Category Archives: 4Researchers

Can You Spot the HNWIs in Your Database?

So much of what we do in prospect research revolves around finding wealth. Sometimes it sounds like the only thing we talk about is money! As I finish facilitating another Capacity Ratings Workshop at the Prospect Research Institute I am heartened to reflect that in every discussion we had about the money, we were irresistibly drawn to another rating – affinity or engagement.

I’m not trying to suggest that we don’t need to be really good at spotting high net worth individuals (HNWIs) in our database. We do! When we segment our database by wealth we are better able to focus on finding what really qualifies someone as a major gift prospect – how engaged or aligned they are with our organization.

Following are some tips for finding HNWIs who also demonstrate affinity for your organization:

  • Go Beyond the Screening: Yes, verify the information in your top-rated segment, but don’t assume no-one else in your file has wealth. Professional researchers know how to identify the hidden HNW gems such as private company owners, women volunteers, and wealthy families.
  • Prioritize Giving: Don’t get blinded by bling! High lifetime giving and monthly giving are great indicators for planned gifts. The savvy researcher might look for things like long-term home-ownership, too. It’s all about knowing your unique constituency.
  • Leverage All of Your Data: When the gift officer and researcher work as a team, you can test out what pieces of information best prioritize your top prospects. Is it attendance at multiple events? Donors who have multiple points of communication or participation? Donors invited by other top donors to participate and give? Create a feedback loop!
  • Research Wisely: Profile research isn’t about completing a form anymore. The software tools do most of that groundwork for you. When you know what wealth looks like and you know what a top donor to your organization looks like, you can research wisely. Spend more time on the most relevant information – connections to and interests in your organization.
  • Prospect Smartly: Truth is that even if you are at a college or university, at some point most organizations will need to reach out to people who are not part of our existing constituency. Getting good at finding connections and having a researcher-gift officer team to better clarify what a top donor looks like to your organization (wealth + affinity) will position your organization to seize external opportunities for major gifts.

Knowing what a HNWI looks like takes practice. Read the wealth and philanthropy reports published by places such as Indiana University and Capgemini. Once you learn to distinguish between someone living comfortably and someone who has significant wealth, the next step is to understand how HNW donors give differently from others. Cultivation and messaging for this group is distinct.

And the next time you are talking about wealth or estimated net worth and someone asks, “Isn’t it more important to know if they are philanthropic?” – you now know the answer! There has to be both wealth and philanthropy to raise major gifts.

More Resources

Pictures and Patterns: Decision-making with Fundraising Insights

Imagine you emerge from a strategic planning session and your task is to raise more money from corporations. Your organization wants to expand its reach and you need to take the thousands of corporate donors in the database and transform them into a fundraising program. Why? Because everyone “feels” like there is a lot of opportunity there. Where do you start?

One of the most common mistakes in fundraising is to make decisions and invest money and resources in strategies that are based on intuition and anecdotal evidence alone. Let’s face it, sometimes it works, and maybe that’s why the behavior is so persistent. But much of the time data-weak decisions fail miserably, often slowly and painfully with lots of fingers pointed. There is a better way.

Leverage the talents of prospect research to paint pictures and identify patterns!

Well-trained prospect research professionals are methodical and analytical. That means that we enjoy solving problems, untangling messy information, and putting order to chaos. Share with us your dilemmas, your problems …your fundraising hopes and dreams. We can help you succeed!

In the new corporate fundraising program example, it means painting a picture of our corporate donors:

  • Where are they located?
  • How many of them are there and at what giving levels?
  • How long have they been donors?
  • Are they small, closely held companies, or large corporations?

And then identifying clusters and patterns:

  • Are there groups of donors in particular industries, geographic locations, or company size?
  • Do the donors that give the most and most frequently have anything in common?
  • Is there anything about the data that can help us understand the giving behaviors? Can we see any correlations between data points?

There is no standard checklist for exploring this kind of information. It requires a keen understanding of the fundraising being undertaken matched with an analytical mind trained in using data to solve problems.

When a prospect research professional works with you to explore your data and make an initial assessment, you can decide on strategies and tactics that will raise the most money now and in the future.

For example, you might discover some companies are more “ripe” for a new approach than others. If they have been giving frequently and increasing their giving, visiting them and discovering their philanthropic needs might uncover a unique corporate approach for your organization that you hadn’t thought of!

Knowing that your best donors are dominated by small, closely held companies gives you the opportunity to find out why. What makes your organization so attractive to them? Are they really individual donors in disguise or do they have company objectives for their philanthropy?

Uncovering an unusual pattern, such as expressions of faith on the company website, might give you an insight that challenges the way you perceived your donors and that opens the door to much deeper relationships.

Fundraising success through insights is not so much about the tools – data mining, statistical analysis, profile research – it’s about giving the donor story inside your data a voice.

When you hire a prospect research professional to help you understand your data, you are hiring someone with a unique skill set – someone who can uncover and communicate the “story” inside your data.

More Resources

Can you Achieve Faster-Better-Cheaper Profiles?

“I need a profile on this person today…can’t you just Google it?” It’s the kind of question that makes prospect research professionals cringe. But why shouldn’t a development officer want it faster, better, and cheaper? Why is your organization paying thousands of dollars a year for research tools if it still takes forever to get the information needed?

So what’s happening to cause this disconnect between development officer and prospect researcher? I suspect there a few causes, but first, let me tell you a story…

As a consultant I charge a flat fee for projects. I want my clients to be able to budget, and as a professional I should have a fair idea of how long it will take to do the research. Profile-type research falls into this category. And it’s this kind of pressure that keeps us razor sharp. It’s me and the team against the clock!

That’s how I “rediscovered” one of my favorite tools the other day –

Faster-Better-Cheaper with

At Aspire Research Group we’ve taken on a few new clients that, in addition to standard profile research, needed some “situational” research done. Things like prioritizing, quick checks to be sure assigning for a visit is appropriate, or key items researched to prepare the president. So I asked myself, “How could we manage our time researching, keep up the high quality of information, and make it the right price?”

In my quest, I took a fresh look at our tools and settled on DonorSearch to start our projects. Of course, being able to upload a small batch of names for a prospect screening is a time-saver, but even when we entered only one name into the Integrated Search, suddenly everything was at our fingertips. DonorSearch had made so many updates to their product – the combined result meant we could be very competitive.

For example:

  • Time Management: The big name family business was clearly the source of wealth, but why was the prospect not listed on the website? Open Corporates in the Integrated Search demonstrated a long list of companies where he was a director – many with the same word in the name. From there a quick Google search revealed his specialty in the family business. Faster.
  • High Quality: There was a large, outlier gift to an organization with a strange name. I didn’t want to put it in the list without checking, but didn’t want to have to do a distracting search. A click on the source link gave me a searchable PDF – and lo and behold – it was an organization with a mission similar to the client! Better.
  • The Right Price: By letting the tool do all of the upfront “grunt” work finding relevant information we spent less time gathering and more time thinking, and that meant we could charge the right price. Cheaper.

Ask the Librarian: Can’t you just Google that?

But if you really want your research to achieve the business mantra of better-faster-cheaper, you need more than a great tool like DonorSearch. You need to start with a really good understanding of the need and continue with really good communication throughout.

So why do researchers get asked to Google it in seconds flat? Let’s go ask the librarians! Librarians are trained to interview the customer. When you go to the reference desk, the librarian has to figure out what you are trying to accomplish and then help you navigate your way to success.

While we don’t view the reference librarian as an expert on the subject matter that brings us to the library, we do view the librarian as someone who has received training in library science and is an expert on helping us find information. The librarian is a professional.

The “just Google it” request suggests that any amateur without training can perform quality prospect research, which can be insulting … but it also happens to be a great opening for a really good conversation to clarify the  problem to be solved.

Professionals are Always in Demand

The more that software tools are able to do, the more important prospect research professionals become. Librarians don’t worry that books will put them out of business!

And on the flip side, the more that software tools are able to do, the more we must use our communication and problem-solving skills to provide flexible, custom solutions.

If you manage a prospect researcher, if you are a prospect researcher, or if you want to be a prospect researcher, you can arrive at better-faster-cheaper profile research if you recognize the importance of great training (including communication skills) and tools. It’s what qualifies us as prospect research professionals!

More Resources

Cure Analysis Paralysis with this Visual

In this wonderful era of exciting, off-the-shelf prospect research tools and one-click-away data analysis, how is it that we still struggle to prioritize our donors and prospects? But we do. The results come in, the scores are assigned and yet there are still way more highly-rated prospects than our staff could possibly contact. Which names do we call on first?

Human brains are not wired to interpret and act upon long lists of names with appended information, such as those found in our databases and Excel spreadsheets. And when you need 50 names, but there are 300 that all have the same top score, it can be paralyzing!

Whenever I hear about data visualizations I always see pictures of charts and graphs in my mind’s eye. But when I was grappling with how to deliver a prioritized prospect list to a client recently I decided against charts and graphs. I wanted something that would give them a colorful visual with graphics, but also actual donor prospect names with dollar signs.

The organization had decided to create a more formal corporate giving program. It had been happening accidentally and now they wanted to get serious. So she sent me a list of over a thousand of their best donors based on giving history. My job was to sort it out and send it back.

We decided to focus on two variables that we labeled engagement and gift potential. Engagement was based on RFM scoring, which stands for recency, frequency, and monetary and represents a giving history analysis. We also appended some estimated sales and other data to determine gift potential.

As you can see from the picture below, the key to the data visualization was limiting the presentation two only two, easily understood and highly relevant variables. (The information in the grid is fictional.)

Click to enlarge

Following is how you “read” the picture for this donor list:

  • Stars = high engagement, high gift potential
  • Loyal = high engagement, low gift potential
  • Opportunities = low engagement, high gift potential
  • Likes = low engagement, low gift potential

I knew that my client, a talented fundraising professional, really wanted to begin her efforts with a fighting chance of receiving major gifts in the first year. Who wouldn’t want that? It was up to me as a researcher to understand how to translate the organization’s fundraising program intentions into data points, create or get those data points, and then translate it back into fundraising actions.

My client didn’t need to understand exactly how I sorted and filtered to assign donor prospects into each of these categories. She needed to be able to recognize some names, be pleased and surprised to see some names she didn’t recognize, and be able to quickly make decisions about which ones she will call tomorrow.

No matter what kind of fundraising professional you are – front-line, prospect research, or something in between – you now have a simple way to visualize two variables that you can ask for or apply to the data yourself.

If you have a data visualization triumph I’d love to hear about it! Reply to this email or better yet, comment on the blog post.

More Resources

Fake News, Research, and Fundraising

In prospect research, the rule-of-thumb has always been to find at least one, and preferably two, corroborating sources for information found on a prospect. With the onrush of data, technology, and some of humanity’s evil proclivities, could that rule-of-thumb all too easily turn into a sore thumb?

The idea that completely fake stories circulate on the internet in pursuit of clicks and the resulting ad revenue – and that these stories are obscenely successful – makes me feel like I’ve reached for my wallet to pay for a meal only to discover my purse was stolen. At some point in our lives, most of us have done a quick Google search to answer a question and have taken the results at face value without clicking through to more carefully verify. I’ve certainly done it.

As the prospect profile shapeshifts in response to really good aggregators and an on-demand, as-needed approach to fundraising, could we be duped by perniciously false or even simply erroneous information?

I’d like to believe that prospect research professionals already go beyond the corroborating source rule-of-thumb and consider the quality and reputation of the source, the date, and the sensitivity of the information, especially when there appears to be a lot of value-laden words or outright bias.

A simple example of this is a Wikipedia article. While Wikipedia provides a nice summary, clicking through the article’s sources and reading the original cite is critical. Another example that came up recently on the Apra PRSPCT-L list-serv was evidence of a criminal record.

Sources such as Lexis Nexis for Development Professionals allow us to see certain criminal records. Sometimes we find news articles, court documents published on attorney websites, and other sources, too. We worry about the risk to our organization’s reputation and whether the information will impact a prospect’s ability and interest in making a gift. But understanding the process for convicting someone and finding all the information can be a time-consuming, complex task.

In addition to complex information such as a criminal offense, we now face completely false information in our quest to better understand our prospects. Right now I can feel a whole day slip away trying to research a false news story… can we efficiently and deliberately navigate this mine field?

Yes we can…but only if we have a Venn diagram!

There are three key competing demands as we evaluate the information we find:

  1. Source Integrity: Most of us are pretty good at this. We know that the government is likely to be a more credible source than an industry blog. We also look for corroborating sources, dates, and even the language used.
  2. Ethics: Apra (the Association of Prospect Researchers for Advancement) as well as AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) both have guidance on ethics. Your organization probably has policies and documentation on gift acceptance, prospect management, and more that can help you make decisions.
  3. Law of Diminishing Returns: As we chase the details of any piece of information there comes a point where further research is without value. You might not need to know all the exact details about a criminal offense to make a decision about a prospect. Knowing when to stop is tricky. Ask for help!

All of these three items overlap to find the sweet spot for dealing with prospect information. It doesn’t matter if you are finding quick information before a visit, verifying a prospect screening, or digging deeper during cultivation and solicitation. Questioning sources is just as important as it ever was.

Consider this: voice recognition is getting so good that with enough recorded voice to learn from, machines can fabricate new audio recordings that sound exactly the real person. Next up? Completely fabricated videos.

The rapid pace of technology is enough to cause alarm! It’s comforting to remember that we have the fundamentals, such as the three elements of the Venn diagram above. All we need to do is stay aware and apply them to the ever-changing online world.

More Resources

Researcher, are you cheating your organization out of money?

As a prospect research professional, do you routinely underestimate the giving potential of your organization’s prospects? Take the quiz below to find out!

  1. Have you ever taken the gift capacity amount and reduced it because the prospect had never made large gifts to your organization?
  2. Have you ever used a gift capacity rating calculator and lowered the result manually because you just couldn’t believe the prospect could give that much money?
  3. Have you ever calculated a gift capacity rating based only on assets you could get numbers for, even though the prospect was in a top wealthy list or had a lucrative occupation?

If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above, you might be suffering from Concrete Moneyitis.

Concrete Moneyitis is a syndrome characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Belief that visible philanthropy and visible assets are the only evidence on which we can rely
  • Belief that capacity ratings are straightforward mathematical calculations
  • Belief that donor prospects are just like you and me
  • Fear of being “caught out” for erroneous assumptions or inaccurate information

Okay. Concrete Moneyitis is not a real syndrome. I made that up. But it is a real “thing”. It’s about our own personal money issues interfering with our work to connect people interested and capable of giving with our organization and mission.

I am a prime example of this! When I graduated high school I was 16 years old. Nice head start on the adult life, right? That summer I gave birth to a baby girl. The following 13 years I worked and scraped up enough time and money to earn my bachelor’s degree. I counted every penny and spent lots of creative energy figuring out ways to provide for my family and my education.

As a result, when Bill Gates made his first big splash in philanthropy I was very judging. How could he have been so ruthless, squashing competitors on the fine line (or over the line) of legal business practices, and now be “saved” by giving it away? Was it fair for him to get super rich on the “backs of others” and then get lauded and praised for doling out cash where and how it suited him?

I consoled myself that at least he was giving it away. I knew of too many of the very wealthy who didn’t make any philanthropic gifts.

And then I jumped into the business of performing prospect research as a consultant. Working for all shapes and sizes of organizations, having to price my services, and becoming savvy in the ways and means of the ultra-wealthy brought me in direct conflict with my judging money beliefs.

As a person, I still have a set of money beliefs that guide my behavior. As a prospect research professional I do my absolute best to set those beliefs aside when I do my work. I know and stay fully conscious of the fact that the people I research are NOT like me. Their giving is different from mine – and not just in size!

I work for amazing organizations whose missions make a tremendous impact on lives and on our environment. I don’t need to decide on the big philosophical questions about wealth and philanthropy. I want and need to be a part of the fundraising team, helping donor prospects connect with organizations in ways that meet both parties right where they are, in the present.

I challenge you to consider how your beliefs about money and philanthropy might be affecting your work as a fundraising researcher. I challenge you to worry more about under-rating prospects and less about being “right”. How many times has a gift officer asked for thousands – perhaps millions – too little because you wanted to provide a “conservative” estimate of wealth?

Your organization is worth overcoming a little bit of fear, isn’t it?

More Resources You Might Like

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

“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.
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.
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!

More Resources You Might Like

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!

More Resources You Might Like


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?

More Resources You Might Like

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


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