Tag Archives: prospecting

Pictures and Patterns: Decision-making with Fundraising Insights

Imagine you emerge from a strategic planning session and your task is to raise more money from corporations. Your organization wants to expand its reach and you need to take the thousands of corporate donors in the database and transform them into a fundraising program. Why? Because everyone “feels” like there is a lot of opportunity there. Where do you start?

One of the most common mistakes in fundraising is to make decisions and invest money and resources in strategies that are based on intuition and anecdotal evidence alone. Let’s face it, sometimes it works, and maybe that’s why the behavior is so persistent. But much of the time data-weak decisions fail miserably, often slowly and painfully with lots of fingers pointed. There is a better way.

Leverage the talents of prospect research to paint pictures and identify patterns!

Well-trained prospect research professionals are methodical and analytical. That means that we enjoy solving problems, untangling messy information, and putting order to chaos. Share with us your dilemmas, your problems …your fundraising hopes and dreams. We can help you succeed!

In the new corporate fundraising program example, it means painting a picture of our corporate donors:

  • Where are they located?
  • How many of them are there and at what giving levels?
  • How long have they been donors?
  • Are they small, closely held companies, or large corporations?

And then identifying clusters and patterns:

  • Are there groups of donors in particular industries, geographic locations, or company size?
  • Do the donors that give the most and most frequently have anything in common?
  • Is there anything about the data that can help us understand the giving behaviors? Can we see any correlations between data points?

There is no standard checklist for exploring this kind of information. It requires a keen understanding of the fundraising being undertaken matched with an analytical mind trained in using data to solve problems.

When a prospect research professional works with you to explore your data and make an initial assessment, you can decide on strategies and tactics that will raise the most money now and in the future.

For example, you might discover some companies are more “ripe” for a new approach than others. If they have been giving frequently and increasing their giving, visiting them and discovering their philanthropic needs might uncover a unique corporate approach for your organization that you hadn’t thought of!

Knowing that your best donors are dominated by small, closely held companies gives you the opportunity to find out why. What makes your organization so attractive to them? Are they really individual donors in disguise or do they have company objectives for their philanthropy?

Uncovering an unusual pattern, such as expressions of faith on the company website, might give you an insight that challenges the way you perceived your donors and that opens the door to much deeper relationships.

Fundraising success through insights is not so much about the tools – data mining, statistical analysis, profile research – it’s about giving the donor story inside your data a voice.

When you hire a prospect research professional to help you understand your data, you are hiring someone with a unique skill set – someone who can uncover and communicate the “story” inside your data.

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Can you Achieve Faster-Better-Cheaper Profiles?

“I need a profile on this person today…can’t you just Google it?” It’s the kind of question that makes prospect research professionals cringe. But why shouldn’t a development officer want it faster, better, and cheaper? Why is your organization paying thousands of dollars a year for research tools if it still takes forever to get the information needed?

So what’s happening to cause this disconnect between development officer and prospect researcher? I suspect there a few causes, but first, let me tell you a story…

As a consultant I charge a flat fee for projects. I want my clients to be able to budget, and as a professional I should have a fair idea of how long it will take to do the research. Profile-type research falls into this category. And it’s this kind of pressure that keeps us razor sharp. It’s me and the team against the clock!

That’s how I “rediscovered” one of my favorite tools the other day – DonorSearch.net.

Faster-Better-Cheaper with DonorSearch.net

At Aspire Research Group we’ve taken on a few new clients that, in addition to standard profile research, needed some “situational” research done. Things like prioritizing, quick checks to be sure assigning for a visit is appropriate, or key items researched to prepare the president. So I asked myself, “How could we manage our time researching, keep up the high quality of information, and make it the right price?”

In my quest, I took a fresh look at our tools and settled on DonorSearch to start our projects. Of course, being able to upload a small batch of names for a prospect screening is a time-saver, but even when we entered only one name into the Integrated Search, suddenly everything was at our fingertips. DonorSearch had made so many updates to their product – the combined result meant we could be very competitive.

For example:

  • Time Management: The big name family business was clearly the source of wealth, but why was the prospect not listed on the website? Open Corporates in the Integrated Search demonstrated a long list of companies where he was a director – many with the same word in the name. From there a quick Google search revealed his specialty in the family business. Faster.
  • High Quality: There was a large, outlier gift to an organization with a strange name. I didn’t want to put it in the list without checking, but didn’t want to have to do a distracting search. A click on the source link gave me a searchable PDF – and lo and behold – it was an organization with a mission similar to the client! Better.
  • The Right Price: By letting the tool do all of the upfront “grunt” work finding relevant information we spent less time gathering and more time thinking, and that meant we could charge the right price. Cheaper.

Ask the Librarian: Can’t you just Google that?

But if you really want your research to achieve the business mantra of better-faster-cheaper, you need more than a great tool like DonorSearch. You need to start with a really good understanding of the need and continue with really good communication throughout.

So why do researchers get asked to Google it in seconds flat? Let’s go ask the librarians! Librarians are trained to interview the customer. When you go to the reference desk, the librarian has to figure out what you are trying to accomplish and then help you navigate your way to success.

While we don’t view the reference librarian as an expert on the subject matter that brings us to the library, we do view the librarian as someone who has received training in library science and is an expert on helping us find information. The librarian is a professional.

The “just Google it” request suggests that any amateur without training can perform quality prospect research, which can be insulting … but it also happens to be a great opening for a really good conversation to clarify the  problem to be solved.

Professionals are Always in Demand

The more that software tools are able to do, the more important prospect research professionals become. Librarians don’t worry that books will put them out of business!

And on the flip side, the more that software tools are able to do, the more we must use our communication and problem-solving skills to provide flexible, custom solutions.

If you manage a prospect researcher, if you are a prospect researcher, or if you want to be a prospect researcher, you can arrive at better-faster-cheaper profile research if you recognize the importance of great training (including communication skills) and tools. It’s what qualifies us as prospect research professionals!

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How do I make prospect profiles work for me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prospect Research is good and exciting work!

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

More Resources


Learn to perform basic prospect research and find information on your prospects – fast!


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

Warning! Anyone can do analytics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data Mining: Because Unicorns Don’t Find Themselves.

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

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

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

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

More Resources You Might Like


Join the Resource Collections online community to access this video tutorial.


Net Worth: Nasty, Nice, or Neutral?

cash-1169650_1280There was a cry for help on the PRSPCT-L list-serv: “I’m a new researcher and my boss wants me to provide net worth on a prospect. He says it was the previous practice to do this and I can get what I need to calculate it from Dun & Bradstreet.” What would your response be?

To begin, a simple definition of net worth follows:

Assets – Liabilities = Net Worth

The Three Common Responses to Net Worth

If you mention “net worth” in the prospect research field, you will likely hear one of the following three responses:

  1. Don’t do it! Or you will be voted off the prospect research island!
    The argument against estimating net worth is usually this: If we cannot find or know the values of all assets and liabilities (which of course we cannot), then we have no business estimating net worth. This is often a strong, unequivocally held opinion.
  2. Hide that you are doing it by using another term or keep it behind the capacity rating calculation.
    This is the most common practice in our field. Instead of using the words “estimated net worth”, researchers rephrase with a term such as “estimated wealth”. Even more common is to use the results of wealth surveys, such as the chart on page 19 of the Capgemini 2016 World Wealth Report, to estimate net worth based on a known asset such as real estate and then take a percentage of estimated net worth as the gift capacity.
  3. Boldly present estimated net worth.
    There are researchers who feel comfortable presenting estimated net worth. Some provide disclaimers or educational explanations to communicate better generally or to clarify outlier situations.

Easy Formula, Tricky Calculation

Assets – Liabilities = Net Worth

The formula looks so simple, but this is deceptive. As prospect research professionals we know that we can’t discover and value all of a prospect’s assets or liabilities. It is the reason we use the word “estimated.”

Among the challenges in estimating net worth, there are two that jump out quickly:

  1. Many assets (and liabilities) are troublesome to value – none more than private company ownership.
    I have discussed the difficulty of private company valuation before. A common route to wealth is to start a private business, and many of these successful entrepreneurs want to “give back”, among other motivations for giving.
    And it brings us back to our fellow researcher’s list-serv plea. Dun & Bradstreet (DNB) sells data, including estimated values of a private companies. Assuming we know how much of that company our prospect owns, we could use the DNB dollar amount to estimate the prospect’s ownership value. Or could we? DNB uses its own formulas to estimate and can be very far off the mark.
  2. Are we talking about titled ownership such as a name on the deed, or influence over money, such as sitting on a grant-giving family foundation board?
    Our prospect could be a child of a wealthy family with very few public assets identified. And yet, we may find she has influence over millions of dollars in a family foundation. Estimated net worth and gift capacity clearly diverge at this point. You might estimate a low net worth, but still consider her to have a million dollar gift capacity because of her influence over grant giving.

Logic and Emotion – Let them Collaborate!

There is nothing simple about money. Money is one of the most emotionally volatile topics you can discuss, and those emotions flow into the workplace. Addressing your own emotions and biases about money is the first step.

You might want to seriously consider whether your difficulty imagining the wealth of multi-billionaires is affecting your ability to logically estimate net worth or gift capacity – and whether you have negative emotions attached to great wealth accumulation. Emotions are not your enemy. Ignoring them is.

Now you are ready to balance how you and your gift officers “feel” about your prospect’s potential wealth with the logical, quantifiable assets and liabilities found in the public domain.

Following are the most frequently used tools or ratings:

  • Estimated Net Worth
  • Gift Capacity Range
  • Affinity (how close they feel to your organization)
  • Philanthropic Inclination (do they give at all?)
  • Linkage (how are they connected to your organization)

When used responsibly, estimated net worth is one more tool prospect research professionals can provide to assist frontline fundraisers in creating major gift solicitation strategies. Don’t be afraid to use it!

More Resources You Might Like



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


Speedy Research Verification

1160561_45274657Looking back on 2014 I realize that I’ve done quite a few screenings and research verification projects. And that means I’ve had lots of conversations with fundraisers who ask a lot of the same questions. I thought you might like to eavesdrop on some of those Q&A’s!

Very soon after I get into a conversation with a fundraiser about prospect screenings, this question gets asked in some form or another:

Why should I get the results verified? Does that mean the results aren’t accurate?

Every organization has different needs, but generally speaking, verifying results is necessary for at least three reasons:

  • Lots of people have very common names – this can confound even the most talented prospect research professional and it certainly confuses computer algorithms!
  • Sometimes the data going in is less than perfect, so the data coming out is less than perfect too.
  • Prospect screenings were never intended to be accurate to the last detail. That would be nice, but the primary function is to prioritize a large list of names based on limited pieces of information. Some mismatches and omissions are a necessary result and that’s okay.

Once we start talking about where the data comes from and why there are bound to be some errors and omissions, the next question is this one:

What exactly does “verify” mean? What are you doing when you verify?

Verify means deciding which pieces of information are most important and then checking or verifying those pieces of information. It’s like a quality control check in manufacturing. Instead of each garment getting a sticker that says “Inspector #32”, each name gets a once-over by a prospect research professional.

Following are some illustrations of how this might differ from organization to organization:

  • In a small office with a total of three fundraising staff, the development director might eyeball the top-rated prospects, look up their company bio in Google, and make a phone call for a visit. Batta-Boom-Bang!
  • Another organization might hire an intern to check the top-rated prospects and leave it to the intern to figure out what that means.
  • A solo prospect research professional might select a portion of lesser-known prospects in each capacity or likelihood to give range, verify key items such as real estate, occupation, largest gifts, and volunteer leadership, and make recommendations for discovery call assignments.
  • A prospect research department supporting well-paid, highly-skilled major gift officers might take the top tier of top-rated prospects and go beyond verification to qualify that the prospect does indeed match the vendor’s capacity range and likelihood to give rating. They might then methodically verify and make recommendations, working their way through the tiers of prospects.

Why such variation in approach? Always look for the money! Spend the most time and resources where it will bring in the most gift dollars. Common sense tells us that there should be a different approach for verifying results where the highest gift capacity is $500,000 from verifying results where the highest gift capacity is $100 million.

And then people always want to know:

How long should it take to verify a name?

By now you will probably understand when I say, “It depends”. How long depends on how much you are verifying and at what capacity rating levels. Sometimes there are lots of assets and hundreds of possible gifts – that could take a while. On the other hand, prospects with less capacity can sometimes verify quite quickly.

Take a name or two in each category you plan to verify and time yourself. Now you have a good idea of timing.

Data >> Information >> Insight >> Action

Everyone in the fundraising office needs to know a few things about data these days. We need to turn data into information and information into actionable insight. That requires both fundraising and research knowledge. But you knew that, right? Because you are the future of fundraising!


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Prioritizing Corp & Fdn Prospects

1334987_68502097Corporate and foundation research is different from individual research. Could it be so simple? About as simple as stating that boys are different from girls! They are different, but also the same in many ways. It’s complicated! Let’s take a quick peek at how corporate and foundation prospects differ when we need to identify new prospects or prioritize a long list.

Identifying Corporate and Foundation Prospects

There are some great tools out there for creating a good list of corporate and foundation prospects. Foundation Center Online and Foundation Search immediately come to mind. Pretty quickly you can create a long list of good prospects that fit some general criteria. Unlike individuals, many corporations and foundations don’t require a deep, personal connection to make a substantial gift.

And yet many times when you start digging deeper to craft your proposal, you realize that the prospects on your list aren’t as good a fit as you originally thought. For example, maybe they are listed as giving nationally but have only ever made gifts in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Or maybe they give to education, but only scholarships and not program.

Early on in my Aspire Research Group LLC career I was not interested in generating corporate and foundation prospects lists. There were plenty of grant writers around who could do that very well – and write the grants too!

But later on I started getting calls from people who had received a long and very broad list from a consultant or sourced the list themselves using products like Foundation Center Online. Now they were facing 100 or more prospects with no idea where to start and the pressure of meeting a fundraising goal.

When it comes to individuals, there are some great tools for narrowing a list like this. We have wealth screenings, predictive modeling scores and often, some giving history to our own organizations. As the Giving USA research has made quite clear, individuals provide the clear majority of overall fundraised dollars and it’s not surprising that the industry has invested in developing great tools for individual prospects.

Nevertheless, corporate and foundation partners are important players for many reasons, not the least of which because they help us engage with the individuals they employ and sell services to. And starting with the letter “A” and working through to “Z” is rarely ever the best use of time and resources.

I wanted to help people prioritize their corporate and foundation prospect lists, but in a way that would give them a good return on investment. In other words, I needed a way to prioritize that wouldn’t take much time so I could charge less. So I got creative. Maybe you have done this too?

Simple Scoring Scores!

Whenever I take on a prospect ID or prioritization project now, I create a simple worksheet based on my first interview with the client. Then we walk through the worksheet together answering the questions about what a really good prospect should look like. A fundraiser might want a prospect who will give to a certain project, but I make sure we get specific.

“Gives to after-school education” becomes “Has made a gift to a similar initiative of $5,000 or more”. I will probably try to define “after-school education” more specifically too. Are we talking science, computer literacy, reading or all of them?

While we are going through the questions on the worksheet I might add or delete some of my questions as I learn more about the projects and needs. I also keep my ears open on which criteria are the most important. When we are finished with the questions I summarize and confirm which criteria are simply preferable and which ones will disqualify the prospect entirely.

An easy example is geography. If the foundation only makes gifts in New York City and the client organization is in New Jersey, the foundation is not a prospect.

The next step is to translate the worksheet answers into a rating legend. And by playing a little bit and giving some criteria extra weight – a higher rating value – I can get the prospects to sort out in a very obvious way based on the client’s funding needs.

By taking time up-front to determine what disqualifies the prospect and what is most important, I can zip right through the project. Doesn’t give where my client is located? Done with that one. Next!


All’s Well that Ends Well

Some of my prospect ID projects have gone stunningly well and others not so much. The difference has usually been the quality of communication with the client and how early I discover that what the client wants just doesn’t exist. I’m careful now to do an initial search and communicate quickly if I am struggling to identify prospects that meet the agreed criteria.

Your organization might have a straightforward relationship with corporate and foundation funders such as asking for a grant and getting a grant, or you might have many layers to your corporate and foundation relationships such as providing the funder with volunteering, cause-marketing, or fulfilling other needs.

If you are tasked with corporate and foundation research you know you have just as much opportunity to help create wonderful and rewarding relationships as with individual prospects. Maybe you have helped the frontline fundraiser connect with your organization’s vendors, sourced donor relationships with corporate foundation executives or leveraged your organization’s constituency in other ways to identify prospects.

However you do it, identifying corporate and foundation prospects is different from individuals. And as is usual when working with together with other humans, success often requires good communication matched with the creative application of skills!

Do you have a prospect identification success story? Have you heard about new technology solutions for corporate and foundation prospecting? I hope you’ll share with us!

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Curious About Canada? A Primer for Prospect Researchers Who Don’t Own Hockey Sticks

Guest post by Preeti Gill

On this April morning, it’s -5 Celsius and the snow is blowing lightly.

I saunter in to my local Timmies, order a double double and a honey crueller, drop a few loonies on the counter and sit down for a while. It is tax time and I need to netfile before the CRA deadline. I look up from my keyboard and there’s Tony, the local hockey sensation, carrying his pet beaver on his shoulder…


Oh, Canada, where donughts (not donuts), yoga pants and timed tweets were perfected. The land where conservative fiscal policy helped our big five banks cushion Canadians (somewhat) from the economic downtown of 2007/08.

I find that where we’re from makes us exotic, especially for other Prospect Research professionals who are always on the lookout for new resources.  When Jen and I brainstormed around blog ideas, she seemed intrigued by my Canadianness.

“How far is Ottawa from Toronto?” she asked this Vancouverite who is ill-equipped to comment on any Ontario-related matters.

What I can offer is a quick primer on today’s Canada for Prospect Researchers outside my homeland, strong and free.  Here you’ll find some interesting “Timbits” about what’s new and where to access information about your friendly Canuck prospects and donors.

We are accomplished

Our Government hands out accolades to everyday and high-profile brave and successful Canadians.

Our peers also honour each other.

We are diverse

Immigration is primarily driving population growth. Environics intelligence notes that in our major urban centres, Toronto and Vancouver, nearly half of the population identify as members of a visible minority group. So the minorities are fast becoming the majority.

Canadian Immigrant magazine profiles successful new Canadians in business and other areas.

We are rich

  • Well, they are (not me) –> Canadian Business Rich 100 2014 [List]
  • The left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives studied the wealth gap in Canada and discovered that the wealthiest 86 Canadians could purchase an entire province today. [News release]
  • How much did Canada’s top 100 CEOs get paid last year? The Globe & Mail is due to update this list with 2013 figures soon. [List]

We give back in a big way

  • The late Doc Seaman left $117 million from his estate to the Calgary Foundation last year. It’s the largest ever gift to a Canadian community foundation.  (Did I mention we’re getting older, as well?)
  • The Slaight family gave $50 million to a consortium of five hospitals in Toronto.
  • An impressive 13.3 million Canadians volunteer 2.1 billion hours, according to Volunteer Canada.
  • KCI provides an addictive scroll of recent Canadian giving by individuals, corporations and foundations.
  • Blackbaud’s new Giving Index provides a monthly snapshot of our generosity. (Things are looking up.)

We are social

…but slightly more conservative in our approach to shameless self-promotion!

  • There are 8 million+ LinkedIn users, as of 2013. [Infographic]
  • Twitter opened a Canadian branch in Toronto primarily to drive advertising and sales.
  • Planning timed tweets? You may be using HootSuite which was born in Vancouver and is rapidly expanding, thanks to securing $165 million in financing.
  • Can’t get enough of Canada? Consider attending the upcoming APRA-Canada conference in Toronto this fall. This is a highly-anticipated and well-organized biennial conference with a focus on Canadian-based research resources, issues and trends.

About Preeti Gill

Preeti-2Preeti Gill is passionate about all things prospect research, pipeline management and charity capacity-building. She works at Canada’s largest community foundation in Vancouver and blogs at Sole Searcher [preetigillyvr.blogspot.ca]. With true patriot love, she welcomes social contact here and there:

Top Secret! How to Bulk up your Prospect Pool

HappyKeySMIn this article I’m going to share the secrets of finding great prospects. Maybe you’re one of those fundraisers who is always reading the Business Journal scouting for a lead, but they don’t pan out. Do you wonder how those other organizations pull in the big gifts? Or maybe you’re new and all the best prospects are assigned to senior fundraisers. You can get great prospects too!

If you read a lot of blogs (like I do) now is where you get skeptical. Is she just going to give me theory I already know (and hasn’t yet helped me find good prospects) or will I get at least a couple of nuggets I can actually use? I’m aiming for the latter. The “trick” is that you still have to work hard!

Fundraising research theory tells us that you need to know who you are looking for so you can spot them. We use jargon like linkage, ability and affinity. And there are tools that give you a competitive edge with that. But you can do it even without bright, shiny tools.

The First Thing…

The first thing any good fundraiser (and prospect researcher) needs to do is learn what it looks like to be wealthy. Watching soap operas may seem like a good education here, but much better is reading through some of the wealth reports like the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2014. You’ll find links for other reports in the sidebar on your right.

And the second first-thing-any-good-fundraiser-needs -to-do is get in front of people, especially donors. You should read and get in front of donors at the same time. Start with known donors because they are the most likely to give (again) and it’s always better to get a gift, right?

Call, visit, and read.

When you are reading about the wealthy at the same time as you visit prospects you’ll start making the connections. When the prospect talks about how he and his wife are taking classes in gemology and he has a watch collection, you’ll remember what you read about this being an investment hobby for the very wealthy. And when a different prospect brags about taking regular trips to Europe on mileage points you’ll recognize that what you thought were luxury vacations probably aren’t.

You can do that without any tools except your eyes and ears. Well, I guess you need to use your mouth to place the phone call…and, okay, guide the conversation. But you get it, right? Recognizing the wealthy – the truly wealthy – takes an education.

Get Your Toolbox Dirty

Getting an education on spotting the wealthy still isn’t likely to fill your prospect pool with GREAT donors – those with linkage, ability and affinity. If you have tools that assign ratings to the prospects in your database, use them! Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out perfectly the first few times.

For example, you might pull a report of people who rate high for ability and likelihood to make a gift, but find most won’t take your phone call. You may need to add additional criteria depending on your organization. Maybe it’s “donor within the past two years” or “attended an event in the past two years” or some other criteria that makes it more likely they will let you visit with them.

Keep track of your efforts so you can repeat what works best. And, yes, this does mean you will have to make a lot of phone calls that end in “no thank you I don’t want a visit”.

It’s the same even if you don’t have tools that provide ratings. Without tools you have to get more of an education. You might use a free tool like the Washington Post’s interactive map** of the nation’s super zips to identify wealthy zip codes to search for in your donor database and combine that with “donor within the past two years” or other criteria that suggest a “warmness” toward your organization.

The Secret Weapon

If you are really lucky, you have a trained prospect researcher on staff. Use all your fundraising powers of relationship building to get this prospect research wizard on your side!

HOT TIP: your researcher is likely to get the most excited about searching out top prospects if you reward her with feedback from your calls and face-to-face visits.

With a prospect researcher on your team you are more likely to out-produce even seasoned professionals in the race for fundraised dollars. Really, really!

…and if you can’t support a trained prospect researcher full-time, you can always outsource. Just sayin’!

**Julie, Prospect Research Analyst in Pennsylvania and Groundbreaking Student at the Prospect Research Institute, shared this fantastic resource with the class!

Did you get a nugget or two?

I hope you found a useful tip you can apply in your office. Maybe you have great suggestions you’d like to share with others. Please comment and share!

Jenz Favorite Wealth Reports

When Should You Look for Cold Prospects?

It's COLD out there!

It’s easy to tell fundraisers to look at their donors first, but are there times when it makes sense to look outside the donor pool? If so, when and how should you do it?

This may sound obvious, but usually the best time to go after cold prospects is after you have looked in your donor pool and need more. Apart from general donor acquisition, this might happen for a few reasons including:

(1) You need more major gifts than your current donor pool can support

(2) You need qualified prospects to fill board member positions

(3) You are strategically reaching out to a new constituency

Branching Out

When you are looking for more major gifts or new board members, a great technique is Branching. This technique is described in Prospect Research for Fundraisers: The Essential Handbook (p.26) and you might also hear it described as Relationship Mapping (p.175). The idea is that you take your high-powered, well-connected donors and trustees and put them at the center, branching their connections outward.

A simple, but great example, of this technique is demonstrated by Dan Blakemore in his blog post, “How One Web Search Led to a $20,000 Gift”. When the board chairman passed away and he needed to find donors for a named fund in his memory, Dan branched out from the board chairman’s connections to identify a donor who made a first gift of $20,000. Dan started with his existing donors, but he took an extra step outward and was successful. You don’t have to start with a huge project to get results.

Strategic New Direction

Branching exercises sometimes result in more of the same prospects because you are working within a network of connections. There are organizations that do not want more of the same. They make a deliberate decision to reach out to new and different constituencies. This might take the form of populating the board of directors with people who are more similar to the people they serve. It might also be a concerted effort to engage an entirely new group with the organization in a meaningful way.

In the book, Prospect Research for Fundraisers, we tell the story of Jeff Lee at Wycliffe Bible Translators (p.164). He was hired to build stronger fundraising efforts in Asian countries where Wycliffe operates, but also to build engagement with the U.S. Asian-American community, hopefully at some point in the future linking that engagement back to the home countries. Some institutes of higher education and other organizations are strategically building engagement with countries where new wealth is emerging, such as China and India. When you are starting out new there are usually few existing donors and relationships, so how do you go about it?

Building Up and In

In the U.S. there are many sources of information specific to industries, ethnic communities and more. For example, local Business Journals usually publish a “Book of Lists” each year. You can build a list of the top philanthropists in your community, the top business leaders and more. You can ask a researcher to build you a specific list, or as a frontline fundraiser you might start by, for example, joining a local association of Chinese business owners and using a researcher to help you get more information after you have identified specific individuals.

First you build up your list of cold prospects (some people call them targets, but that often sounds harsh to a fundraiser’s friendly ears) and then you make the inside, face to face connections, getting prospect profiles on individuals once you have made a connection.

Cold Prospecting Takes Effort

No matter how you go about it, cold prospecting consumes a lot of time and resources. Make sure you set yourself up for success. Following are some tips:

Plan & Track:
Make sure you have a plan in place. You wouldn’t just show up on a plot of land and build a house willy-nilly. Draw up a plan and track your progress periodically.

Polish Skills:
You may find it takes a different set of skills to engage a new group of people. Be sure to get any training you need. Network with colleagues who have done similar work successfully.

Educate Yourself:
You may need to broaden your knowledge of the culture and history, inside or outside of the U.S. Researchers can help you gather this information as well.

There are good reasons to do cold prospecting, but it needs to be treated with careful respect because of its expense. Just as you nurture donors acquired through direct mail to ensure you raise much more money in the long-term than the initial cost of acquisition, likewise you need to plan your major gift prospecting projects to ensure that they lead to large gifts and deep relationships.

About the Author

Jen Filla is president of Aspire Research Group LLC where she works with organizations worried about finding their next big donor, concerned about what size gift to ask for, or frustrated that they aren’t meeting their major gift goals. She is also co-author of Prospect Research for Fundraisers: The Essential Handbook.