Tag Archives: afp

5 Tips for Finding Your Prospect’s Children

Knowing whether a donor prospect has children is a critical piece of information, but even more important for planned giving prospects. According to a study by Russell N. James III, J.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia*, the absence of grandchildren as an indicator of likelihood to make a planned gift trumped even giving history – by a wide margin. Yes, go ahead and read that sentence again!

After those findings were presented at AFP’s International Conference I received multiple inquiries asking if there was a way to append child relationships to the donor database. Thank goodness the answer is “no”! I’m not confident that a centralized database of familial relationships is in our best interest generally. But it sure would be a powerful piece of information in our ability to predict inclination to give.

Whether you are a frontline fundraiser or a dedicated prospect researcher, there are a few ways to tease out information about children when it might not otherwise be obvious.

1.  Biographical Sources

The first places to look are biographies, obituaries and wedding notices – any place where family information is described. Sometimes it is tucked at the end of the executive’s company biography and may or may not include names. Sometimes the Who’s Who listing is detailed. Other times a search engine might find a genealogy page for your prospect’s family.

2.  In the News

Many of you have access to newspaper and other news databases online with the use of your public library card. Other news articles show up in search engine results. This is often a good place to find references to children and grandchildren.

3.  Search on Address

I like to use Lexis Nexis for Development Professionals (LNDP) and perform a “People” search using only the home address – especially when the prospect has lived there for a long time. But you can also use a site like www.switchboard.com and do a reverse search by address. Any search that will give you a list of the names of the people who have been associated with that specific address is useful. The bonus from the LNDP search is that those addresses are referenced against voter’s registration and other sources and a birth year is often included in the search results. This gets me closer to uncovering how likely those associated names are to being children, instead of other family members.

4.  Giving and Private Schools

When a prospect gives regularly to a private school, especially one from which s/he did *not* receive a diploma, I like to perform a search in Google of the school’s website. You can use the Google Advanced Search form, or type in your own. It looks like this:  LastName site:schoolname.edu   Many times I have found likely children’s names, and sometimes even grandchildren who are attending or have attended that school.

5.  Social Media

If your prospect is active on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media websites, you might be able to tease out family relationships. Many times the prospect has tight privacy controls, but it is surprising how much can still be discovered in the public domain. I have even encountered prospects who keep detailed, and very public, blogs online.

Once I have found a likely child’s name, I have often been rewarded by doing a couple of searches on only the child’s name. The younger generation is more comfortable sharing online and the child, especially if post high school, might share parent names and pictures more publicly. This helps us with making an accurate match, but we need to be careful when approaching the donor prospect.

Children are special and protected relationships, and the last thing we want to do is make the donor prospect feel like we are stalking her with our prospect research techniques! Without trust there will be no gift. Because of this, we as fundraisers need to be skilled at opening the conversational door to allow the prospect to tell us what we already know.

There is always room for error when we search for information anonymously. If you are a prospect researcher working with a new frontline fundraiser, it is worth having a conversation with him about how important it is to allow the prospect to confirm the information we find.

Other Posts You Might Like

Why Use a Researcher When There’s Google?

3 Actions That Demonstrate Your High Prospect Research IQ

* “Causes and correlates of charitable giving in estate planning: A cross-sectional and longitudinal examination of older adults”, a study conducted by Russell N. James III, J.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia and published in 2008 (data from 1996-2007 collected by the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study)

Alert! Speakers Now Give Tweetable Insights

As I was honing my tweeting skills at the 2013 AFP International Conference this week, it did occur to me that some conference sessions lent themselves better to tweeting than others. In the same way that the general public has been trained to speak in news-byte sentences in the hopes of being featured on television, clearly some presenters are leading the way in presenting tweetable insights – whether they are doing it consciously or not!

Looking back on the AFP conference session I presented with Helen Brown and Debbie Sokolov, we could have created more tweetable insights in our “theory” overviews, but I don’t regret that we included Debbie’s storytelling. Presenting the structure for thought and learning and then weaving it into a real life story helps with retention and deepens understanding. Stories provide the context to which our brains can connect the theories. Maybe the answer is to provide the tweetable 140-character summary on the PowerPoint slide while the story is being told!

And there is another issue with the tweeting craze and really, with the information overload. As we all board cars, trains and airplanes to head home and return to work, once tweeted, is it forgotten? What do we do with all of the information we learned? How do we act on it? Will we be able to translate a trend or someone else’s story into our reality?

One of the things we lost forever at the end of our presentation on prospect research was the pile business cards people left for us. We turned around and poof! They were gone.

If you were one of those generous card givers, I hope you will comment here or email us so we can continue the conversation. Please also email me, Jen Filla, or Helen Brown or Debbie Sokolov if you learned something new, but are struggling with *exactly* how to implement it, if you need the *detailed* steps to make it happen.

Our presentation was designed to be an overview and yet our attendees were craving the details, the formulas, the exact solutions:

  • Some of that detail is readily available and we can point you to it.
  • Some of your questions can be answered in a short conversation.
  • And sometimes those exact solutions require an assessment and a plan.

For me, the biggest joys at the conference were being a part of the more than 4,000 people dedicated to philanthropy and fundraising and being a part of the giving by contributing a new book, some prospect research tactics and techniques, and new friendships.

About the Author

Jen Filla is president of Aspire Research Group LLC where she works with organizations worried about finding their next big donor, concerned about what size gift to ask for, or frustrated that they aren’t meeting their major gift goals. She is also co-author of Prospect Research for Fundraisers: The Essential Handbook.

You can follow Jen on Twitter: @jenfilla

7 Resources That Keep My Fundraising Loaded!

Keeping my skills current and keeping up with the field of fundraising and prospect research is critical to my role as a prospect research consultant. Slowly I have been shaping my favorite reading list, trying to get it to represent what I need to know most – because I don’t have the time to browse aimlessly!

I run a small, virtual business and that means, like many of you, my head is piled high with hats! I manage to juggle all the hats pretty evenly, catching each one and passing it along … until something new gets thrown into the mix. Then I start playing catch-up. One hat falls down and I let it stay there until I can get used to the new hat in the mix. Once I adjust to the new rhythm I can grab the lost hat and keep going. In this case, I dropped my blog writing while I adjusted to some new skill building.

Now that I am back on track and blog writing is in the mix, I thought it might make a lot of sense to share with you my favorite sources for prospect-research-biased fundraising news and clues. Since readers are of a mixed variety, I’ve kept the really technical research reading out of the mix. I hope you will chime in and comment in whatever platform you find this article. What am I missing? I’m always looking for the best, must-have reading favorites!

1-Chronicle of Philanthropy

Not having been in a traditional “office” for years, I had neglected to subscribe. As soon as I did, I realized once again the Chronicle’s charms. First, they send me paper. Love that. So I can catch up on the weekends or over lunch on the balcony. The Chronicle prints a great mix of information and I get good clues about changes and trends. The October 18th edition, especially the articles on the Missouri Arts center and The Y, really had me thinking about fattening the middle $1,000 to $5,000 donor pool and how that translates into approaching the data.

2-AFP’s Advancing Philanthropy and APRA’s Connections

These are my two all-time favorite associations and I love, love, yes love, their magazines. Okay, so AFP is moving digital and APRA is already there. I have a printer. And paper. Every issue of these magazines goes beyond the how-to and gives me something real that changes my thinking or expands my ideas.

3-Advancing the Nonprofit Sector

This blog is written by a number of different fundraising consultants. I like it because it reminds me that the fundraising world is bigger than prospect research and it helps me stay in tune with the practical needs front-line fundraisers face daily. I like that it covers local Florida topics too.


Kevin MacDonald does an amazing job of making me want to read his blog. Not only is he having a conversation with me, but he uses lots of pictures and graphics to demonstrate what he is talking about. Okay, so it’s pretty technical stuff. But it is the kind of conversation that every fundraiser needs at least a cursory understanding of. The power of data analytics is as earth-moving as the power unleashed when our donor index cards turned into relational databases or the horse was replaced by the tractor. It is the kind of conversation that is deciding our future. And if I’m going to participate, or just eavesdrop, I’d prefer to do it with Kevin. And his cool guest bloggers like Peter Wylie too.

5-The Agitator

No, it’s not a washing machine cycle! This is another blog where I get practical, but a little more in-your-face, fundraising cents. What I really like is that it talks intelligently about direct response fundraising, which might just be the black sheep of the fundraising family. Yes, everyone loves major gifts, but getting broad support is more than money. It’s the community giving credibility to your mission and how you are performing. And if you do it well, it means you treat all of your donors well. That’s special in my book. Which brings us back to that great article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy about the Missouri Arts Center…

6-Well Planned Web

I have followed a lot of different marketing and social media and other technology blogs, but this one has been the most relevant to me. It’s not too technical. I get a good feel for a topic. It makes me feel smart and current instead of dumb and behind the curve. Most of us have to operate in a constantly evolving online world. At some point we all wind up being impacted by or responsible for at least a piece of our organization’s online face. The Well Planned Web will make you feel good about it.


When data analytics guru, Audrey Geoffrey at the University of Florida Foundation first showed me this website at an APRA-FL board retreat I thought it looked like the most confusing, most complicated website that I would never use. I just couldn’t understand why I would want to keep track of things that way. Now I am a convert. I love being able to customize the way I view and participate in social media. I can narrow my focus to the topics and people who provide me with exactly the content I need to see.

I hope you found a gem among my 7 favorite resources, but I really hope you will share yours too!

5 Steps to Fundraising Research Ethics

You wouldn’t slap your donor prospect in the face would you? Of course not!

Donor Trust: Don't Lose It!

Maintaining donor trust relies upon building professional and respectful relationships between your organization and the world. Without trust there would be no giving. Without giving, charitable missions would be unfulfilled. It’s that simple.

It’s also surprisingly easy to slip down the slippery ethical slope. And a donor could feel slapped in the face by some of the information you record. Why not use your personal email to request information? Does it really matter if you use those software subscriptions to look-up your annoying neighbor?

Here are 5 steps to keep you on the ethical track:

(1)  Always identify yourself
Whenever you are making requests for information you need to identify yourself. State your name, your role, and your organization. Like this: “Hello, my name is Jennifer Filla and I’m president of Aspire Research Group. I’d like to confirm the owner of a parcel of land in your county.” If this makes you uncomfortable, you probably shouldn’t be inquiring!

(2) Information recorded must deepen the donor prospect relationship
The whole point of researching donor prospects is to bring the organization and prospect closer together to further the mission – usually through a gift. So if the information found will not bring the two closer, don’t include it.That said, there are exceptions…

(3)  Discuss sensitive information verbally before documenting
When information about an arrest in the prospect’s family or some other sensitive information comes to light, it can be difficult to decide whether it is relevant to the relationship. Especially with naming rights, there is the possibility of a conflict of interest. Talking it over with leadership or the person building the donor relationship helps you confirm before documenting something embarrassing.

(4) Information must be exactly accurate
Be careful to use primary sources and to avoid using value-laden terms. For example, if a blog post says good or bad things about your prospect that you can not confirm elsewhere, don’t include it because it is an undocumented opinion. If a website claims it is a “leading” supplier or the “largest in the country”, either find the source to prove it or remove those words. If Wikipedia says it’s true, click through the footnotes at the bottom to read the original sources and be sure.

(5)  Treat researched information as confidential as donations
Just because you found all of this information in the public domain doesn’t mean it isn’t confidential in the form you have created. We don’t want our donors to feel creepy about the data we collect about them! That will not build trust. We want them to feel professionally handled, flattered and protected by us and our organizations.

Aspire Research Group is a member of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA), a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and endorses the Code of Ethical Principles and Standards of both organizations.

If you would like to learn more, why not watch the fun 7-minute video on ethics and prospect research below?

Dating Donors, Data Mining & Donor Profiles -oh my!

Roxie Jerde, President & CEO, Community Foundation of Sarasota County

by Jen Filla.

I had the pleasure of hearing Roxie Jerde speak at the AFP SW FL luncheon on May 10, 2011. She is the new president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, having previously been with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. She packed a lot of information into her 20-minute slot. Thank you Roxie!

First, as the new person on the block, she made an interesting comment. She told us that she will not accept offers to meet for coffee or lunch. Instead she invited herself into our organizations. That really resonated with me. Since moving to Florida I have spent a lot of time getting to know the organizations operating in my area and that has meant of lot of driving and a lot of tours. For someone who works on billable hours this is an expensive investment! But I have never left a visit with an organization and felt it was a waste of time. There is so much culture, pride, and action packed into the buildings and places where fundraisers realize their missions.

Roxie also reviewed the Giving USA statistics, which reflected giving in 2009 (2010 is due out in June). Here’s a breakdown of giving in the U.S.

  • Individuals -75%
  • Foundations -13%
  • Bequests – 8%
  • Corporations -4%

Ho, hum, yawn, we’ve all seen this before. BUT have you actually gotten the statistics out of your own donor database? This kind of data mining yields key information you *must* know to create an intelligent fundraising strategy. Does somewhere around 75% of your funding come from individuals? If not, why? Every organization is different, so it might not make sense for your percentages to match the country’s giving overall, but if you differ significantly you’ll want to investigate whether you do indeed have the best strategy for your organization.

Roxie Jerde

Peppered throughout her presentation Roxie referred to the donor gift cycle as dating. Yes, most of us have heard this before too, but Roxie took it to a new level. In a previous position she and her staff used the dating terminology instead of the usual fundraising terms. It was endearing and funny to hear her talk about how blind dates can work too (prospecting), what it’s like to be newly married and still in the honeymoon stage (a major gift) and then, down the road, planning for your golden years (planned giving). Words are powerful tools and using dating words can create a much needed shift in how we interact with our donors.

Near the end of her presentation Roxie talked a little bit about asking for a major gift. She mentioned the uncertainty around how much to ask for and the drawbacks of asking for too much or too little. Being as passionate as I am about using prospect research to inform cultivation and solicitation it was all I could do to sit quietly. Profiles! DONOR PROFILES! I wanted to shout.

Donor profiles provide an awe inspiring amount of information to aid in determining an ask amount. Time and again fundraisers have told me how much more confidence they have asking for the gift when they can base it on known assets *and* their gut feelings. Development shops using prospect research, including donor profiles, ask for and receive larger gifts.

Too many human services and other similar organizations are not receiving their share of million dollar gifts and it is not because they don’t attract million dollar donors. It is because they don’t ask for million dollar gifts from their very own donors who are capable of giving them.

If you want to find out how Aspire Research Group can help you find your million dollar donors, just ask us! Call 727-231-0516, email jen at aspireresearchgroup.com or visit our website for more information, www.aspireresearchgroup.com

When in Rome… speak Italian!

During Jay Goulart’s presentation he told us “language is key!” And then he told us that we could say it like Martin Luther King Jr. – I have a DREAM – or we could say it like a professional – I have a list of measurable objectives. Which language do you speak?

This entertaining presentation was to the AFP Suncoast chapter on February 15, 2011 and Jay is Director of Advancement at the Academy at the Lakes. He has definitely presented to groups before and even has a website to prove it: www.jaygoulart.com.

Jay said something else that really made an impression on me. He painted a picture. Imagine yourself going to the dealership to buy a car. In order to get your car you have to purchase the tires, engine and body – all from separate people at the same dealership. What a hot mess that would be!

Now imagine yourself wanting to give to an organization, but in order to become a donor you have to give to annual fund, holiday drive, and capital campaign – all separately. We need to build jointed, holistic relationships with our donors. It’s okay if they have to first talk to sales and then financing and then delivery, but let’s make them smooth and understandable transitions.

Jay said lots of other stuff too, but, hey, not everything sticks – even when it’s only thirty minutes or less. If you’re reading this Jay, I’d be curious what you felt was the most important message in your presentation and whether I mentioned it.

Thanks for the great presentation Jay! And I hope you folks in the Tampa Bay area will be sure to join me at the next AFP Suncoast chapter meeting on March 15, 2011.

Gift acceptance: Boldly look a gift horse in the mouth!

Prospect research is all about finding assets and drooling over the gift possibilities, but at today’s AFP Suncoast chapter meeting, I heard all about the challenges of accepting some of those non-traditional assets as gifts. Two accountants from Gregory Sharer & Stuart, Catherine Mary Sullivan and Amy Mierzejewski told us to be prepared to boldly look the gift horse in the mouth!

Taxes and audits are not easy lunch conversation, but Catherine and Amy walked us through the important parts of a gift acceptance policy and why we should have one. Talking to donor prospects is always a delicate dance and having a gift acceptance policy gives you:

*  A graceful way to let the prospect know you’ll be inspecting the opportunity with counsel and possibly decline the gift
*  Talk about who needs to pay for the costs incurred by accepting the gift, such as appraisals and valuations
*  And lets the prospect know your organization is a good steward of its mission by accepting only the gifts it is capable of using

As part of the conversation, Catherine and Amy touched upon the many issues that arise with gifts like gold coins, real estate, gift annuities and more. And of course, it was quite clear that they are accountants and we are fundraisers – which is to say that if I ever had to consider accepting an unusual gift, I would definitely call Gregory Sharer & Stuart for their expertise and NOT try to do it myself!

Prospect research is the same way. If you just need preliminary information to make a first visit with a prospect, Google away. But if you are going to ask for big-hairy-scary-gift, you need to call on someone like Aspire Research Group to provide you with a donor prospect profile that will make sure you walk away with the major gift that rewards your organization *and* respects the donor.

Do you need a donor prospect profile? Contact Aspire Research Group today.

Celebrating Philanthropy in 2010

There is something about a large crowd of people all congregated for a mutual purpose that creates a feeling of belonging, a swelling of emotion. In the case of National Philanthropy Day that wave surging from more than 500 attendees in Tampa, Florida was well worth clapping for.

This is the 25th year that the Association of Fundraising Professionals has hosted National Philanthropy Day and it was my second year attending the celebration organized by my Suncoast chapter. Award ceremonies do require a lot of clapping and some people’s speeches are more moving than others, but just watching and listening to the winner of the Youth in Philanthropy Award is usually enough to sustain me. So many incredible and HEROIC stories in my own neighborhood!

And there is always one of our own fundraising professionals being honored. This year Nina Berkheiser CFRE, founder of Your Nonprofit Advisor received the J. Lloyd Horton Lifetime Achievement Award. Not every fundraising consultant is guided by philanthropy, but Nina’s actions speak louder than any words about her committment to promoting and empowering philanthropy and the fundraising profession.

Visit the AFP Suncoast website to see all the honorees and keep checking the Suncoast chapter’s Flickr account for official photos.

Defining an ACTION in Moves Management

I have been gathering and synthesizing all the materials and resources I have collected on moves management as part of my work creating a “simple” moves management process for a client. (Somehow “simple” always means so much more effort!)

Today I dug out some handwritten notes I took during Lisa Howley’s presentation at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in Baltimore this year.

Here is the definition of an action that she gave:

  • Outcomes met the purpose
  • Advanced the prospect relationship
  • Something new was learned
  • Contact resulted in a next step

Because gift officers’ performance is frequently judged at least partly by the number of actions they have with their prospects, defining an action is tricky business. The subject comes up on PRSPCT-L, the prospect research list-serv hosted by APRA because prospect researchers often oversee moves management.

Does your definition of an action differ from what is listed above? Am I missing something? I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Effective Relationship Management Systems

SandboxA relationship management system goes beyond moves management or prospect tracking. At the Association of Fundraising Professionals international conference in Baltimore last week Lisa Howley from Johns Hopkins University presented on Effective Relationship Management Systems.

She created a system for Wheaton College in Massachusetts with a development shop of ten and is creating one at Johns Hopkins where there is significantly more staff. The relationship management system goes beyond moving major gift prospects through the giving cycle by incorporating policies, such as privacy and gift policies, actual practices, the database and overall procedures. This addresses all sorts of issues around the kind of contact any donor might receive from the organization.

At Hopkins there are complications such as multiple schools and numerous development staff touching the same donor who may have multiple interests and affiliations with the school. However, even in a small shop it can be useful to create a smaller relationship management system addressing issues such as who, if anyone, must approve a solicitation before the donor is approached, what and how much data is recorded and tracked in the database, and what role volunteers such as board members have in touching donors. Creating a policy communicates expectations to everyone affected.

I view creating a relationship management system as a way of organizing development efforts so that everyone plays nicely in the nonprofit sandbox!