Tag Archives: google

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!

More Resources

Common Prospect Research Myths

For best results, rub vigorously!

I sent a request out to prospect researchers on the APRA PRSPCT-L list-serv asking them to share common prospect research myths. Following is a summary of my favorite responses!

Myth: Everyone over age 60 is a planned gift prospect.

Fact: While age is a factor, affinity is also an important predictor of planned giving and statistical data modeling is even better at predicting who is a likely planned giver.

Myth: Lots of real estate holdings makes someone a major/planned gift prospect.

Fact: We have a lot of real estate investors, large and small, in the Pacific NW.  People buy a few apartment or commercial buildings as a retirement investment and they accrue in value, so development officers think the prospects can give big.  I have to educate them that, unless they are giving us the building, capacity is based on income from the building and that I calculate capacity differently for personal real estate and income-generating real estate.

Myth: We need to know the prospect’s net worth.

Fact: Net worth is all of someone’s assets minus all of their liabilities. We can’t know all of either, because that includes a lot of private information.

Myth: Prospect researchers can find anything about anyone, including: how much is in their bank accounts; personal tax records; credit history; social security numbers; or wills.

Fact: Much information is private, like the examples above, and is not available to us legally or ethically.

Myth: Google. You can find everything on Google. Researching is really just Googling a prospect. “I don’t need you—I use Google.” “If you just look harder, you can find out everything about him.”

Fact: Internet search engines can only find about 20% of what is available on the internet. Just ask Mike Bergman who coined the phrase.

Myth: You can just get a report from the “database” with everything, right?

Fact: While software companies that pull information together for us have gotten very sophisticated, there is no “one” database.

Myth: A prospect can be fully researched in less than half an hour, especially with one of those fancy research services we subscribe to—just push a button and a complete profile comes out, right?. Or better yet, do a “quick 10 minute profile” on a prospect. (Sorry, but is this ever possible — ten minutes?)

Fact: Searched, verified, and synthesized information barely starts with an hour. Anything less risks being haphazard, which might help in a pinch, but is far from ideal.

Myth: Very little data about a prospect is needed in order for the researcher to produce a comprehensive profile (such as: name spelled correctly, address, occupation, how someone is related to our organization).

Fact: Names are far more common than most people suspect and a good match requires as much starting information as possible.

Myth: When asked for “a little more information about so-and-so,” true prospect researchers intuitively know exactly how much more information is enough.

Fact: Good communication is a two-way street between the requestor and the researcher. Some process or structure usually helps too.

…And the last MYTH? Well, it isn’t one really. It’s a FACT: In ancient times, before the discoveries of electricity, personal computers, and the internet, prospect researchers lived in lamps and responded to vigorous rubbing.

Other Post You Might Like:

Can you really trust prospect research? 10 things you should know

Do Your Own Research? You Bet!

Re-Wiring the Trusty Profile

There’s a bit of buzz about whether prospect research is going to get dumbed down by smart software products or if it will get lifted into the realm of strategy and management. The reality is probably a bit of both. Today I thought I’d bite off one little piece of the bigger conversation. I want to take a tried and true prospect research task – the trusty profile – and toss it up in the air to discover a new perspective on its utility and value.

Conversation Starter

Sabine Schuller jump-started the dialogue on the PRSPCT-L list-serv with an article,Is a Googlized Workplace Replacing Dedicated Competitive Intelligence Resources? Substitute “prospect research” for “competitive intelligence” and you can join in the exchange. Helen Brown did! She opined on the topic with a blog post, Prospect Research’s Strategic Advantage, suggesting that prospect researchers offer “experience, context, and strategy”. Mark Noll and Chris Mildner commented about the need for prospect research to concern itself with ROI. They told us we have to demonstrate how research translates into increased gift levels.

Can We Re-Wire the Humble Profile?

As you might have noticed, the topic has many layers of discussion points and profiles are somewhere amongst them. Can we re-wire the humble profile to make it more strategic and cost efficient? What does that mean?

I’ve heard conversations along these lines:

  • The paper profile is dead. It should all go into the database.
  • Research should be finding the basics – ability, inclination, linkage/affinity – and spend not a minute more.
  • My gift officer was struggling to connect with a prospect and I dug deep and found some nuggets of interest that helped him to solicit and receive a multi-million dollar gift.

My two cents? They are all correct! Prospect research is positioned differently at each organization depending upon the structure and culture of its fundraising operations. But sometimes people are so excited about their success with their hammer that they begin to view every problem as a nail, even if it’s a screw.

My favorite type of client to work with has no research staff and is tasked with raising million-dollar gifts. She relies on the paper profiles to give her really deep insight into what makes this prospect tick because the pressure is high to get the largest gift possible for her organization. She doesn’t hesitate to call me and question the information so she can feel confident in her ask amount.

It’s my job to know how much and what kind of detail to include.

That’s a big sentence. And it leads me to an interesting interaction I had recently with another client. We were talking about her need for corporate research. She wanted all the usual info, but they had specific strategies they were focused on for corporate prospects. My profiles are typically organized to best present the information collected, but what I was hearing was that she wanted to know exactly how to approach the company for each strategy.

So I reorganized the profile to highlight info relevant to each strategy first and then other sections to hold traditional, but necessary, information second. I did the first couple of profiles to be sure it worked and, well, it felt awkward. It took extra effort to parse the information into the right spots. I truly had to think first about the strategy and second about the information I was scanning. But it kept the profile laser-focused on what was most important to creating the cultivation and solicitation strategy. That felt good!

But, What About You and Your Office?

When deciding how much and what kind of profile types your prospect research department should be producing, I recommend engaging your fundraising staff in dialogue around these big questions:

Does everyone understand…

  • What the three main functions of prospect research areas are? (Prospect Identification or proactive, Prospect Profiling or reactive, and Relationship Management)
  • How those functions affect and support their specific specialty (events, annual fund, major and planned gifts, alumni relations, etc.)?
  • Where they fit within the strategic goals for the organization’s overall fundraising?

(Just remember that, as in search technique, less is often more. We’re not talking two weeks of training, but a simple, framework discussion.)

With everyone on the same page, now you can begin to have a discussion about things like if and when prospect research should be doing in-depth, six to twelve hour individual research profiles or who should be preparing bullet points for major gift prospects at events.

Now everyone knows where the priorities lie and how prospect research is going to be used to support them. It might not make everyone happy, but hey, happiness is a personal journey, right?

Onward to the Future!

Yes, the world is a-changing. We need to have the confidence and courage to re-engineer our services. We need to become more competitive and tie what we do to its impact on giving. And as we pursue big-picture discussions about the future of our profession, we need to recognize the diversity of our experience, context and strategies to create best practices focused on problem-solving.

With professionals like Sabine Schuller, Helen Brown, Mark Noll, Chris Mildner and You, I have no doubt we can ride these waves of changes with aplomb. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Top Tips for Everyone: Power Searching with Google

Kate Rapoport, Research Associate

In July I attended an online class Google offered called “Power Searching with Google.” The class reminded me of a bunch of tricks to Google searching, and taught me some new ones as well.  Here are a few that I think will be useful for prospect researchers.

Patent searching

If the prospect that you are researching has been involved in research and you want to gather information on what patents she may hold, Google can help with that. On the left hand panel in the search page, under the word “Shopping” click on the word “More”.  The list will expand and you will see “Patents”. Now you can search for your prospect’s name and Google will find patents that contain that name.

Site and Filetype Operators

These operators allow you to narrow your search significantly. The site operator confines your search to one website or domain. For example:

“Jazzy Jay Jefferson” Site:Stanford.edu

…would produce only results that included Jazzy Jay Jefferson on the Stanford.edu website.

“Jazzy Jay Jefferson” Site:.edu

…would find every instance of Jazzy Jay Jefferson on every website that ended in “.edu”.

The filetype operator confines your search to a type of file. For example:

“Jazzy Jay Jefferson” Filetype:pdf

…would produce only results that include Jazzy Jay Jefferson and are PDF documents. (Think: online donor recognition reports!)

Date Range Limiting

If your prospect created a great deal of news in 2008 because of a controversy that you already have sufficient information about and you are now only interested in search results that give you information about your prospect from 2009 to the present, Google offers date range limiting. On the left hand panel of the search page at the bottom is the option “Show search tools.” Once clicked on, the first option is for date range. I can search SlideShare founder “Rashmi Sinha”, click “Show search tools”, select “Custom range”, enter 2009 to 2012, and receive search results from that time frame only.

Search Translated Foreign Pages

If your prospect is an immigrant from or has an interest in a company from another country, you can try to find more information by using the Translated Foreign Pages search function. Type in your search keywords, go to the left hand panel, select “Show Search Tools”, and then select “Translated Foreign Pages”. This will bring up searches for your prospect in available translated pages. You can customize the languages you wish to look through at the top of the search page once you have made the search request.


This one is clearly not just for prospect researchers. I can never remember the correct ways to convert feet into meters, for example. Google has a really neat tool that does that for you. Enter “16 feet in meters” into the search box and it immediately gives you the answer (4.8768, just in case you were curious). You can use Google to convert any measurement as long as you use the formula “Number units in units.”

I hope you found these top tips informative, or at least a helpful refresher!

About the Author, Kate Rapoport:

Kate graduated from Smith College with a B.A. in Women’s Studies. She began her career in non-profit administration, became a mother and now, at Aspire Research Group LLC, applies her intelligence and curiosity to preparing prospect profiles that tell the stories that lead to major gifts.

Power Searching with Google Course: A Review

Kate Rapoport, Research Associate

In July, Google invited the public to take a free course entitled “Power Searching with Google.” Google offers many easy ways to find information that the general public doesn’t know about. This course offered anyone the opportunity to learn about the advanced tools Google provides to help search the internet.

As a prospect researcher, I’m always looking for new ways to find things. Also, I was curious to see how Google was going to present the information and how accessible it would be. I signed up for the course and over two weeks completed the six classes and the review exams.

The classes were very easy to follow. The lessons were recorded as video lectures given by a Senior Research Scientist at Google, Daniel Russell. The videos were never longer than ten minutes, and many of them were only five minutes. After each video I completed an exercise to demonstrate that I had learned the material. Usually five short videos made up one class.

Structuring the classes as a series of short videos made it much easier to grasp each concept quickly, but didn’t allow my attention to wander the way a longer video lecture might have done. Also, each class session had an overarching theme, such as interpreting results, advanced techniques and finding facts faster. I found Mr. Russell to be an engaging lecturer, which kept me from wandering away, which I have been known to do in other online lecture classes.

I recommend that other researchers take this course if it is offered again. Although I already knew at least fifty percent of the material, the course clarified things and introduced new ideas on how to perform searches. In a later blog post, I’ll talk about the most useful search skills that the class taught.

About the Author, Kate Rapoport:

Kate graduated from Smith College with a B.A. in Women’s Studies. She began her career in non-profit administration, became a mother and now, at Aspire Research Group LLC, applies her intelligence and curiosity to preparing prospect profiles that tell the stories that lead to major gifts.

What I like about Google Searching

"Sherlock" Kate goes Google

As a new prospect researcher with Aspire Research Group I am constantly reading and learning new techniques. I recently came across a very helpful document on the internet: Google and Beyond: Making the Most of Search Engines for Prospect Research by Steven Hupp. He explains many useful search options within Google Search and expands upon the topic to speak about other search engine and meta search engine options. I thought I would share the search techniques that I found most useful while reading his presentation.

When using Google Search, you can use the ordinary Google search box or click the Advanced Search link near the box. I am describing how to use the everyday Google search box.

Using Quotes
The first advanced operator (otherwise known as useful thing to help make your searching more productive) is one that most people who have used Google already know about. When searching for a prospect (Jane Doe) put her name in quotes: “Jane Doe”. This weeds out all the search results that have Jane and Doe but not together. I use quotes for all the known combinations of the donor prospect’s name (e.g., Jane Doe, Jane E. Doe, Jane Evermand Doe)

The Asterisk
You can also use the asterisk with quotes. If you put “Jane Doe * Pennsylvania”, the * acts as a wild card and will produce search results that include all Jane Doe “any word at all” Pennsylvania. This can be helpful if you are not sure where in Pennsylvania a prospect lives or want to find all the places she might be involved within the state.

The Minus Sign
Another advanced operator that can be very time-saving is the minus sign (-). When you are searching a prospect’s name and it is relatively common or there is another specific person who is not your prospect who keeps showing up and taking over all the search results, simply put “Jane Doe” –ski ball and all the ski ball results will go away.

Domain Search
One can also use Google search to look specifically at a single website. Site searching looks like this: “Jane Doe” site: aspireresearchgroup.com. This will produce search results that only include Jane Doe’s name when it shows up on the website in question.

Type of File
The final search function that Mr. Hupp mentions that I think could be really helpful to people doing prospect research is the filetype search. In order to do this search type: “Jane Doe” filetype: pdf (or whatever file type you want) and the Google search results will only include documents of that particular file type where Jane Doe is mentioned. This would be particularly useful when used with PDF documents, as so often they include foundation reports and donor lists.

Happy Searching!
By using these tips on more productive Google searching, I hope that your searches will become less like searching for a needle in a haystack and more like searching for a colorful drinking straw in a haystack. 😀

Go Ask Aspire
And of course you can always ask Aspire Research Group to find your donor prospect in the haystack for you! We provide some of the most thorough donor prospect profiles in the business! Click here for more information.

Selling Anonymous Donor Info – for or against?

Today the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether or not to uphold Vermont’s law against selling prescription info to data mining companies. It’s a privacy issue with parallels to nonprofit fundraising – or is it? SCOTUSblog has a wonderfully readable account of the case.

In Vermont, when drug stores fill a doctor’s prescription they are required to record the doctor’s name and address, the name, dosage and quantity of the drug, the date and place where the prescription was filled, and the patient’s age and gender — but not patient name and address. Drug stores are required to keep this digital information and they make money selling it to data mining companies who sell it to the pharmaceutical industry who use it for marketing drugs. But the information is also available to insurance companies, medical research institutions, and law enforcement authorities. Vermont law keeps the information from the data mining companies, but not others.

So once again we have personal data, which many in the public perceive as being ill-used or over-used by huge corporations like big pharma, but which is also being used for important public benefits like disease tracking, clinical trials and law enforcement. Can we say no to one user and not another? Do we give up the benefits to keep the info completely private?

Although this case might seem far removed from the world of not-for-profit fundraising, it isn’t. Blackbaud is a huge corporation with the dominant market share of donor database software – Raiser’s Edge. And they are moving their customers online, which means Blackbaud holds the keys to your donor data. They conduct lots of useful fundraising industry research including their Index of Charitable Giving. Where do they get the info?

“Each month, we draw actual giving statistics from the databases of thousands of participating organizations using a variety of fundraising systems to determine how much revenue was raised in the prior month.”

I’m not sure if that means that they use their clients’ data with permission or whether they collect data from clients and non-clients. Does it matter? Nonprofits are providing their donor information to Blackbaud for research – but stripped of identifying information. Is it restricted to freely available research studies or do they also use it for commercial purposes? Does that matter?

In March of 2010 I wrote about Google’s use of “data dust”. I suggested we should be able to use our own “donor dust” to help create a better experience for our donors. But it makes me uncomfortable to think of the possibility of Blackbaud sweeping up our collective donor dust and then reselling it for profit or using it for their own marketing.

The question shares many similarities with  the prescription drug case in Vermont. There will be good and meaningful uses for following fundraising trends gleaned from a corporation’s clients’ donor data, but is it legal and is it ethical?

Forbes Asks: Why use a researcher when there's Google?

Young Learners Need Librarians, not just Google is an article published in Forbes on Monday, March 22, 2010. A parallel article could have been titled – Small Development Shops Need Prospect Researchers, not just Google. Author, Mike Moran, repeatedly mentions children’s inability to discern credible sources and their inability to find the most relevant material amidst the overwhelming heap of irrelevant material. Yet many nonprofits continue to believe that they can type a donor prospect’s name in Google and find everything they need.

The reality is that prospect research was always more complex, even before the internet. When searching was done in the library it was still important to know which sources to use and how to summarize prospect information for use by a gift officer. Finding prospect information is as complex as ever.

There are many sites purporting to “mine” the web for you, and sometimes they do a decent job of digging through the massive content on the internet. Dangerously, people often assume that because the website located the information, the information is both correct and belongs to the prospect. In fact mismatches and errors abound and are endlessly repeated.

A prospect researcher verifies information from primary sources wherever possible, alerts nonprofits when information is at risk for error, and includes self-disclosed or hearsay information (think Twitter, Facebook etc) only as appropriate, identifying the sources clearly. The two most important things a prospect researcher does for you is (1) ensure that standard biographical, occupational, wealth and giving history information is not overlooked, and (2) sift through and summarize the information ethically. A really good researcher can also alert you to possible gift strategies.

Researching your prospect requires specialized technique that goes way beyond Google. That’s why Aspire Research Group is so proud to offer small and mid-size organizations professional prospect research, without breaking the budget.

Data dust is gold dust for Google

The February 27, 2010 edition of the Economist has a special report on managing information. Wow! I love the way the Economist pulls together their reports. I know that Amazon tracks what I’m browsing and offers me suggestions. I know that Facebook tracks posts and comments on fan pages. I know Google offers me alternatives when I misspell words. But I DID NOT know just how lucrative all this data dust is and how deep it goes.

As it turns out, Google didn’t just develop a spell-check, it spent several million dollars over 20 years using all the misspellings users type into a search window and then “correct” by clicking on the right result. All that dust I create when I type badly is being used by Google to create a competitive edge! And now Google is developing translation and voice recognition services using the same approach.

Even more curious about Google is that it does not have to own the data to benefit. The report mentions Google’s foray into electronic medical records suggesting that it might be able to use the data to accurately predict things like flu outbreaks. BUT users retain ownership and could take their records out of the system any time they want to.

It makes me wonder how fundraisers can use giving data “dust” to create better experiences for our donors and financially stronger organizations. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we don’t need to own sensitive data about our donors, just use its dust to give us predictors!