Tag Archives: profiles

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.

More Resources

How to Write Better Prospect Profiles

NewspaperViewSMBoiling down a global corporation into just what matters to a specific organization is WORK! And that’s when I realized how important sales writing skills are to prospect research.

I forgot how difficult it is to do lots of profiles. But it was a first assignment from a new client and my best contractor was busy. So I took them on and it was fun…and hard work.

You should also know that I’ve been prepping to co-lead a workshop at APRA’s conference in Las Vegas in July on Improving Your Profile Techniques. Between organizing my materials and researching lots of profiles I’ve had lots of questions swimming in my head such as…

Exactly which pieces of information should be included and where? How does the way we communicate over the request impact the quality of the work we provide? How much do we, or should we, “sell” the prospect to the gift officer?

The Prospect Profile Collection

Teaching something has a way of making me question everything I think I know. So one of the first things I like to do is collect good resources. And one of the three guiding principles behind the Prospect Research Institute is Shared, so I created The Prospect Profile Collection online.

The collection is a work in progress, but it already has a number of recent blog posts on prospect profiles and nine profile templates, including a surprise profile. If you go on the page and spot the one that’s different from all the others, be one of the first few to comment and you never know what pleasant surprise might arrive in your snail-mailbox!

Do you have a prospect profile template you’d be willing to have added to the collection? Please contact me and let me know!

The Big Takeaway

While I can’t share here all of the content I’ve been preparing for the APRA workshop and the Institute’s first online course on profiles, I can give you at least one takeaway…

Start thinking like a journalist!

If you do nothing else differently you will still have improved if you present your material the way a newspaper reporter would. Why? Because journalists are taught to put everything important and attention grabbing in the first few paragraphs. Heck! The first sentence! The reader must be irresistibly drawn through the article…all the way down to the last few paragraphs with all the dull, ordinary facts.

Now read your last profile over again. Wonder why that gift officer was reluctant to add the new prospect you identified to her portfolio? Look at the narrative on occupation. How much of that is really necessary? Writing less is never easy, is it?

Now imagine if you could transform your profile into a front-page newspaper article. A headline that got the equivalent of retweeted all over your development office! What would it take? Don’t be afraid to play with this one. Playing is a great way to shake our minds out of old habits and gain new insights. Let’s try one for a children’s hospital.

Dina Delight is an executive at a global company who has made two million-dollar gifts and is passionate about pediatric cancer     …Or…    Million-dollar donor, Dina Delight, passionate about pediatric cancer, is EVP at Biggie Co. where we have a really good connection!

If I were a gift officer I would be very excited about Dina Delight! Of course, condensing our prospects into a scintillating headline is not appropriate in the fundraising office. Our prospects deserve way more respect than that. But if you try to make an attention-grabbing headline about the next three prospects you profile, I’ll bet that you wind up going back to shine a light on the pieces of information that are most important to developing a relationship.

Are We Salespeople?

Which brings us back to selling the prospect to our gift officer. Selling often has a negative connotation. We imagine a sales person trying to make us buy something we don’t want or need. But we are all sales people. Every time you try to persuade your child to eat a new food, or your spouse to buy a new and bigger TV, you are selling. It’s no different in prospect research. If you don’t believe me, read about it.

When we recognize that we are selling, that we are persuading our gift officers why or why not to pursue a prospect, now we have a path to learn how to do it better. When it comes to prospect profiles, writing like a journalist and selling our story to the reader is a skill that will set you apart from other researchers.

Ready, Set… GO!

Start with the articles listed below, or check out Prospect Research Institute’s Profile Peer Review Program or Introduction to Prospect Profiles online course. And if you’re attending APRA’s pre-conference workshops, I hope to see you there!


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Getting Real with Residential Real Estate

This post debuts the InfoSeeking4Researchers series! I decided residential real estate would provide a great conversation starter. It appears simple, but is laced with multiple perspectives depending upon organization size, skill levels, prospect capacities and more. As in, a deceptively simple topic!

I have started the conversation here, but I’m expecting you to finish it. Each conversation starter I write will be emailed to InfoSeeking 4Researchers subscribers and posted here on the InfoSeeking blog under the 4Researchers category. You can subscribe to the e-newsletter to get extra tips and resources, or follow the blog category. Wherever you read it, I encourage you to post your experiences, tips, and questions as blog comments so everyone can benefit.

Residential real estate is one of the first things we researchers look for and yet sometimes we overlook the nuanced information it can provide. I was reminded of just how much it can shape prospect strategy as I was reviewing a prospect profile with a new client… but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s discuss presenting the information. Second, I’ll give an example analysis. And third, I’ll start a list of examples that I hope you will add to!

Presenting Residential Real Estate

As the years roll forward, I have moved to presenting more of my researched information in tables. It ensures that no matter who does the work, everything looks the same, and it also helps me remember the pieces we need to check for. My real estate table looks like something like this:

Property Year Valuation
[depending on the level, I might include a picture here]

1234 Best Vista Drive, Indian Shores FL 33785

  • Pinellas County Gulf-front residence; 5-bed, 4776 sq ft interior
  • Purchased in 2002 for $8 million
  • Owned by Pillsbury and Jane Dough
  • Revolving line of credit recorded in 2007 for $1 million
2013 $11 million

I choose to present an estimated market value, which I round so the end user doesn’t interpret it as an exact value.

  • Are you presenting your research in a document or does everything go directly into the database?
  • Are there places in your database to include the bullet points above that will print in a database generated profile?

A Quick Analysis

So what do I now know about Mr. and Mrs. Dough?

  • They own a big house on the beach.
  • They purchased before the real estate market tanked and paid cash (no mortgage).
  • They took out a loan during the recession, which happened to coincide with when Mrs. Dough launched her new and very successful business.

And that means…

  • They already had wealth when they bought the house and leveraged that wealth during the recession to launch a business when the business market was quiet. I’d say they likely have significant capacity.

Other examples of things I have learned through real estate

  • When the property is owned in a trust named after the prospects and listing them as trustees, I want see if the trust name on the deed record states exactly what kind of trust it is. Holding the family home in trust suggests to me that they have done some estate planning, which the gift officer will want to take into consideration.
  • One prospect held a property in trust in his name and yet he was living in a retirement home. When this was pointed out to the gift officer, he told me that he had heard the prospect’s daughter was having troubles and that this house was likely bought for her use. So it’s not likely the property is going to factor into a gift, is it? Good to know.
  • When a prospect has owned the property 10+ years and still resides in the home, even if only part-time, it suggests a different approach to life and wealth than someone who buys and sells the primary residence as often as you might sign a car lease.
  • When there is a mortgage, and especially if it is a large one, it suggests that there must be a certain amount of income to support those mortgage payments. A mortgage calculator is a handy tool to get an estimate.
  • There’s a big difference between a successful real estate investor who sits on vacant land through the downturn (because she paid cash) and one who is stuck holding vacant land (because she has debt)!

Now it’s Your Turn!

Our profession is rife with experienced, intelligent and very creative people who also share. Won’t you share too?

  • Do you have examples to share like the ones above?
  • What nuggets of info routinely gets ignored, but shouldn’t?
  • Or should we spend less time on real estate and more on something else?

Click on “Leave a Comment” below or any of the social media buttons.

So really…When do you use a prospect profile?

Many of my clients have never used prospect research before. Many of them have used it. All of them have questions about what they need in a profile and how they can use it. If they have these questions, I figure lots of fundraisers out there might be wondering the same thing.

We know we use prospect profiles to inform cultivation and solicitation – to help us ask for the largest appropriate gift. In addition to sometimes finding surprising and new information about a prospect, profiles often confirm and validate the fundraiser’s assessment of the prospect, providing even more confidence in preparing for the ask.

Using Profile Levels

I like to leave it up to the fundraiser to decide just how much information she needs. You know yourself and your prospect the best. But I do like to give different levels of profiles to choose from:

Identification Profile – A brief profile to confirm the ability to give and look at giving history and community involvement. A major gift capacity rating is provided. This is for when you don’t know anything about the prospect or need to confirm wealth and inclination before spending your time.

Solicitation Profile – A long profile that searches for everything relevant to making an ask for a major gift. In addition to capacity ratings, this profile includes an executive summary to help you with strategy. As the name implies, this profile helps you prepare for a major gift solicitation.

The Customized Approach

These are the two most popular profiles among Aspire Research Group clients, but they are used in many ways and sometimes customized:

  • One client in a campaign preferred Solicitation profiles first on her prospects, with an update as she neared the actual ask. She knew her campaign volunteers had great connections and wanted a head start on her strategy. It worked.
  • Another client had budget restraints, but really needed more than the Identification profile. We came up with a custom profile that addressed her specific need-to-know items, but remained within her budget.
  • A consultant client needed a profile more basic than Identification, as a way of prioritizing donors for small organizations. We did it.

The Pitfalls to Avoid

It all sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Warning! There are some common mistakes that fundraisers make when requesting profiles:

  • Asking for profiles as a way of showing activity, when really you are just too afraid to call on the prospects
  • Asking for a profile when you have no way of connecting with the person and no idea if the person has any interest in your organization (e.g., the local version of pursuing Oprah Winfrey)
  • Requesting a standard profile when what you really need are specific questions answered

An Unbeatable Team!

The most experienced and successful fundraisers do something differently when it comes to prospect profiles. They communicate regularly with the prospect researcher!

  • When you talk to the researcher about your donor prospect and what information you need to move forward, she can give you a much better profile.
  • When you review the profile with the researcher to help you match your personal knowledge with the “paper” knowledge, you gain a much deeper and more colorful picture of your prospect.
  • And when you share the results of your visits with the researcher you create an unbeatable team!

Do you have an unbeatable team?

If you are considering using prospect profiles as part of your major gifts strategy, call Aspire Research Group to learn more about how we can help you reach your fundraising goals with research: 727 202 3405 or visit www.AspireResearchGroup.com

Other Articles You Might Like

Dating Donors, Data Mining & Donor Profiles -oh my!
Score a touchdown with prospect profiles
Is Prospect Research Too Expensive?

Prospect Profile Samples

Identification Profile (PDF download)
Solicitation Profile (PDF download)

Tips and Trends from Bob Carter

I am on an airplane trolling through the little notebook that I take everywhere and found my notes from Bob Carter’s talk at the APRA Florida conference. I’m realizing just how much of what he told us is showing up in the stories of the people I have been researching lately. I have to wonder if others of you are seeing these up close and personal too.

Bob Carter of previous Ketchum fame, has his own shop now, Of Philanthropy, and it is a fitting name for what he has to say. He is an engaging speaker with a global outlook. Best of all, he makes good practical sense.

The Best Solution
Carter mentioned that philanthropists are trending towards being married to the solution instead of the institution. I’ve heard this spoken of as a generational trend as well and it’s probably both, but I have written up a few donor profiles recently that demonstrate this emphatically. While the largest gifts go to the charity the donor is closest to and trusts the most to achieve the mission, giving is not guaranteed and is quickly shared with innovating organizations. Are you communicating your effectiveness at  implementing the solution?

Direct Involvement
Many speakers, not just Carter, have been talking about donors being more involved for a while now, but it has only been recently that I have seen it firsthand as so intrinsic to some donors’ giving. I heard Carla Harris speak at the AFP Florida Caucus’ Planet Philanthropy conference and she donates the proceeds of all of her gospel albums. Her occupation is Wall Street banker!

And more than usual I have been writing up donor profiles demonstrating this kind of it’s-a-way-of-life giving. I am also seeing more and more donors who don’t just give, they serve in four or five or even more volunteer capacities at the same organization!

Carter told the APRA Florida researchers that for every major gift there is no excuse for not getting three or four more from that donor’s network. Nothing new there, but it gave me a good kick-in-the-butt about priming my clients with possibilities when I send them a profile in preparation for solicitation. Depending on the client and the relationship I can do more than name-drop in my profiles, I can be part of the ongoing conversation and strategy.

Jennifer Kehoe of the University of Central Florida shared a great story at the APRA Florida conference about how her research department was able to add value to a major gift donor’s cultivation *throughout* and without which a gift would have been unlikely. Prospect researchers are fundraisers too – we want the big “YES” just as much as the fundraiser!

How do you get in with the philanthropic in-crowd in your community? Carter suggests a collaboration. The donors want it and I have watched one of my clients use a collaborative project to successfully promote the organization’s commitment and excellence to the in-crowd of philanthropists in her community. Leveraging the collaboration, donor research and excellent cultivation, she has brought her organization’s fundraising from barely there to million dollar gifts.

Provocative Ideas
But maybe the comment I liked most was when Carter talked about an organization that invited its best donors to a fundraising training. I am no longer surprised when board members show up for my Introduction to Prospect Research trainings. When board members and major donors become educated about fundraising it only makes them more effective givers. I have to wonder what other unusual cultivation activities fundraisers have begun using!

What have you been doing and seeing lately?

Is Prospect Research Too Expensive?

Kevin O’Brien, Senior Vice President for Development at The Chester County Hospital and Health System, is in Pennsylvania and Aspire Research Group (ARG) is in Florida, but we had a great discussion over the phone about prospect research that I would like to share with you. Thanks Kevin!

ARG: What first got you thinking about prospect research?

Kevin:  My first development job was at Drexel University in 1993. Prospect research was a critical component of development at Drexel with two or three full-time prospect researchers at that time. With a tight budget we treated prospect research as a precious resource. As a result it was common practice to wait to request a profile until just prior to a solicitation.

ARG: Why is it important to you now to use donor prospect profiles?

Kevin: There are three reasons prospect research remains important to my work. First, as a professional fundraiser I think it is critical to “do your homework” before soliciting a prospect or donor for a significant gift. I want to make sure that the size of the gift I am soliciting is reasonable given the capacity and inclination of the donor. I feel that the best way to determine their capacity is to obtain an in-depth, thorough, research profile that is able to assess, as much as possible, that capacity in an objective manner.

Second, I consider fundraising to be both an “art” and a “science. A successful fundraiser has to have, among other things, good judgment, good instincts, good interpersonal skills, and good communication skills. Those are what I consider some of the “artistic” skills of fundraising. A successful fundraiser must also gather information, analyze that information, and make critical decisions based on that analysis. This is what I consider the “science” aspect of fundraising. I need the prospect research to help me apply that “science” to my work.

Third, I need to work efficiently and be sure I am focusing on our best prospects. A professional research profile provides me with an objective capacity rating that helps me prioritize that particular prospect among the many others.

ARG: What tips or advice do you have for other fundraisers?

Kevin: Prospect research can be an expensive resource if not used efficiently. By staying focused on major gift prospects nearing solicitation and outsourcing the profiles to Aspire Research Group I get a high rate of return on my investment. While not every prospect I have had profiled committed to a major gift, many of them did. In my opinion, if you want to make sure you secure the largest gift possible from each and every solicitation, you need prospect research to help you prepare for that solicitation.

About The Chester County Hospital and Health System

The Chester County Hospital and Health System is a leading provider of care to patients in Chester County, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, and a national model for quality and service excellence. The Chester County Hospital is the only remaining nonprofit, independent community hospital in Chester County.

Capacity and Ask Amount – Magic Numbers!

In the “On Fundraising hosted by AFP” LinkedIn group, a fundraiser was asked by her board to assess the capacity of other board members and she was looking for a formula or strategy that has worked for others. The conversation that ensued fascinated and delighted me. I sent her to my free worksheet on capacity ratings, but the different approaches and opinions in response to her question are well worth discussing.

There were two basic paths that diverged from the “simple” question of assessing capacity. The first had to do with what stage the prospects were in. Was she identifying, qualifying, or ready to solicit and was it a first gift, second gift or big-hairy-scary gift? The second was whether she was also considering affinity, or how close the prospect felt to the organization, and inclination, whether the person liked to give gifts to nonprofits generally. Lots of good comments and advice on these aspects.

Prospect researchers often tie these two pieces of prospect assessment into a prospect tracking or moves management system. And although she was not asking about anything other than capacity, readiness to give and likelihood of giving matter (dare I say) much more than capacity. I’ve known nonprofit employees who give big gifts on modest salaries. The prospect’s passion matters!

And then there was some confusion and some clarifications on what does capacity mean when used in fundraising? Similar to one of the comments posted, Aspire Research Group uses the following language in its profiles when providing capacity ratings:

  • This rating is a major gift dollar range for a gift over 5 years if only one gift was made. It is strictly based on wealth indicators and not on affinity or inclination. The capacity rating suggests ability to give without considering unknown liabilities and is NOT a solicitation amount.

The overall consensus was that determining capacity (and ask amount too) is a mix of art and science. Prospect research can’t uncover every asset and liability so assessing capacity turns out to be an informed guess.

If the question was about determining the ask amount and not capacity, I’ve got strong feelings on that. Unless you are so close to your prospect that s/he opens up his/her finances to you, not having in-depth research done on your prospect is a costly mistake. If you ask for too much you can probably flatter your prospect, but if you ask for too little you won’t hear a prospect say, “Oh gee, and here I was ready to give you $5 million – I’m so glad you only need $1 million.”

Yes, capacity matters in major gift fundraising. Yes, your prospect can have more money than god and refuse to give you any. And yes, determining capacity and ask amounts involves some art and science.

But the exciting part of this particular LinkedIn group discussion was hearing from fundraisers who, with or without dedicated prospect research staff, give their prospects the respect they deserve by taking time to know them in-person and through tried-and-true prospect research techniques. Cheers!

So how do you determine the magic numbers of capacity and ask amount? Do you give more weight to affinity and inclination to give or more weight to capacity or ability to give? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Supporting Advancement

ToolFingersHave you heard of SupportingAdvancement.com? Well, if you’re in the nonprofit world I hope so! It has been a resource I’ve had on my Favorite Link List from its inception! Here’s what the website says about itself:

“We provide resources of interest to those supporting advancement and development targeted primarily to the higher education space. However, many of the lessons, tips, tricks and techniques can be applied throughout the nonprofit sector.”

But I would put it a bit differently. I would say that Supporting advancement provides nonprofit professionals with the practical tools and real-life examples that lead to success!

And I have been honored with the privilege of being included! Check out my two contributions here:

Comprehensive Profile

Three Simple Steps to a Prospect Management System

A big, hearty thanks to Brian Dowling, Principal and Founder of Supporting Advancement!

You've got a million-dollar prospect! Now what?

$binocularI was having lunch with a client and when we had finished eating she pulled out a copy of the short profile I had completed for her. She wanted to know what the capacity rating “really” meant. Briefly here is how we dissected the information:

  • Her business is in a profitable industry and appears to be successful
  • Might have income around $1 million or more
  • Has numerous other small business ventures that could be bringing in money or losing money
  • Paid $8 million+ cash for a Manhattan, New York condo two years ago, intending to do renovations
  • Seems unaffected by the recession given her real estate purchases
  • Owns a large yacht, but has it for sale at $500,000+
  • May be tired of owning a boat or maybe she is beginning to feel pinched after splashing cash on real estate and renovations
  • Maintenance costs for her yacht could be $20,000 or more a year
  • No giving to other organizations was found, but she gave $40,000 to the first phase of the campaign and is very engaged

Once you have a million-dollar prospect – qualify her! My friend did a great job of cultivating and qualifying for inclination to give. If you suspect your prospect can give $10,000 or more and is willing to give, get a profile to qualify for wealth. After reviewing the profile and what she knows about the prospect, my friend can now ask for the right size gift for the prospect and for the campaign.

Qualifying prospects narrows our list to those that have wealth AND the desire to make a gift to our organization.