Tag Archives: cultivation

Fire your Prospect Researcher! Artificial Intelligence (AI) has arrived.


For years now we’ve been told that Artificial Intelligence was going to take over prospect research tasks. Truth is, it has. Well, some of them anyway.

Consider wealth screenings. What used to take month after month of tedious, routine, baseline capacity rating work now takes less than an hour. Upload your file, it processes, and presto! You have gift capacity ratings on your prospects based on external wealth matches.

Or how about the user-friendly lookup tools, such as iWave’s PRO, that remove the first step of searching that prospect research professionals used to perform?

Does all of this mean prospect research is on the fast track for complete takeover by the machines? Should you fire your researcher? No way!

Artificial Intelligence has had a lot of hype over the years and very little real action – until now. A few events have led to some breakthroughs:

  • The internet has made vast amounts of data available, which can be used to train computers.
  • Graphical Processing Units (GPUs), the specialized chips used in PCs and video-game consoles to generate graphics, have been applied to the algorithms used in deep learning, a type of Artificial Intelligence.
  • Capacity to run GPUs can be rented from cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft, allowing start-ups to innovate.

Self-driving cars may still be on the horizon, but the bots are on the road already! They can schedule appointments on your calendar, draft replies to emails, and even read radiology imaging studies more accurately than a radiologist. The Economist describes the opportunity and threat quite succinctly as follows:

 “What determines vulnerability to automation is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar, but whether or not it is routine.” (6/25/2016)






It’s easy to leap to the conclusion that prospect research professionals will lose their jobs to the machine – much of what we researchers do is routine – but that would be forgetting how machines have changed the world in the past.

Across the centuries, people have feared the march of the machines. In the late 1700’s to early 1800’s the Industrial Revolution rocked our world. As recently as the 1980’s, the rise of personal computers revolutionized the way we work. And with every introduction, much hand-wringing and predictions of unemployment were had.

How will prospect research professionals likely weather the advancing army of machine algorithms and programs?

Much the same as we adapted to wealth screenings and tools like iWave’s PRO. We learn new skills that wrap around the new technology. We leverage the new technology to work for us and for our fundraising team. We change the tasks we perform.

Prospect research professionals have a unique blend of skills. We can scan mountains of information and pull it together in a way that is meaningful for your specific need, whether that is creating a $5M gift strategy or a $5B campaign. We recognize the opportunities for our organizations in the data patterns the machine discovers.

If you want your organization to keep in step with the advances of machine learning, do NOT fire your researcher! Instead, reassure your prospect research professional of her value and insist that she take advantage of training that will give her the skills to use new technology. If you do this, she will be better able to guide you into new worlds, such as fundraising analytics … and beyond!

More Resources You Might Like


Identification to Discovery Visit: 5 Fun Questions to Ask

Once you have identified your donor prospect, the next step is usually to make a discovery visit. Sometimes this happens over the telephone, but ideally it will be a visit at the person’s choice of location. The goal is to meet her where she feels most comfortable and qualify her as a major gift prospect.

Most often we aim to determine or confirm the following:

*Affinity, or how close she feels to our organization
*Inclination, or how philanthropic she is to us and others
*Capacity, or whether she has the ability to make a major gift

Confirming Affinity and Inclination

No matter how much or how little time you have in your first visit, do NOT walk away without finding out about the individual’s giving, passion, and movement to the next step:

1. Why does the prospect give to our organization?

You can begin your conversation with a “thank you” for past giving and a natural curiosity for how the prospect first discovered and began giving to your organization. If there is no giving to your organization, or even if there is, consider asking if she is involved with any other organizations.

2. How does the prospect feel about the relationship?

Next, you can guide the conversation naturally to ensuring that the prospect likes the mailings and other information received or if you need to make adjustments. Maybe you need to add or change the type of mailing to cater to the prospect’s specific interest.

3. Would the prospect like a tour, visit a program, etc.?

Now that you are talking about what the prospect likes about your organization, you can make an appropriate suggestion about a tour, talking with a program director, or some other activity that would interest her.

Confirming Capacity

To confirm or verify a prospect’s capacity to make a gift, guide conversation toward the primary source of wealth:

4. What a wonderful award this is! It looks like your business has been doing well…

You do not have to have constant eye contact with your prospect. Take a look around you and ask normal, curious and fun questions about what you see on the walls or on the shelves.

5. I’d love to learn a little more about your business. How many employees do you have here?

Don’t be afraid to change the conversation. Keep track of time and be sure to bring the conversation around to answer your questions before the visit is over!

Discovery visits take practice.

If you find yourself back in the office wondering how you spent an hour talking and still don’t know anything new about your prospect, forgive yourself and replay the visit in your head or talk it over with a colleague until you recognize where you could have done things differently. Then schedule another visit.

Once you become adept at your discovery visits, you will find that you are able to shorten the time between identification and actually asking for the gift. Discovering a prospect’s true interest in your organization prepares you to deepen that interest into passion. And once you have passion, in-depth research on your prospect prepares you to ask for the right amount.

Best wishes to you on your next discovery visit!

Click here to register for the 6/14/2012 webinar: Savvy Conversational Research Techniques for Fundraisers

Other blog posts that might interest you:

3 Steps to Major Gift Mojo!

Will Your Donors Talk to You?

How to get from $250k to $40m

Cooking up Planned Giving with Julia Child

by Kate Rapoport.

I met Julia Child when I was a senior at Smith College. It was the first annual Julia Child Day at Smith, an event designed to honor Ms. Child and the revolution she had brought to the way Americans think about food. Julia Child was a Smithie herself, having graduated in 1934 with a degree in history. Even in her old age, she was a force to be reckoned with, her strong voice carrying as she talked to her many admirers. She had had an affection for Smith in the many years after graduation and had decided in her later years to include the college in her planned giving.

In Nonprofit Essentials: Major Gifts, Julia Ingraham Walker outlines the different types of planned gifts. These include gifts of marketable securities, donated art or other real property, charitable lead trusts which provide a stream of income over a period of years to the non-profit and then revert back to the donor at the end of the agreed upon time, and real estate that is gifted to the non-profit which the non-profit then sells.

Ms. Child chose the planned giving option of donating her house to Smith College. In 1990, she entered into an agreement with Smith, formally donating her house to the college, but keeping the right to live in it for her lifetime. She had lived in her home since 1956 and had filmed one of her famous cooking shows in the kitchen. The kitchen itself Child left to the Smithsonian, giving Smith the right to sell the house after her death.

In 2002, Ms. Child decided to move back to California, her childhood home. She accelerated her gift, giving her home in Massachusetts to Smith while she was still living. The proceeds of the sale of her home supported the construction of Smith’s Campus Center. Ms. Child died on August 12, 2004. An etching on a window of the Campus Center Café honors her generosity to Smith. Of the many ways to honor a donor, I think that that was a fitting tribute to Julia Child, who is rumored to have cooked for her friends and classmates while at Smith. There has also been a Julia Child Day every fall since 2003, continuing to honor the impact she made on Smith and the world.

The choice that Ms. Child made to give Smith College her house allowed her to make a significant gift to an institution that she strongly believed in supporting, while allowing her to live in her home until she made the choice to go home to California. That is the beauty of a planned gift. It gives a donor the chance to support a non-profit organization with a major gift, while still allowing her to use her resources during her lifetime.

An easy-to-use, kickbutt cultivation strategy tool

I usually attract two types of clients: those that want to identify major gift prospects and those that want research on identified prospects. No matter which service I provide, sometimes my clients get stalled on the next steps. You might have the donor prospect right there in front of you, but over time the path to a gift gets as lost as Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs in the forest of development activities.

Prospect research consultants (including me) often talk about moves management or relationship management systems. These are powerful tools capable of catapulting your major giving to a new level. But there is another tool you can easily customize that gives you a laser-like focus on one donor prospect at a time. Just like the one you have in front of you right now. 

Creating a Cultivation Strategy document is easier than you might think. This document should highlight key considerations such as capacity to make a gift, when you expect to ask for a gift (average is 18 months out), primary giving motivations and other vital pieces of information. But the true beauty of a Cultivation Strategy document is the action steps section.

Using everything you know about the donor prospect you have to sketch out the actions and completion dates that take you to the day you solicit the gift (just like a roadmap). If you have just identified a prospect these actions might be vague and the dates might just have the month. In the worksheet I created  each action requires you to list the objectives. Those objectives are the lasers!

When you sketch out your actions for the first time you will immediately recognize just how short the time really is between your start date and your solicitation date. Yikes! Knowing the objective, the outcome you desire from each action, ensures you stay on track. No meandering. None of the “let’s just pick another prospect” because you dropped the ball on the first one.

At Aspire Research Group we want you to close more major gifts. Gifts reward your donors, the people you serve and you. Call or email us today to find out how we can help you close more major gifts.

Cultivation and Research: Salting the Prospect Soup

saltshakersmI’d like you to imagine that prospect research is like salt. Too little salt and your food tastes bland, but too much and you end up bloated with water. No matter what the size of your budget or development shop you should always be using prospect research. The trick is using just the right amount. So how much research do you need when a prospect is in the cultivation phase?

Some of the best information comes from face-to-face contact with prospects. Before going on a visit or making a phone call decide what you want to find out next. Do they have children and grandchildren? This affects estate planning. Do they give to others? Where is your organization on their top ten list? Where is their wealth coming from?

As you are gathering critical information in-person, back at the office a prospect researcher can help you connect the pieces. You might ask your researcher to:

  • Get initial wealth/asset verification before continuing visits
  • Investigate likely compensation or confirm company ownership
  • Look for a family foundation or confirm a directorship

Sometimes development staff make the mistake of wanting “everything you get” on a prospect before even picking up the phone. In many cases over-researching in the beginning of a relationship is really procrastination, which can lead to lots of information and not enough gifts!

During cultivation you need just enough information to keep the relationship progressing toward a major gift. In July we will discuss how to keep track of all this information during cultivation.