Tag Archives: fundraising research

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.

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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 – DonorSearch.net.

Faster-Better-Cheaper with DonorSearch.net

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!

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How do I make prospect profiles work for me?

I work with quite a few fundraising professionals who are taking a leadership role for the first time or are heading into their first ever serious fundraising campaign. Suddenly you have to figure out how to make the leap into managing significant gifts and create a major gift program that delivers. That’s a lot of pressure!
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So, of course, you demand – and get – a budget for prospect research. Way to go! Now what?

What is prospect research exactly and how does one USE profiles?

As I mentioned in Re-Wiring the Trusty Profile, it helps when you and your team discuss and recognize how and where traditional prospect research, such as profiles, fundraising analytics, and relationship or prospect management intersect at your organization. Even in a small team, you’re no doubt running a full development program. Research will likely touch many parts of that program.
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For example, I had a researcher describe to me how her initial snapshot profile went directly into the donor database for prospects that were assigned for a first visit. It was up to the gift officer to print the snapshot report and make the visit. Is that traditional prospect research (e.g., snapshot profile) or prospect management (e.g., proactive prospect assignment)? Well, it’s both, isn’t it?

But to know what you can get out of a profile, you need to know what goes into it.

In 3 Strategies to Choose a Research Tool I show you a graphic and describe the five building blocks of the profile. This structure identifies what information is relevant for fundraising, but your profile format could be any kind of mix-and-match from these building blocks.
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In Can You Really Trust Prospect Research? I talk about some of the commonly held misunderstandings about the voo-doo we researchers do. There’s a lot of confusion about what information we can find and how accurate or complete it can be.
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As a fundraiser meeting with donors, you are performing primary research. You find out all of the information we researchers usually can’t. In your face-to-face meetings you discover people’s philanthropic passions, family and health situations, and their interests and personal connections to your organization. What information do you need to perform those visits and ultimately ask for a major gift? Once you understand the five profile building blocks, you will be much better placed to answer that question well.

But the very best move you can make to use PROFILES WITH POWER is to communicate with your researcher!

With the five building blocks of the profile as your conversational guide, examine what you need to know at each stage of your interactions with donor prospects. What does your researcher recommend in terms of software subscription tools versus manual research?
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In some situations you might do well with a quick look-up in a tool on your own and a first visit before asking for a researched profile. And sometimes getting a researcher’s edge from out of the starting gate will deliver better results in a shorter period of time.
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Once you understand what you need and when, can you break it down into two or three types of standard profile requests? Of course you can always make exceptions – you’re the boss! But standardizing your practices will make it easier to manage expectations and easier to onboard new staff as you continue to grow.

Prospect Research is good and exciting work!

Discovering people’s paths to wealth and their expressions of philanthropy is sheer pleasure. As a prospect research professional I love being part of the team that connects people to the joys of giving. When I can work closely with a front-line fundraiser to cultivate and solicit a transformative gift it’s a breath-taking experience!
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The power of profiles can be yours – especially if you treat your researcher as one of the fundraising team. Who knows? Your prospect research professional might just turn out to be your secret weapon!
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Learn to perform basic prospect research and find information on your prospects – fast!

 

Get your free Resource Collections member login to gain access to profile templates, commentary, and more. Click here to access.

Communicating Better with Researchers in 5 Questions

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

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

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

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

And then the couple accepted a meeting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Thrilling Aspect

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

The Terrifying Aspect

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

New Perspective Fueled by Advocacy

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

What Can You Do? Advocate!

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

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Lowering the Prospect-to-Donor Ratio

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

Interview with a Donor

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

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

Insights and Integration

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

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How To Find New Major Gift Prospects?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Researching Public Company Wealth

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

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

Where are the Public Company Insiders?

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

 

 

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

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

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

The Old Way of Learning Donor Profile Research

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

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

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

The New Way of Learning Donor Profile Research

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

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

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

Where Can I Learn This Kind of Information?

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

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

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

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

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

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Organization Loses Donor Trust – With Data Breach!

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

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

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

Warning! Anyone can do analytics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Mining: Because Unicorns Don’t Find Themselves.

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

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

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

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

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