Tag Archives: philanthropy

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!

More Resources You Might Like

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!

More Resources You Might Like


Can You Trust Gift Capacity Ratings? 5 Things Fundraisers Should Know

capacityGift capacity ratings were a marketing moment for wealth screening companies. Suddenly thousands of records could be matched individually to wealth records and assigned a score. Your constituents could be assessed by their potential capacity – in the form of dollars. And everybody loves money. Have gift capacity ratings lived up to the hype? Yes!
With the sophistication of fundraising analytics we now have ever more ways to evaluate our prospect portfolios, but gift capacity ratings remain an important tool for the fundraiser. To get the most out of your gift capacity ratings, following are five things you should know.

1. Prioritizing your prospect pool saves you from yourself.

We are all human and that means we prefer to call upon and visit people we like – people who are more like us. Unless you are a major gift donor yourself, your prospects are not like you. Assigning numbers, gift capacity ratings, to your prospect pool helps you overcome your natural tendencies and allocate your time based upon the impact someone can have on your organization.

You will spend as much (or more) time on someone who can give $10,000 as someone who can give $100,000 or $1 million. If you want to excel in major gifts, capacity ratings will help you focus.

2. Ratings and scores are never exact unless it’s the Olympics.

Gift capacity ratings don’t have decimal points! Or at least they shouldn’t. Typically a gift capacity is expressed as a range, such as $250,000 to $499,999. The range should clue you in that this is not an exact science. The goal is NOT to pinpoint a solicitation amount. The goal is to categorize your prospects by their capacity or ability to give.

A successful solicitation strategy requires much more than a gift capacity rating. A $1 million+ capacity rating is exciting … until you visit and discover he believes philanthropy is bad for the economy. A $1 million+ capacity rating is exciting … until you discover she has been harboring fantasies of making a transformational gift to your cause. Then it’s a MIRACLE!

3. You must know your prospect types.

You and your prospect research professional are not high-net-worth-individuals (HNWIs). You are not usually doctors, lawyers, or investment bankers either. Recognizing and being able to categorize how different prospect types accumulate, manage, and give away their wealth is for you and your researcher to discover together.

Know that HNWIs are generally UNDER-valued by gift capacity ratings. The more wealth there is, the more likely that wealth is hidden from view. Prospects outside the U.S. frequently have wealth indicators that can’t be assigned a number.

4. Not knowing produces anxiety. Embrace the unknown.

Before you get frustrated with how little we can really know about the prospects we want the most – HNWIs – remember that gift capacity ratings were never meant to be the final word. As you evaluate your prospect pool by its capacity ratings and any other tools available to you, embrace what you don’t know.

Create a checklist of what clues you in to prospects of great wealth. Use this to create a strategy for your discovery and cultivation visits. Use what you don’t know as a roadmap to discover your prospect. If you know a fundraiser that came of age pre-internet, find out how s/he prepares for visits!

5. Your researcher is your best ally.

Prospect research professionals have as much fear of ambiguity as gift officers. Calculating capacity ratings fills us with anxiety and angst! This is also to your advantage. Engaging your researcher in conversations about gift capacity ratings, wealth indicators, and what you might discover in your visits will only make you both better in your professions.

Some of my best conversations have been with confident fundraisers who wanted to better understand how I arrived at a gift capacity rating or how a particular type of wealth factored in to the prospect’s ability to give. Prospect research professionals want the donor to give a major gift, too!

Gift capacity ratings are not going anywhere anytime soon. Learning to use them to your advantage will help you achieve success as a fundraiser.

Do you have advice for others on pitfalls to avoid, or tips on how best to use gift capacity ratings? I hope you’ll share!

More Resources You Might Like

Join the Resource Collections online community to access this handout. Use it to facilitate discussion with prospect researchers, gift officers, and leadership



#ResearchPride, Advocacy, and Me

researchpriderainbowAre you proud of the work that you do? Do you get excited about solving information challenges at work? If so, why not take the opportunity this month to share your #ResearchPride?

Because I am proud of the work I do to support not-for-profit organizations, I advocate for the profession in many ways. But I wasn’t always an advocate. It happened over time. My hope is that by sharing my advocacy story with you, you might realize that you, too, have been an advocate for prospect research – probably without really thinking about it. And just maybe you will be inspired to share some #ResearchPride this month with all of us!

I am a Professional

Prospect research has given me a profession where I can utilize the variety of skills I have acquired and apply them to making the world a better place. I have been able to hone my talents with the help of fundraisers and prospect research professionals around the world. It has been extremely rewarding and a tremendous amount of fun!

Being a professional is about more than excelling at work, though. It’s also about being prepared for work and keeping up with trends. I consider myself a fundraiser who specializes in prospect research. Because of this it’s important for me to understand what is happening in philanthropy around the globe and the many ways that impacts my work in research. I also endeavor to keep up with information technology and the changing attitudes to privacy.

My work is more than a j-o-b, it’s a profession. When I am excellent at my work I am advocating for the profession. Staying interested and informed also makes it easy to engage with others about what I do.

I share and engage with the public about my work

When I first began speaking in front of fundraising groups nearly ten years ago, I made a habit of mentioning the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement or APRA (pronounced “APP-rah”). I would ask the room if anyone knew about it. Rarely was a hand raised. When I moved to Tampa Bay, Florida from the mature fundraising environment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I was challenged – not only did people not know about APRA, but most fundraisers didn’t know what prospect research was either. Yikes!

Those were the pretty early years of electronic screenings. I often think of those first vendors such as P!N, Blackbaud, and WealthEngine as early advocates for the prospect research profession. Their marketing efforts were very successful. Suddenly fundraisers had heard about prospect research – and they thought it was a software product!

While that was annoying, at least it opened the doors to better conversation. I love what I do and enjoy telling people all about it – anyone in fact! People greet my explanations with curiosity and frequently more questions. Sometimes they share stories with me about their interactions with a charity of choice. By sharing my profession with others, I’m also encouraging people to have positive relationships with not-for-profit organizations. Advocacy is awesome!

I collaborate with and support the growth of my colleagues

While I was growing Aspire Research Group, I volunteered with APRA Florida, including serving a term as president. I would also volunteer at APRA conferences and it was a great way to meet new people. All of that felt pretty comfortable – almost easy. But then two big choices came my way that threw me out of my comfort zone and changed the way I viewed my role as an advocate for the profession.

First, two people at my local Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Suncoast chapter encouraged me to answer a call for authors to write about prospect research for the Wiley/AFP Fund Development Series. This was an amazing opportunity to share my profession with the more than 30,000 members of AFP. It was also quite terrifying. Sure I was an excellent researcher, but I had very little experience with really large organizations or higher education.

That’s when I decided I would collaborate with someone. Although I barely knew her, I called up Helen Brown. She was the biggest name I knew in our profession and she had the complementary experience. She said “yes”! We had some of the best discussions as we aligned our experiences under a shared philosophy about our work. As we each wrote our chapters there was continued discussion. It was an exhausting and exhilarating experience. And eventually there was a book, Prospect Research for Fundraisers: The Essential Handbook.

The second event was as the result of success. Aspire Research Group was growing and I reached out to other independent and freelance researchers. It didn’t always go well. Sometimes I knew things they didn’t, sometimes they knew more than I did, and often they did not have access to the paid tools needed to do their best work. Should I invest in those relationships? Should I share knowledge and tools with -gasp- my competitors?

What would you do?

Recently I saw something like this on social media:

  • CEO: We need to get training for our employees
  • CFO: But what if they get the training and then leave for our competitors?
  • CEO: What if they don’t get the training and they stay?

That captures my final decision. I did share knowledge and tools with colleagues that I developed a close working relationship with and I have never regretted it. A small group of us are now exploring ways in which we could more formally work together and retain our autonomy.

I want our profession to be full of highly-trained, well-resourced individuals! Prospect research professionals are some of the most intelligent, creative, and collaborative people I have ever had the privilege of working with.

A big THANK YOU to Helen Brown for launching #ResearchPride month two years ago and for inviting bloggers to share the love!

Now it’s your turn… consider engaging with the #ResearchPride hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any other social media platform where you participate. Comment on this blog post or visit the other blog posts listed below and share your thoughts there.

But most importantly, find your voice and speak. Practice your explanation of your work. Test it out on everyone who looks remotely interested. Share your #ResearchPride!

Other #ResearchPride Articles

Sweating it out in New Orleans with APRA

APRApd2015ButtonsThe APRA International Prospect Development conference is about to begin with the Analytics Symposium,  Researcher’s Boot Camp and pre-conference workshops starting tomorrow.

And WHEW! is it ever hot out! (this coming from a Floridian who loves summer)

I’ve been reading hints on Twitter about the cool (and cooling) swag the APRA chapters have on offer at the chapters table. I will be scooping up my conference treasure, but I have some conference doubloons of my own! Check out the photo for a picture of the pins I have to give away – but only to those who can catch me and ask about #gogirlresearch!

HINT: Take a peek at who is presenting on 7/25 at 8:30am!

Fundraising + Science = ?

test tube2Did you have a chance to read the Chronicle of Philanthropy in April? The one titled “Science Unlocks the Secrets of Giving”? Because it was … provocative!

I am a prospect research professional. I love data! Poring over the latest wealth study and pulling out bullet points and formulas to use in researching prospects brings me joy! So why did the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s coverage in April make me uncomfortable?

First, I’d like to say that being uncomfortable is not altogether a bad thing. Pushing outside the comfort zone can yield growth and innovation. And I really hope that happens when it comes to applying science to fundraising. But something isn’t lined up properly.

What Using Science in Philanthropy Means 

As I argued in my Innovate or Die article, fundraising must change in response to the economic, cultural and other shifts occurring. What the Chronicle of Philanthropy articles were suggesting was that fundraising should be using the human research and fundraising-specific research studies to craft fundraising strategies and programs.

Human research? Yes really! Such as neuroscientific research delving into what is happening in the brain when someone gives. Research into “how the body’s hormones can affect the reward-giving dopamine levels in our brains that create feelings of generosity and trust”.

There was also a short story on how an organization gave up on an experimental fundraising strategy that involved direct mail with a do-not-solicit-option for the donor that promised not to solicit ever again if a gift was made. The organization was uncomfortable with having no way to build a relationship with the 46% who had made a gift under the do-not-solicit-option … even though they were raising more money from those gifts than with the traditional approach.

I understand the discomfort, but I don’t understand mailing to all those people who will never give again anyway. (Don’t be over-optimistic here; how many of your donors have permanently lapsed after the first gift? Do you even know? And do you continue to mail to them for years, hoping?)

Changing Perspective, Not Changing Values

 A slight shift in our perspective on donors can better align our organization with reality. We can maintain the same mission and values, but when we recognize that our donors are not “our donors”, but “people who have a made a gift to our organization” we have room to see things differently.

The science might be saying that we are raising more dollars by not stewarding people who don’t want to be stewarded, but from a new perspective we can translate that into … we will respect the wishes of people not to be contacted and we will honor those who do want to be contacted by spending more of our resources building relationships with them.

The science says we will and are raising more money with a specific strategy. Our shift in perspective allows us to say we will and are raising more money using the same integrity and values we have espoused all along – the donor’s right to make choices.

Sure, neuroscientific research studies can be a little bit difficult to decipher and boil down to actionable bullet points. Yes, fundraising research can be in opposition to long-standing traditions and beliefs about donors.

It can make us uncomfortable.

We have to question our resistance. We have to change the angle from which we view the situation. Why would we not want to respect the wishes of someone who has made a gift to us? Even when it is a wish not to be contacted.

Research is suggesting, nigh, demanding that we do our fundraising differently. Innovate or Die!

But we must do ‘different’ with a balanced approach. We must shift our perspective so that we can make decisions that accept reality and yet still align with our mission, values and the trust the public has for our organizations. The trust they have in us.

More Resources:

Female Fundraisers Talk About Wealthy Women Philanthropists

World Map VectorI’ve selected three recent articles written by female fundraisers about wealthy women philanthropists. Enjoy!

Understanding High Net Worth Women’s Philanthropy

By Marge King, InfoRich Group

Lately, I have been seeing a lot of research studies on the topics of how women save money, invest money, and spend money-studies done by Fidelity Investments, U.S. Trust, and similar financial services organizations, on a regular basis.

It doesn’t take the proverbial rocket scientist to understand why the financial industry is spending money on studies analyzing women’s money habits.  A significant number of women-often the financial decision makers in their families-now contribute to the economy with their earnings. >>>Keep Reading

What Women Donors Want

By Adrienne A. Rulnick, Ed.D., Grenzebach Glier + Associates

Fundraisers need to broaden their “toolkits” in thinking about what motivates and incentivizes women donors. Recently, a fundraiser from my undergraduate alma mater called me in the lead up to our quinquennial reunion celebration at the recommendation, she told me, of two classmates who were also friends.  They wanted me to complete the funding for a scholarship that they had seeded in honor of our reunion. Although the ask represented a stretch gift for me, I immediately agreed. >>>Keep Reading

Rating Girls

By Preeti Gill, Sole Searcher Blog

Did my headline grab your attention? Good. Here’s my contribution to the prospect development community’s great capacity ratings debate. This post isn’t about how to rate prospects. Nope, not going there. This post is about who gets the rating inside your database, once you’ve crunched the financials on an individual, couple or household. The one who gets the rating then gets pulled into your prospect pipeline for closer consideration. >>>Keep Reading

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The Prospect Research Institute has been creating resource collections you might like:

5 Benefits to Make the Case for Prospect Research at Your Organization

Guest Post by Sarah Tedesco

bulbpencilSMThink of your nonprofit like a light bulb and money as the filament. You’ve got plenty of conducting wire to glow for a long time, but are you shining as bright as possible? Is your light reaching as far as it could or are you casting shadows upon donors just out of reach?

Prospect research provides philanthropic and wealth data that helps you to spot the major gift prospects who will donate the additional funds that you need.

Below are five ways to convince the head honchos of your organization to make a strategic investment in prospect research.

Benefit #1 – Receive more information about existing major donors

Does your prospect have a good poker face? Does he enjoy bubble baths with a glass of red wine? Is he an ancient Greek pottery aficionado? Prospect research won’t answer those questions, but it will deliver the sort of information that you need to improve your major gift fundraising.

Prospect research provides:

  • Philanthropic histories – Know who your donors have given to and how much.
  • Wealth markers – Discover what your donors invest in, such as stocks, real estate, etc.
  • Group analysis of long donor lists – Receive comprehensive reports that summarize donor lists according to where they donate, how much, and more.
  • Business relationships – Discover your donors’ employers to discover if they work for companies that offer matching gift programs.
  • And more! – Different prospect research companies and consultants can deliver different types of information in different ways, so be sure to conduct research before you commit to a company or private researcher.

The fundraising experience becomes more personalized when you know more about donors. Your loyal donors are your most important donors, and remaining abreast of who they are and how to best continue to solicit donations ensures that your relationships will last.

Benefit #2 – Fundraise more efficiently!

While you’re busy hosting events, managing staff, and taking care of other tasks, your most valuable resource is always tick, tick, ticking away… Time.

With prospect research, you can pick out the highest quality major gift prospects on your list and dedicate your time, staff, and resources accordingly. Your fundraising efforts will be focused on the prospects who can deliver the biggest impacts for your organization.

Prospect research methods include:

  • Screening companies – After compiling data from a plethora of databases, screening companies return comprehensive philanthropy and wealth data to help you identify your major gift prospects.
  • Prospect research consultants – Consultants can provide you with a deeper level of research and fundraising insights on specific prospects. They can also help you streamline and coordinate all of your prospect research efforts. It’s important to know what you want from your consultant to achieve the best results.
  • Do it yourself – There is an abundance of search tools out there, and you can teach yourself or get training for yourself or a staff member on how to conduct and manage prospect research.

Benefit #3 – Find and convert new major gift prospects

While modest donations help, major gifts deliver big, immediate impacts for your nonprofit, and finding more major gift donors is the fastest way to increase fundraising. However, when it comes to increasing your number of significant donors, new isn’t always better.

The top indicator of a major gift prospect is previous giving to your nonprofit, but that doesn’t mean that the previous giving is in the $5,000+ range of a major gift. Despite only giving modest amounts, your loyal donors are your most fertile source of new major gift prospects.

Annual donors, no matter how little they give, have a demonstrated, consistent affinity for your organization. Some of these donors can’t give more, but prospect research can reveal which ones can. However, if loyal donors have the capacities to give more, and care so much about your organization, then why don’t they give more?

The explanation may be as simple as that you’ve never asked these prospects to give more, so they’ve never thought to do so. There may be other reasons, and a thorough job of prospect research can help to solve the mystery, so you can turn these annual fund donors into major gift donors.

An old rule of prospect research is that 80% of funds are raised from 20% of the donations, although many organizations claim that it’s more like 90% of funds from 10% of donations, and others find that an even larger portion of their money comes from an even smaller contingency of major donors. You likely have several major donors, but the more the merrier, as these are the people who will provide most of your annual revenue.

Benefit #4 – Clean up your donor databases

Ring. Ring. Ri…

Prospect: Hello?

You: Hi! Is this Mr. Major Donor?

Prospect: I think you have a wrong number.

Fundraising doesn’t have to be like that phone call. You can call the right numbers more often than not, but only if you have up-to-date information.

Prospect research keeps crucial contact information up to date, such as:

  • Phones numbers
  • Email addresses
  • Mailing addresses
  • Spousal information
  • Hobbies and preferred activities
  • And more!

Don’t just take this new information and throw it into a cluttered closet. Embrace the opportunity to clean up your database, so that your donor records are easily searchable and accessible.

Benefit #5 – Identify planned or deferred giving prospects

You know that you can find new major gift prospects among your current donors, and that you shouldn’t overlook even low-level donors, but there’s also a specific type of major gift to be aware of.

Many donors save their biggest donations to be planned or deferred gifts, and, according to a planned giving expert, planned gifts typically come from regular, modest donors.

Prospect research provides the data that reveals potential planned giving donors.

Landing donations, and especially planned gifts, can be a long game, and donors have long-term value that might be patient to reveal itself. Prospect research helps you to find all of these people and delivers comprehensive information that allows you to make more individualized pitches that will better resonate with prospects and land more major gifts, even if they’re gifts that you have to wait a little longer to receive.

These tips should help you make the case at your organization for the importance of investing in prospect research! You’re a nonprofit with a bold heart and an important mission, so increase your fundraising with prospect research in order to focus on what you’re meant to do.

About Sarah Tedesco

TedescoSarahSarah Tedesco is Executive Vice President at DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.

Connect with Sarah:


Forbes Billionaire List Alert: What you’re missing

dancingwomensmWomen may be just under half of the world’s population, but they represent 11% of the 2015 Forbes World’s Billionaires List. Of the 197 women on the list, 29 are self-made billionaires. These may not sound like inspiring numbers, but consider the women on the rise.

Elizabeth A. Holmes is the youngest self-made woman billionaire – ever.

And she happens to be female. And she founded a company using her scientific prowess. So if you’ve been reading all the nasty headlines about how women suffer from misogynists harassing them in the tech field, consider that some uber-successful women have simply stepped around that hot mess!

Ms. Holmes is 31 years old, has retained 50% ownership of her company Theranos valued at around $9 billion, and makes time for philanthropy:

  • Board President for Improve International, an organization launched by fellow Georgia Tech alumna Susan Davis, which is devoted to education, partnership, and monitoring the sustainability of water and sanitation projects worldwide
  • Active mentor for young professionals within Elavon, a payment processing company
  • Volunteer at Georgia Tech, participating annually as a judge for TAG’s Educational Collaborative
  • Member of Women in Technology and On Board
  • Financial supporter of Girls Inc.

The real question is this: If Ms. Holmes wasn’t on the Forbes list, would you even know she existed?

Because I bet there are many sweet major gift prospect gems inside your databases and within your organization’s social circle, but you have no clue.

How Do Women Hide in Your Database?

Of the 168 non-self-made female billionaires on the list, many inherited their wealth from fathers and husbands. But don’t let that fool you. They own it! Did you pay attention to those women before their fathers and husbands died? You should have.

Even before they are widowed these women are usually the influencers and even the drivers behind household philanthropic decisions.

In her debut publication What About Women? prospect research professional Preeti Gill suggests you take a walk through your database …as a woman.

  • When a couple makes a gift, do you credit them both?
  • When you have a couple as donors, do you create a separate record for the woman?
  • What salutation does the woman have?
  • Are you paying attention to how she wants her name listed?

How Do Women Hide Among Your Organization’s “Family”?

Perhaps the easiest way wealthy women are hidden and not recognized by the organizations they love is when they are never entered into the database to begin with. Way too many organizations do not track and include volunteers in their fundraising vision and plans. Your prospect research professional can’t find major gift prospects in your database if they aren’t in there.

And what do we know about women? They do their due diligence before investing! And part of that due diligence is often volunteering for the organization.

Wealthy Women are Still Women

Ignore women in your fundraising at your own peril! Women are different from men. They think about money differently. They want different interactions with your organization from men. And they might even give differently from men.

Fundraising with a focus on women will require adjustments and adjustments require time, money and resources.

But very wealthy women are on the rise and they bring rewards:

  • Quick to make referrals through word of mouth
  • Frequently give unrestricted gifts, small and large
  • Loyal donors who advocate to others within their network

Are you interested in learning more and staying current on women in philanthropy? Click here to sign-up for the What About Women? email list.

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Innovate or Die: Post-Recession Impact on Finding Donors

Broken LightbulbThe future has a way of entering slowly, day-by-day. But sometimes the writing is on the wall. The words I see on the fundraising wall are Data Analytics. Sure, you say, we all know that. But what does it mean to your organization? To you? Answer: Innovate or die.

That may sound extreme. And it is. But it doesn’t make it any less possible. Before you dismiss that answer, let me tell you how I arrived at it.

The economic environment is affecting our donors – dramatically.

My favorite magazine of all time is The Economist. Lately they have been writing frequently about the growing inequality around the world and in America. How capital is taking a far greater share of wealth and how income, in the form of wages, is stagnating. Companies froze wages pre-recession, but even though profits have returned wages have not risen.

In his blog post “Where have all the donors gone?” Mark Noll makes the case that the result of these economics is the missing middle donor. Post-recession, people may be employed again, but too often at a lower wage. Where will our gifts come from?

In her book, Nonprofit Essentials: The Development Plan (2007), Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE is but one of many fundraisers talking about how Pareto’s 80/20 principle has turned into the 95/5 principle or worse. Way too much of our funding is coming from a tiny sliver of very wealthy. And where do the very wealthy like to give their gifts?

According to the Million Dollar List maintained by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, fifteen of the twenty largest multi-million dollar gifts by value were from individuals to private foundations associated with their families. Higher education receives the highest number of million dollar gifts.

In the Agitator blog, Roger Craver writes:

“Giving USA 2013 is but the latest report to make pretty clear that sitting on the sidelines waiting for recovery [from the Great Recession] is a strategy only for the suicidally inclined…demands on charities [is] rising at the same time giving is nearly flat….”







It’s pretty clear that if fundraisers fail to innovate the organizations they serve will suffer.

So what does all this gloom and doom have to do with data analytics?

Data analytics is the cold method behind a warm philosophy: listen to people when they tell you something. And when thousands of people are telling you something, not only listen, but start digging deeper and ask more questions.

Data analytics allows us to “hear” from our constituents in ways we are physically incapable of hearing. If the data tells us that a large number of constituents click through on messages about one of our program outcomes regardless of where we put those messages (social media, print, etc.), but are not responding to messages about another program we planned to make our strategic direction for the next year – we should re-think that direction, right? Maybe.

Analytics alone is not enough.

It’s pretty amazing that we can “hear” our constituents through data, but don’t be mesmerized by all that glitters. We also need innovation in our approach to attracting donors, finding the “best” out of those and asking them for gifts. If the reality is that we will mostly have very large and very small gifts, how can we change our approach?

In 2012 the Chronicle of Philanthropy featured the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Missouri, which raised $416-million, in part by attracting modest gifts such as $1,000 multi-year pledges. This gave smaller donors the opportunity to express their interest and commitment and to be recognized. Crowdfunding is a similar approach, but might be improved upon to become less transactional. People want to give; people take pride in giving. It’s our job to figure out how to make it easy to give while building affinity.

In addition to gift size there are other changes we need to adapt to. Population changes cannot be ignored. Preeti Gill has written a provocative piece about identifying women philanthropists. In “Hey, Ladies! Thanks for giving. Sorry we missed you,” she notes that many multi-million dollar bequests come from women who are “outside of our databases and away from the corporate and media glare”. In other words, traditional prospect research techniques are failing to identify them.

International donors can’t be ignored either. Harvard University just announced a $350 million dollar gift from a wealthy Hong Kong family. Have you looked at population trends and predictions for your organization?

Are your donors from the local community? Are they international graduating students? You need fundraising programs that meet the needs of the constituents you have and will have in the future, not the ones you wish you could have. Data has to come from outside your organization as well as inside.

It’s All About the People

Data analytics helps us find answers and sometimes it can even help us ask questions, but most of the time data analytics requires someone with curiosity and creative problem-solving skills to direct it.

Fundraisers need to shake themselves awake from the traditional and begin interacting with the data so that they can better meet the philanthropic desires of (all) real people.

Organizations need to be willing to take risks, fail a little and ultimately win.

Ask Kodak or IBM about listening and innovating in the face of change. Innovate or die. It doesn’t sound so extreme now does it? And it is doable.

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