reasonable to wonder where you need to register. In short – anywhere you ask for gifts! It’s not just about where you are; it’s about where do the people you ask for a gift reside. Are you casting a wide net, asking everyone connecting to your website and through social media to participate in your annual giving? Have you made your Donate Now button prominent so that anyone, anywhere can find you and give? Maybe some of your donors have moved away, but remain loyal givers. Some of the best, most loyal givers are helping you out and, on your behalf, asking others to give.

Don’t trip over technicalities as the money comes rolling in. Register before you ask. When that generous donor sends you a gift – because Cousin Larry talked about your work or Friend Rachel sent them an email – that gift landed them in your pipeline, no matter where they live. You aren’t going to leave money on the table. You are going to build the relationship and ask again… and now you’re soliciting. It’s critical that you determine if you’re soliciting in a state and then ensure you’re meeting all of the necessary requirements.

Four Key Steps

There are four key steps to remember to keep your fundraising compliance on track.

  1.  Research: When you know your status in each state, you can easily map your path to compliance, including which applications to complete and what fees may be charged.
  2. Apply: Make sure you are preparing the correct forms in the most streamlined and cost-effective manner.
  3. Monitor: Follow these applications through to approval, for your donors’ peace of mind.
  4. Renew: Track due dates and fees so that your renewals are on time and complete.

 Keep the Trust!

Instill confidence in your donors so their focus stays on your mission. Your relationships with your donors are built on trust. Transparency and accountability preserve that trust. Solicitation triggers registration. Prioritize compliance! If you’re not in compliance, your run the risk of:

  • Fines and penalties that pull vital dollars away from the work that you are doing in your community.
  • Audits and enforcement actions that take your limited time away from the mission you’re meeting.
  • Bad PR that can taint the reputation of your organization and follow you for years to come.

Instead, reap the benefits and rewards that come with knowing that you can:

  • Fundraise anywhere at any time.
  • Tap into the relationships and connections that you have invested time in building.
  • Show the world of donors that you are a legitimate, credible organization, worthy of both their trust and their hard-earned dollars.

You want to be proactive while honoring your valuable and desperately finite time and while maintaining that trustful relationship with your donors. Take that good-faith step of investing in compliance.


About the Author

Ify Aduba is a Nonprofit Compliance Specialist for Harbor Compliance, a leading provider of compliance solutions for organizations of all types and sizes. Headquartered in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Harbor Compliance partners with organizations in every state in the U.S. and in over 25 countries to help solve the most challenging compliance problems. With clients that range from the largest organizations in the country to fast-growth startups, Harbor Compliance fully manages government licensing compliance in both nonprofit and business sectors.

In her spare time, Ify actively volunteers within her community. She currently serves as President of the Board of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO), President of the Administrative Ministries Team at Doylestown United Methodist Church, and Board member for the Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition. She is also a member of the Doylestown Branch of the American Association of University Women and Doylestown Rotary.

Prospect Research Woman

March is always an interesting month – International Women’s Day and now Research Pride Month. It also happens to be the height of snowbird season in Florida where I live. The snowbirds arrive in full force in January and by March are facing the end of their extended vacation. As a condo-dweller, our recreation committee swings into high gear during this time and I partake in BUNCO, a dice game attended only by the women. We wouldn’t turn away a man, but they take off on those nights in search of the best happy hour deals and the cheapest eats on the beach.

We self-segregate because the snowbirds in my condo buildings came of age when a man couldn’t imagine attending a baby shower and a woman ruled the domestic space. This kind of segregation is almost incomprehensible to my daughter. In her world men and women plan the wedding together and they both attend their friends’ baby showers. Have we reached the age of inclusion?

Consider the world of prospect research. We use algorithms to find and match quantifiable assets to individuals and statistical modeling to predict likelihood to give. We deal in math and numbers. And math and numbers don’t lie. Or do they?

As Preeti Gill shared in her coming-of-awareness story, “What About Women?“, sometimes it’s not about what you find, but what you are not finding that matters. And in fundraising there are a lot of women and other minorities who are not being found, or when they are found, not being pursued because the right “numbers” are not found.

We know from Forbes Billionaires List that 75% of wealthy women did not earn the wealth they own or control. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have it. It does mean that as your prospect research professional I probably won’t be able to point to as many of those comfortable numbers you know and love – publicly held assets in her name.

We know that women prefer to volunteer and investigate organizations before making a significant investment. But that often means you will see many small gifts in one year adding up to a substantial sum or unlisted volunteer roles. And that means it’s likely that as a prospect research professional I won’t be able to point to the one BIG gift or the nonprofit board roles you cherish as such great indicators of wealth and inclination.

Prior to hearing from Preeti Gill I absolutely demonstrated bias in assessing wealthy women’s ability and inclination (and likely any other minority I’ve researched). The irony is not lost on me that just as I lament that so many women still feel pressure to perform a full-time career simultaneous with performing full-time domestic duties, I am biased against wealthy women. Me! A prospect research woman.

Yes, men and women attend baby showers together now, but primary parental and domestic duties still fall unevenly on women in most households. Yes, women have accumulated remarkable wealth, but fundraising is still struggling to update its “categories” or “mental shortcuts” that have worked so well in the past. And although information technology has improved our ability to do so many things, it inevitably incorporates the conscious and unconscious biases of its creators.

How exciting is it then that fundraising and prospect research is dominated by women? We are in the perfect position to openly examine potential bias and deliberately develop methods to counter it. We can write a different story, choosing different words and different numbers to represent different constituents – all of them hot prospects!

I’m proud to a member of a field that shares the way Preeti Gill shared her story; that collaborates the way APRA Pennsylvania welcomed the Prospect Research Institute to host roundtables together in Greater Philadelphia; that advocates the way that Research in Fundraising is doing in the United Kingdom; and that celebrates in the way that Helen Brown has anointed March as Research Pride Month.

No matter what your particular fundraising role is, take the time to share a little research pride. Ask your researcher what s/he does or share how prospect research has impacted you. If you are a prospect research professional, share the research contributions you have the most pride in. Be a part of the conversation on social media, too. Make your posts with the hashtag: #ResearchPride.

I and a whole bunch of other researchers will be looking for your stories!

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Lowering the Prospect-to-Donor Ratio

Do you dream of creating the perfect prospecting system? A system so flawless that the ratio of prospects to donors drops to 2:1 or even (gasp) 1:1? I do! And yet, barring advances in ESP, a 1:1 ratio feels quite out of reach. We simply don’t have access to people’s complex, internal motivations for giving until they get visited and share. Even so, we still have plenty of room to achieve better prospect-to-donor ratios.

Interview with a Donor

I had the joy of interviewing Tim Horton, a venture capitalist for the Prospect Research Institute’s #ChatBytes podcast. About halfway through the interview he shared some of his philanthropic motivations with me.
  • Childhood sentiment – He gave to the March of Dimes as a child and still gives.
  • Family culture of giving – He was taught to give while young and now gives his time and money to mentor youth.
  • Political passions – He feels strongly that Africa has been left out of the capitalist economy and wants to remedy this.

Mr. Horton is a very private person and his giving is anonymous. If you research him you will find all of the usual public information, especially businesses where he is a listed officer. Isn’t it natural for us fundraising researchers to consider that given his venture capital history he might view his giving as an investment or wish to be involved in giving to entrepreneurial issues or causes? And yet, if we deduced his giving motivations from the data collected we would be all wrong.

Insights and Integration

Whether we are sourcing a fresh list of prospects or taking a deeper dive to qualify already identified prospects, achieving a lower prospect-to-donor ratio requires insights and integration.
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As an instructor at the Prospect Research Institute I have introduced “insights” as a capstone project in any course where it makes sense – because crafting insights takes practice. Usually we researchers are happy to craft insights from community involvement information. We can look at patterns of giving, nonprofit board service, and family foundation histories and provide suggestions about where and how a prospective donor might want to make a gift. But we often stumble over providing insights from wealth information.
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And yet, wealth information is where we researchers can really shine a light in the darkness! When we begin to learn and imagine how wealth and assets could affect a prospective donor’s ability to make a major or transformational gift we offer a tremendous service to the gift officer. Suddenly the multi-millionaire with 85% of her wealth tied up in her business becomes recognized for life stage and likely liquidity, opening up a long-term relationship that yields some major gifts now and an eight or nine-figure gift fifteen years later.
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So if your gift officer comes to you asking for estimated net worth or a liquidity percentage on his prospect’s wealth, take a deep breath and resist the urge to say that it isn’t possible. Instead consider this the perfect opportunity to integrate prospect research into front-line fundraising. Open the conversation. Discuss how we collect wealth information and how we might better inform the gift officer. Look to other fields, such as financial services, to find out how they evaluate liquidity or other facets of wealth. And provide those insights in some evolving format.
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Because once you become part of the team conversation around how a prospective donor’s wealth impacts ability and motivation for giving, you are providing the kind of insights your team desperately needs to bring the prospect-to-donor ratio down and to build deeper and more respectful relationships with constituents. You begin to drop the “cost center” designation and become integrated with the “revenue center” designation.
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And even better, you get to learn. You get to hear what happened after that visit. You get to find out how right or wrong your guesses were and speculate with the team on why that might be. You get to discover great new ideas on how to perform even better in the future.
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It’s time to step-up and lean-in to a new relationship with your data, your fundraising team, and your profession. It will take some practice, and perhaps a few mistakes along the way, but you’ve got this!

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How To Find New Major Gift Prospects?

Partner with a prospect research professional! As a fundraiser, why should you partner with a prospect research professional to find new prospects? Couldn’t you use a research software product or buy a prospect list?

Whether you look inside or outside of your database, you can easily generate a prospect list at the click of your mouse. Silicon Valley is certain that data technology solutions can fix whatever ails us – and in theory, why not? But in practice our data is every bit as fallible as we humans who create it.

Prospecting for donors follows this same pattern. Sure you can get a list of prospects from software, but you will be stumbling over errors in no time. Things like a donor who made a memorial gift when her dad died, but is unlikely to give at that level again. Or a common last name erroneously matched to wealth.

And then there are the prospects that are omitted. Where is the woman who volunteers in your program and lives in that multi-million dollar home? Or what about the young couple that make a small annual gift, but you know they have inherited wealth?

It doesn’t mean that the wealth screening or prospect list is useless. It means you need someone who understands the data and fundraising to partner with you to refine the list. You need a well-trained prospect research professional.

Following are five ways that partnering with a prospect research professional can get your major gifts program galloping:

  1. Verify the data: A wealth screening zips through thousands of records. When a researcher performs a double-check on your highest-rated prospects, you don’t waste time with duds.
  2. Track progress: Without a way to track your major gifts progress, your chances of achieving your goals drops dramatically. Prospect research professionals excel at tracking and reporting.
  3. Deliver custom information: Every organization is different and each fundraiser is different. Partnering with a prospect research professional creates a give and take resulting in information delivered how and when you need it most.
  4. Creative sourcing: The prospects you need might not surface with the usual screening products. Well-trained prospect research professionals creatively source the right prospects inside and outside the database.
  5. Translate and adapt: As the fundraiser, how well do you need or want to know the details of data technology? A well-trained prospect research professional translates the software, adapts, and delivers it to you in a form you can use.
Data technology is amazing and has transformed the way we fundraise. There’s no question about it. However, being able to achieve major gift fundraising success requires more than data.

When you are ready to dedicate time and attention to cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding major gifts, enlisting the services of a well-trained prospect research professional will produce the forward momentum you need to achieve major gift success.

Researching Public Company Wealth

golden-dollar-1703161_1280Public companies create an enormous amount of wealth in the United States. Having the designation as a public company insider is a neon-lit indicator for high net worth!

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, the consultancy’s research arm, 10% of the world’s public companies generate 80% of all profits. In 2013, the Fortune 100 biggest American companies were responsible for 46% of nominal U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Where are the Public Company Insiders?

That is a lot of wealth! But the reality for most prospect research professionals is that the majority of our major gift prospects are going to generate their wealth through private companies. Why is this true? There are many reasons, but the chart below is a fun visual for one big reason!

 

 

Most nonprofit organizations are small relative to the heavy-weights at the top of the nonprofit sector. Universities also have the advantage of teaching the extremely successful to become that way, which frequently creates a strong affinity.

The combination of smaller operating budgets and a weaker path to affinity means that unless you research at a big organization or institution of higher education, you probably won’t come across too many public company insider prospects. There just aren’t that many of them to go around.

However, within this reality, public company prospects are a gold mine of learning opportunity!

The Old Way of Learning Donor Profile Research

Most of us entered the prospect research field as generalists. We have earned a wide variety of graduate degrees, have held jobs in a wide range of industries, and we often find financial filings to be incredibly opaque and confusing! To top it off, we have to learn how to do profile research on our own, with a hodgepodge of brief trainings if any at all.

The result is that we often face a topic as complex as public company executive and director compensation packages as a checklist task. We learn a series of actions to take to value and present the information and approach each prospect the same way, occasionally adding new learning when prospects differ.

Public companies provide us with the opportunity for a new approach.

The New Way of Learning Donor Profile Research

Public companies offer us an unfettered view of the compensation structures for their directors and executives. We can also make qualitative and quantitative comparisons of the company and its compensation packages. These two facts create a rich learning opportunity for the fundraising research professional.

When you take the time to learn and understand the reasons behind the compensation packages for public companies you can begin to apply this understanding to the ways private companies create wealth for their share owners. You can compare and contrast the public company with the private company.

Most of us in the prospect research field are not ultra-wealthy. It can be extremely difficult to imagine the wealth of a public or private company share owner. Learning how public companies create wealth for their executives through compensation packages, including company stock, gives you a strong foundation to improve and build upon your ability to value all company holdings and calculate capacity ratings.

Where Can I Learn This Kind of Information?

You can find all manner of free learning online. Khan Academy offers a free Finance and Capital Markets series. Coursera offers a free Business Finance series of courses. There is no shortage of ad hoc material on YouTube as well!

The downside to what is available for free is that it is not focused on fundraising. Because of this, the concepts being taught can feel mostly irrelevant. While you want more than cursory learning, you probably don’t need to learn everything there is to know about buying and selling stock and bonds.

There are fundraising-focused webinars, articles, and blog posts from the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement and consultants in the field, but these often don’t explain the reasoning behind the compensation structures or how this kind of wealth can turn into a gift. They are by nature brief and not comprehensive.

Out of frustration with this situation, I helped create a comprehensive, 5-week course introducing prospect research professionals to the world of public company compensation. It was exciting to pull all the pieces together and create a safe space in an online classroom to have conversations about researching and fundraising with public company prospects.

Public company insiders may not show up on your prospect list terribly often, but I’m suggesting that if you view them as an opportunity to deepen your knowledge about wealth creation, they can be a rich learning experience that will deepen your research and fundraising skills generally. What are your thoughts? Do you agree?

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Organization Loses Donor Trust – With Data Breach!

keyboard-895556_1920Whether it’s a personal story or a media headline, we’ve all heard of incidents where data was mishandled or misunderstood and donors felt betrayed. And yet, many development and advancement offices continue to place little value on their information and data.
When I followed up with one of the beta testers for the Prospect Research Institute’s first-ever online class, Introduction to Prospect Profiles, she told me how thankful she was for the opportunity to take the class. Now she knew for certain that prospect research was NOT for her and she would seek a different career. Why? She couldn’t delve into other people’s lives that much. Privacy was sacred to her.
I didn’t think too much of it, but since then two more students have expressed discomfort about privacy issues. Because, of course, we cover this in the class; we walk right out there to examine the legal and ethical edges of privacy in fundraising research.
Why are prospective prospect research professionals nervous about privacy?
Could it be they don’t trust organizations to do the right thing with information? You know fundraising is predicated on trust – donors trust us to use their money for the greater good. Staff must also trust the organization to use its data and resources appropriately.
When prospect research is treated as a clerical function, anyone can do it, low-paid, and not heard – that translates to the same message about the information prospect research finds. Quite a few of my course participants are self-paid. And then they learn how deep we researchers can go. And then they see the dark edges of ethics. And they get uncomfortable.

If you are in the development or fundraising office, you are in a position to begin changing the culture of respect and trust toward your organization’s data.

You can leverage prospect research to (a) manage information legally and ethically, (b) lead with diversity and inclusion, and (c) use data persuasively to raise more money. How? Let me count the ways!
  1. Data Management: Prospect Research Professionals are uniquely positioned to research and be a part of the team creating information management policies that ensure your data is used and maintained effectively. This is the era of Big Data and your researcher is versed in mining the gold from it.
  2. Data Protection:The more important data becomes, the higher the risk that it will be breached and erode your donors’ faith in your organization’s ability to protect their information. Your prospect research professional is your trusted guide, helping you to navigate and translate vendor and IT products and jargon. S/he is also the voice helping you to create different levels of data access, such as who can print profiles, with how much information in them, and do what with them.
  3. Non-Traditional Donors: We’ve been using wealth screenings effectively, but it’s time to recognize that this identification method is limited. Encourage your researcher to work with you to identify non-traditional indicators of wealth. That means conversations, but it also means assigning and actively pursuing those minority prospects, too. If there is wealth there, why are you ignoring them?
  4. Relationship Mapping: This is a broad term for what requires a great deal of sweat equity, but software is inching forward to make it better and faster. Understanding the relationships among your major gift donors could be a healthy disruption to your usual processes. Understanding and learning to leverage the power of your other donor groups’ relationships could transform your organization’s fundraising reach! If you are not building the capacity for fundraising analytics to discover patterns such as these relationships, you will be left behind.
  5. Persuade with Data: Yes, you can work with your prospect research professional to illustrate the data that answers questions and use this to persuade donors to give. Infographics are particularly popular. But let’s use data to put a stop to fickle fundraising. How many times do you change strategies based on “I feel” or “s/he said” or “they say”? Use your prospect research professional’s analytical prowess to methodically gather data of all kinds to help leadership form a strategy it can stick to – and win. Jason Briggs outlines this brilliantly in his article on international research.
I’ve had clients learn the hard way. Initially shocked by my prices, they come back when they receive shoddy work from someone who has low rates, but lacks the skills and resources. The value of really good prospect research becomes clear when you receive synthesized information that gives you direction to raise more money.
Your organization needs a well-trained prospect research professional with an excellent ethical compass. Are you driving your best hiring prospects away by sending the message that information is cheap and anyone can turn that information into fundraising action?

Warning! Anyone can do analytics.

colorfulTwo of the strongest characteristics prospect research professionals have in common is insatiable curiosity combined with a surprising boldness. We are proudly generalists! And very good at it too.

I was inspired by a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in September where an APRA Pennsylvania member shared how she fearlessly tackled fundraising analytics to upgrade the organization’s major gift prospect pools.

Suzanne Harris is a Research Analyst and her supervisor is Sarah Cadbury, Director of Prospect Research and Management. A new researcher, in 2014 Suzanne was a successful student of the Prospect Research Institute’s inaugural Introduction to Prospect Profiles course. When she joined the Philadelphia Museum of Art she jumped right into a campaign and the prospect identification and tracking that goes along with that.

Sarah had created a campaign rating – the amount a specific prospect was anticipated to give – as a way of sorting and compiling the campaign gift table. They also had external vendor ratings, including a capacity rating from 2014. As discussions swirled around segmenting prospects effectively it became clear to Suzanne that a score based on internal data was needed.

At a previous organization Suzanne had read Joshua Birkholz’ book, Fundraising Analytics: Using Data to Guide Strategy, and had become interested in creating an RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) score, but she hadn’t quite figured out how to adapt the book’s method to their constituency.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art she was using the Raiser’s Edge donor database. Raiser’s Edge provided summary financial data, which was exactly what she needed to calculate RFM.

But still, Suzanne struggled with how to make it come together for the Museum. She began having conversations internally with database/IT folks. She emphasized how the RFM data would be used and why that was important.

She attended an APRA conference where she heard Joshua Birkholz talk about the value of fundraising analytics. Upon returning to the office she read her notes out loud, verbatim, to persuade people of the importance of a score like RFM.

Then, finally, it all came together in one meeting. Suzanne sat down for about an hour and half with an internal database guru and they worked out how the RFM could be automatically calculated using an intermediary Access database. They cherry-picked the data points most relevant to the Museum and created the scores based on them.

Suzanne’s “I can do anything” generalist attitude, combined with her ability to boldly persuade others of the importance of an internal score had resulted in success!

Marcy Serkin, Deputy Director of Development for Development Operations, suggested they roll out the RFM scores with a party. So they did. The party was an inclusive, all-staff party. People who had no idea of what ratings were learned about them. They threw the party on a Monday because the Museum is closed on Mondays and the gift officers are usually in the office.

Much like any other product launch party, they introduced RFM with a theme, fun activities, and education. Inspired by the art of Lisa Frank, they chose a colorful rainbow and unicorn theme.

Data Mining: Because Unicorns Don’t Find Themselves.

They created custom stickers and let people “taste the rainbow” with Skittles candy. They played a game, too, where everyone had cards with RFM scores. The last three people standing – the unicorns in the room – all had high scores and were not assigned to a gift officer. Their prize was a swipe at the unicorn piñata!

Suzanne is not a statistician or a data scientist. She is a prospect research professional. A generalist!

She used her prospect research knowledge to persuade others about the importance of internal scoring and to collaborate with her to create and launch the scoring so that it could have a positive impact on the campaign – and even beyond the campaign to annual fund and planned giving.

Suzanne is a prospect research hero! You can be, too. Be confident in your skills and boldly persuade others to use research effectively for fundraising.

More Resources You Might Like

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Join the Resource Collections online community to access this video tutorial.

 

Can You Trust Gift Capacity Ratings? 5 Things Fundraisers Should Know

capacityGift capacity ratings were a marketing moment for wealth screening companies. Suddenly thousands of records could be matched individually to wealth records and assigned a score. Your constituents could be assessed by their potential capacity – in the form of dollars. And everybody loves money. Have gift capacity ratings lived up to the hype? Yes!
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With the sophistication of fundraising analytics we now have ever more ways to evaluate our prospect portfolios, but gift capacity ratings remain an important tool for the fundraiser. To get the most out of your gift capacity ratings, following are five things you should know.
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1. Prioritizing your prospect pool saves you from yourself.

We are all human and that means we prefer to call upon and visit people we like – people who are more like us. Unless you are a major gift donor yourself, your prospects are not like you. Assigning numbers, gift capacity ratings, to your prospect pool helps you overcome your natural tendencies and allocate your time based upon the impact someone can have on your organization.

You will spend as much (or more) time on someone who can give $10,000 as someone who can give $100,000 or $1 million. If you want to excel in major gifts, capacity ratings will help you focus.

2. Ratings and scores are never exact unless it’s the Olympics.

Gift capacity ratings don’t have decimal points! Or at least they shouldn’t. Typically a gift capacity is expressed as a range, such as $250,000 to $499,999. The range should clue you in that this is not an exact science. The goal is NOT to pinpoint a solicitation amount. The goal is to categorize your prospects by their capacity or ability to give.
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A successful solicitation strategy requires much more than a gift capacity rating. A $1 million+ capacity rating is exciting … until you visit and discover he believes philanthropy is bad for the economy. A $1 million+ capacity rating is exciting … until you discover she has been harboring fantasies of making a transformational gift to your cause. Then it’s a MIRACLE!

3. You must know your prospect types.

You and your prospect research professional are not high-net-worth-individuals (HNWIs). You are not usually doctors, lawyers, or investment bankers either. Recognizing and being able to categorize how different prospect types accumulate, manage, and give away their wealth is for you and your researcher to discover together.

Know that HNWIs are generally UNDER-valued by gift capacity ratings. The more wealth there is, the more likely that wealth is hidden from view. Prospects outside the U.S. frequently have wealth indicators that can’t be assigned a number.

4. Not knowing produces anxiety. Embrace the unknown.

Before you get frustrated with how little we can really know about the prospects we want the most – HNWIs – remember that gift capacity ratings were never meant to be the final word. As you evaluate your prospect pool by its capacity ratings and any other tools available to you, embrace what you don’t know.

Create a checklist of what clues you in to prospects of great wealth. Use this to create a strategy for your discovery and cultivation visits. Use what you don’t know as a roadmap to discover your prospect. If you know a fundraiser that came of age pre-internet, find out how s/he prepares for visits!

5. Your researcher is your best ally.

Prospect research professionals have as much fear of ambiguity as gift officers. Calculating capacity ratings fills us with anxiety and angst! This is also to your advantage. Engaging your researcher in conversations about gift capacity ratings, wealth indicators, and what you might discover in your visits will only make you both better in your professions.

Some of my best conversations have been with confident fundraisers who wanted to better understand how I arrived at a gift capacity rating or how a particular type of wealth factored in to the prospect’s ability to give. Prospect research professionals want the donor to give a major gift, too!

Gift capacity ratings are not going anywhere anytime soon. Learning to use them to your advantage will help you achieve success as a fundraiser.

Do you have advice for others on pitfalls to avoid, or tips on how best to use gift capacity ratings? I hope you’ll share!

More Resources You Might Like

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Join the Resource Collections online community to access this handout. Use it to facilitate discussion with prospect researchers, gift officers, and leadership