Tag Archives: career

Warning! Wealth Screenings Create a Skills Gap

MindTheGapSMReally good wealth screenings are changing the way we fundraise and they’re bumping campaign results ever higher. That’s definitely good. Yet wealth screenings are putting research decisions into the hands of non-researchers. Like you. Is this a good thing or bad thing? It’s up to you to decide!

I’ve been having more conversations with nonprofits about training prospect researchers. And they haven’t been the typical “I want to set up shop” conversations. The director of development doesn’t want me to help them choose a research subscription or craft a profile template.

She wants me to teach the researcher things like recognizing when prospects have wealth types in common (recognize patterns) or to focus more on the information that will help the gift officer to create a cultivation strategy (fundraising analysis).

Notice I said I’m talking to the director of development (or advancement) – not the director of research. Non-researchers are being pushed into taking the lead on research decisions. And I blame wealth screenings. (Technically, it’s more than screening for wealth. Vendors now give meaningful ratings and data analytics too.)

What exactly is changing?

Imagine you are the director of development for a smallish university, hospital or human services organization (and maybe you are). Your fundraising goals keep getting higher every year and you’ve brought some 7-figure gifts through the door. Your database manager has transitioned into your full-time prospect researcher.

As you gear up for the biggest-ever campaign you are faced with some challenges:

  • Your researcher has been churning out profiles for eight hours a day for months. She’s become a profile zombie!
  • Yes, your researcher can find information, but she doesn’t seem to really understand how prospect cultivation and solicitation works, which makes her work less helpful. She’s disconnected from the actual fundraising.
  • You’ve been prioritizing with wealth screenings and ratings, but now that information is a jumbled mess in the database. You don’t know how to fix it and your researcher is busy doing profiles.

Why are the wealth screening vendors to blame?

Because now that raw data has become more tightly matched, you have enough confidence in it to prioritize your donor prospects and get out on your discovery visits.

You don’t need a prospect researcher to do much.  Until you do.

The path to prospect research used to be a bit wider and longer. In the new, shortened time-frame your prospect researcher isn’t always ready to do more when you are.

So, you, the development director are tasked with managing prospect research in a way you never anticipated. How can you bridge the gap between your researcher’s current skill set and where she needs to be?  Grab your manager’s hat and explore some capacity building opportunities!

MOTIVATE by connecting your researcher with outcomes

Slow down the profile mill ever so slightly – just enough to establish a system to track completed research in your database. Maybe it’s a contact or action item. Whatever field you use, make sure you can pull reports that will demonstrate things like which researched prospects made a gift and were visited.

If you really want to have a little fun, track the researcher’s capacity rating in its own field so you can compare that against the screening rating and against the ask and gift amounts.

We all want to feel like our work creates something. Knowing that her work led to a really big gift is going to be motivating!

But tracking your research efforts is just a first step. Make sure there is opportunity for regular communication between the gift officer and the researcher. You want your researcher to hear how the gift officer sees wealth on those visits. You know what I’m talking about. The “he belongs to this club” or “she had to drop at least a thousand dollars on that handbag”.

Get the gift officer and researcher in a conversation about wealth and a lot of great education will happen both ways. Including more motivation. More teamwork.

INVOLVE the researcher in creating solutions

Work with your researcher to identify ways to solve problems like too many profiles and not enough new prospect identification and qualification.

  • Are gift officers getting too much information too soon? Maybe there should be guidelines about what actions need to happen before a comprehensive profile can be requested.
  • Is your researcher spending too much time digging deeper than needed? Have him track how long it takes to do profiles over a few weeks and reflect on the results. By watching the clock can he get more focused?

You may need to take a lot of the lead in the beginning, but loosen the leash as much as you possibly can. Prospect researchers are notoriously good at learning new things and problem-solving. Give them some room and many can become really good managers.

CREATE some structure around research

As your researcher is getting re-energized and challenged to solve problems, you need to recognize where to create structure to keep everyone and everything moving in sync. You are no doubt under a lot of pressure to make miracles happen in wickedly short time-frames. Keep your eye out for imbalance and act quickly.

  • Is the researcher spending an hour talking shop with a gift officer? Direct her to create a more formal research request process and channel those wonderful conversations into an established prospect review meeting.
  • Is your researcher creating a fully functional but too complex prospect management system? Continue to let her create it, but challenge her to make it simpler. (Playing a little dumb is a perfectly acceptable way to get someone to stretch a little. You have my permission!)

BIG fundraising doesn’t happen without prospect research

It’s a fact of fundraising that you need to harness the power of prospect research to raise the kind of money your mission needs and deserves. And yet, new tools like wealth screenings can allow a skill gap to creep up on you just when you need it the LEAST.

You don’t have to become a prospect research guru to make good decisions about it. And you don’t always have to fire and hire. Strengthen your managerial skills and use them to stretch and grow the prospect researcher and other staff that have an aptitude for prospect research.

Motivate. Involve. Create. And you and your organization will find yourself doing some really BIG fundraising!

And if you need a little outside help to train your staff, evaluate your procedures or create some, Aspire Research Group and the Prospect Research Institute are only a phone call away at 727 202 3405. And we have email too!

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So you have a prospect researcher on staff. Now what?

Data is only as good as the people who use it!

You know that managing and using your donor data is becoming increasingly important to fundraising success and now you have a person designated to perform prospect research tasks for you. Congratulations!

Do you have any idea what your prospect researcher should be doing?

I have three suggestions that will put you and your researcher on a productive path in no time!

1 – Budget for Serious Training
Prospect research is a broad skill set that requires training and practice over time. It involves so much more than putting a prospect name into a search engine or software subscription. It is about using data to drive fundraising strategies. That means understanding fundraising *and* how to research. And that means training. Seriously consider sending new and experienced researchers to the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA)’s national conference. Get a grant or a scholarship. Just do it. Even if she sleeps through half of it you should notice significant productivity gains when she returns – it’s that good!

Also, it should not be overlooked that prospect research can be a painful hot button if your board and staff are not well educated on how it works. Your researcher needs to understand how to perform her job ethically and responsibly and be able to communicate that to others.

2 – Ask Really Good Questions
As a front-line fundraiser you should know what is in your overall fundraising plan and what your goals are for the year. Based on that knowledge you need to begin asking your researcher really good questions. Such as…

We are going to add planned giving prospects to our major gift pools. How many of our donors have a lifetime giving of more than $$, and have given more than once a year for the past 2-5 years? And of those, how many live in a geographic area where we can visit without significant expense?

Hopefully, it is obvious how asking good questions related to your goals could open up productive conversations with your researcher. Now she can say things like…

I noticed a cluster of matching zip codes so I reviewed the names. Did you know that one of our trustees lives in a community with 10 percent of the people on the list you asked for?

Now I bet you are asking, “I thought researchers did prospect profiles?” We do that too. Proactive research identifies opportunities through data. Reactive research, like prospect profiles, gives you the information edge to maximize giving.

3 – Include Researchers in Fundraising Discussions
A trained researcher who is engaged in the conversation around using data is a marvelous asset to your team. So be sure to include her in your fundraising discussions. Musing over a capital campaign? She could have a LOT to add about who is in your database and best practices and trends in research used by similar organizations.

But I’m not just talking about formal meetings or discussions. After your meeting with a donor, mention new information or strategy you are thinking about. Was the ask amount on target with the wealth information found? Debriefing your researcher means she can learn and grow, providing you with more and better information next time.

Prospect Research Adds Value – So Value Your Researcher

It is virtuous circle – the better trained and engaged your researcher is, the better able she is to help you raise more money. And thankfully, researchers are often independent learners. If you can communicate your fundraising objectives and where you think research could provide support, your researcher can probably figure out and communicate to you the best practices in the field.

These conversations might pull you and your researcher out of your comfort zones for a while, but your efforts will be well rewarded by more dollars raised for your mission. And heck, you’ll probably have more fun at work too!

Jen Filla founded Aspire Research Group so that every development office could have the benefits of professional prospect research. Known for her creativity and clear communications, she uses her direct fundraising experience to craft research solutions for organizations across the country that answer the questions that lead to more and higher gifts, guiding fundraisers comfortably every step of the way.

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What is Really Blocking your Success?

Carla Harris

So many fundraisers work for organizations that do not value fundraising. Are you in one of them? Do you go to work, have your hands tied, get thrown into a padlocked trunk, tossed into a pool and then told to go raise millions? If this sounds like your fundraising experience, here is a hot tip from Carla Harris that might just help you begin to turn the situation around.

Why Fundraising?
There are many reasons why fundraising gets discounted. One situation might be that the dollars raised are a small percentage of overall revenue. Healthcare is an obvious example of this. If the organization’s balance sheet is the CEO’s number one indicator of success, fundraising as a source of revenue could be way down at the bottom, so why invest much in it?

We all know the answer to that question – mission! Fundraising makes our organization’s mission achievable by adding and expanding services to the community for which there is no other source of revenue. For example, the needs of cancer patients and their families dramatically increase as the disease progresses, which coincides with a decline in their ability to meet those needs emotionally, spiritually and financially. No insurance or government payment covers that!

Carla Harris was a keynote speaker at the 2011 Planet Philanthropy conference put on by the AFP Florida Caucus. A Wall Street banker, she overcame confidence squashing early in her career and has had tremendous success on many levels. She is a banker, gospel singer, mentor and volunteer.

When You are Not in the Room
One of the many fine points she made during her presentation and in her book, Expect to Win: Proven Strategies for Success from a Wall Street Vet, was that most of the decisions made about your career happen when you are not in the room. So true, right? Think how decisions are made about promotions, pay raises, and new hires. I bet that most decisions on fundraising budgets, staff size, office space and more are made when you, the development staff, are not in the room.

Three Adjectives
She advocates deciding on three adjectives that you wish other people used to describe you when you were not in the room. Once you have your adjectives start using them! Use those specific words in your own speech. You need to eat, breathe and sleep like those adjectives. Doing this trains others (and hey, maybe even yourself) to see you like those adjectives – because you *are* those adjectives.

Why not do the same thing for your fundraising department? The adjectives should be based on the skills required to fundraise with excellence. However, if fundraising is not being valued in your organization, first find out what *is* being valued and why. Listen for the words your own CEO uses frequently to define her and the organization’s success. Then you can use those words and demonstrated actions to begin positioning fundraising as the successful, revenue-generating, mission-achieving engine that it is!