Tag Archives: prospect development

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

#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

Don’t Forget the Dividends!

Content Review Panel Experts!

I’m building a beginner to intermediate course on insider stock and compensation and guess what I forgot? Dividends! Thankfully, my Content Review Panel Experts spotted the gap. And we had a great discussion about dividends that made my day. Why?

Well, of course, I was relieved to have my mistake corrected before I produced the video lectures, printed workbook and other materials. But really it was about having a topic discussion with varied colleagues who have differing opinions and resources to bear on the subject. I don’t think I’m alone in thriving on these kinds of conversations.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the APRA 2014 conference in Las Vegas just a few weeks ago. Of course the sessions were fantastic, but really memorable was an informal gathering organized by Mary Gatlin of the University of Oregon. She posted on PRSPCT-L asking if anyone wanted to get together and talk about capacity ratings. Boy did we! Around 30 people responded. I had to sit on an end table because there weren’t enough seats.

During the Vegas conversation we could each ask questions without fear of looking dumb and we could offer opinions and suggestions too. I learned what is happening at a big institution and some ideas on rating (or not) international prospects. Some of us made connections and now have new colleagues in our networks.

High-Level Conversations

This hunger for what I like to call “high-level” conversations is understandable because prospect research professionals have to learn vast amounts of information to get on the wagon and stay current. We need to be able to ask a beginner question one minute and share an advanced technique the next. Because that’s the world we work in.

It also helps me understand why Prospect Research Institute participant Lisa Brown yearned for the Profile Peer Review Program. They are now doing their second round of peer review. Not only do they get to have high-level discussions, but they get to have those conversations after giving and receiving written feedback in a controlled environment. Powerful.

Back to Those Dividends

So what did we finally decide about dividends? We agreed that it’s not usually a huge loss if they are forgotten, but that they offer a possible opportunity for a gift. Because they are essentially cash, if the number of shares is great it can be a significant part of the prospect’s disposable income picture.

Don’t forget the dividends when you research your prospects and don’t forget that even if you are brand new to the prospect research field you have valuable knowledge and perspectives – your own “dividends” – to gift!

Other Articles You Might Like

Score! takes the edge off analytics

I just read Score! cover to cover and here’s why I think you should too…

With Score! Peter Wylie and Kevin MacDonell have written a highly accessible book that works effectively as a beginner’s guide to driving your organization’s decision-making with fundraising analytics. It’s no surprise to those of us in the prospect development field. Peter has been writing entertaining and informative books and articles for years and Kevin’s CoolData blog is encouraging and full of easy-to-understand visuals. Both of them write about personal experiences that nicely demonstrate the ideas and concepts in the book.

This is not a do-it-yourself manual. Peter did that already with his book Data Mining for Fund Raisers. This book is for leadership and for aspiring analysts alike who want a guide to getting something great to happen. No-one feels like a fool for not knowing how analytics works (or even how to define it) and although Peter calls out leadership’s common foibles, an ambitious leader can easily swallow that pill because it helps him navigate past the pitfalls.

The book is conveniently grouped into three sections so you can decide what you want to read. Part one, Becoming a Data-Driven Organization, discusses how analytics can help you make decisions that lead to success. Part two, Your Data Driven Job, discusses what it’s like to pursue analytics in your prospect development career. Part three is devoted to case studies.

Part one launches with scenarios that are happening in advancement offices every day, but when highlighted in a short paragraph make one blush with embarrassment. You also get great information on obstacles you are likely to encounter as you seek to invest in analytics and a helpful discussion about whether to hire someone new or train an existing employee.

One of the salient points made in the book from start to finish is that fundraising analytics is all about valuing affinity – the relationship someone has with your organization. Wealth ratings and other external data is nice, but only works really well when paired with affinity. The wealth screening companies have drowned the marketplace with sales, advertising, and educational content that does not shine such a bright spotlight on using analytics to find and leverage the conversation your prospects and donors are having with your organization as recorded in your databases. Score! gets you back on track.

If you are facing the challenge of clueless leadership that does not value data, then this first section falls a bit short. Given Peter’s years of consulting I was hoping for a few guerrilla tactics and approaches to persuading leadership that analytics is the new, shiny object every leader has to use. Instead the authors give us brief vignettes of some of the good stories where leaders model the kind of behavior that encourages analytics efforts to succeed.

Part two is where the aspiring analyst gets some very thoughtful and perceptive advice about the skills needed to take on these kinds of tasks. By including a chapter on soft skills, and putting it first, there is a clear message. You can be awesome at analyzing data, but unless you can translate your results into information others can use and understand, you are not likely to achieve success. Kevin’s CoolData blog is a living example of good and useful presentation. As a bonus, Kevin and Peter share their personal stories on how they came to analyze nonprofit data for a living.

Part two also has some gems that surprised me and made me think more deeply. Although I have been using the term fundraising analytics as an umbrella term here, Kevin and Peter give you an education about the difference between data mining and analytics. You also get some terms and techniques defined – a few fundamentals. But don’t worry! The authors walk you through some step-by-step starter tasks. The highlighted quote is just one of many that should assure you that you won’t break anything by trying.

“Don’t let missing, incomplete, or suspect data stop you from jumping right in and trying to work with it just as it is.” (p.91)

Part three is a series of case studies. As the authors emphasize, these are not do-it-yourself instructions. They are case studies that illustrate the types of questions you might ask your data and some answers others have found. Kevin and Peter do a great job here of outlining the steps they took and then going into detail about what happened as a result. These case studies will give you big picture ideas to guide you as you craft your own projects. They are helpful to leadership too because they demonstrate winning applications.

In particular I was intrigued by the call center data case studies. And, of course, just a few days after reading the book a fundraising colleague described to me how she does not give to her alma mater and will not give to them, yet they have been calling, emailing and writing her repeatedly each year. She just rolls her eyes.

A huge shift is just beginning to happen as younger generations earn and accumulate income and wealth in an era of rapid changes in information technology that is creating new and changing expectations for communicating. The popular LifeHacker blog wrote a recent post with this title: How Can I Donate to Charity Without Getting Harrassed By Them Later?

It will be those organizations that listen to the conversations in their data and respond to them that will win those donors’ trust…and dollars. Score! is written about analytics in higher education, but the lessons apply equally to human services organizations. Don’t miss out. Buy, read and Score!

Don’t believe me? Read what Susan Bridgers of APRA Carolinas has to say about it!

Want to catch up on the most current buzz? Search the Twitter hashtag: #scorethebook