Tag Archives: relationship mapping

Can you Achieve Faster-Better-Cheaper Profiles?

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

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

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

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

Faster-Better-Cheaper with DonorSearch.net

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professionals are Always in Demand

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

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

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

More Resources

Let’s Talk Research Life, Not Your Job

Many of the important decisions about your life are made when you are not in the room.

Don’t believe me? Tell me, were you there when…

  • Your spouse decided whether or not to keep dating you early on?
  • The sellers decided to accept your bid on the house?
  • Your mortgage company decided to risk a loan on you?
  • Your boss decided to hire you over other candidates?

Who is going to be in the room when you go for a pay raise or a promotion? Who decides whether your department has enough in the budget to send you to an industry conference?

The recent APRA Prospect Development conference in New Orleans demonstrated with gusto that our field is alive and thriving. Many in our profession have become a driving force for success in their fundraising departments. How did those individuals get to the place where the decision makers felt really good about fundraising research?

Maybe you feel a bit like Dorothy when she first approached the Wizard of Oz – a little intimidated by leadership. But let me take you behind the curtain…

The Influencers

In social media we hear a lot of talk about finding the influencer – the person with the biggest following and the highest engagement.  In your office, many of the same rules apply. Influencers are those who interact with a lot of people and have direct control or influence over decision making.

Make a list of how many people you interact with. How many of them directly control or influence decisions that are important to you?

You might be surprised who turns up on your list. What about the president’s assistant? She might interact with a large number of people, including you. Does the president listen to her when she has an opinion?

The Plan Man

Now that you have the list of people you interact with in your organization, pull out a fresh sheet of paper and make a list of all of the people who influence the decision that is most important to you. Maybe that’s training and using analytics tools, attending a conference, or implementing a new process.

Take your two lists and identify a few people that are on both lists – not too many – that you could develop a better relationship with. Treat them the same way you know how to treat donors. Create a cultivation plan that builds rapport, engages the person on relevant topics of interest, and gives the person more of what s/he wants. Ask good questions. What is her biggest pain point? Help her somehow.

You might also find that by developing a deeper relationship with a few key people, you meet more of the decision makers in your office.

Now that you have your cultivation plans, decide what three words you want people to think of when they think of you or your department. Think it through carefully. Now use those words when you talk about yourself and your work. I don’t mean to go bragging on yourself, but in regular conversation consciously use those words.

Not only will people begin using those very same words to describe you and your work, but you will begin more closely aligning your behaviors with those descriptors.

For more than 15 years , my three words have been:
Integrity | Accountability | Growth

And, yes, I need to be reminded to use them more!

Relationship Time

At conferences like APRA’s Prospect Development conference, the visionary ideas presented, the cross-pollination of ideas and sentiments with colleagues, and the new skills learned can be transformational.

But this year, my biggest takeaway was how important it is to choose time spent on relationships very thoughtfully.

We all know in life that not everyone will like us. But making decisions about who to spend our precious time with is never easy. If there are people in your life who energize you, who excite your curiosity by being different, who bring out the best in you (add your own criteria), then invest in them. If there are people who don’t do all those good things for you (or you for them), then gently step away.

When you deliberately examine your social networks both inside and outside the office, strategically choose the people to invest your relationship energy with, and understand and promote your own core values, you will succeed. Paths will illuminate. Opportunities will arise you couldn’t have dreamed up.

Your Job or Your Research Life?

It’s up to you to define success in all aspects of your life. For me, research infuses almost every part of my life. Methodically approaching any kind of problem – treating it like a research project – has been my modus operandi since I was a child. Back when it felt like I could learn about anything just by reading books in the library. Nothing is too difficult if you have a method, an approach.

If you want more out of your research job, consider tweaking the phrase to research career – or even research life!

More Resources

Takeaways from other APRA peeps:


Carla Harris has been inspiring my career for years! Maybe she will inspire you too.


Speaking of methodology, check out Marianne Pelletier’s resource: What Analytics Can Do for Your Fund-Raising Shop



Watch out Prospects! Got a Photo? Gotcha!

Do you know how it is when you find a new tool and suddenly it appears EVERYWHERE?! This is how I feel about relationship mapping. Ever since I purchased a subscription to Prospect Visual, I have started to notice different relationship mapping techniques and applications all over the place. My recent quest for facial recognition searches on photos is a case in point.

My typical nonprofit client doesn’t have a huge warehouse of internal data and often feels an urgency to add to its current donor pool to meet special fundraising initiatives. Relationship mapping holds such promise for identifying prospect gold in uncharted territories! Or does it? Yet?

My feel for the technologies involved is that it is early days. Some of what is currently being commercialized could be easily disrupted by what we might now consider ancillary or “extra” services. Facial recognition is a good example.

Technologies like facial recognition are both shockingly advanced and woefully inadequate. Most things start out expensive and, especially with technology, can become affordable in a remarkably short period of time. Here’s hoping that happens with facial recognition. Unless of course you are searching on me!

Here’s how my facial recognition quest began. I was working on a difficult prospect assignment. Not many donor lists out in the public domain in this particular city, and board members with limited profiles and middle-income wealth. And then I stumbled on a Flickr account with gala pictures from a past event of a similar organization. Eureka!

But no captions on the photos. And I am not personally familiar with the who’s who of that city. Bummer! Or is there a way? To find out I consulted the best talent around – the research list-serv hosted by APRA – and received two good sources:

Google Images

Did you know that you could search for other images using an existing image? You can! And it did make good *exact* matches to find pages where my picture was located (because, of course, I tested it on myself first). But when it came to similar matches…wildly differing pictures appeared. But, ahem, it did find one of Julia Roberts, which I agree is very similar to mine.


This site seemed so promising, but it didn’t find any matches on my photo, which was disappointing.

These sites were not enough to help me identify the pictures on that Flickr account. But apparently there is some seriously powerful software available that has the potential to make a prospect researcher’s dream come true and find out way more than just linkage or connection.

Social media maven and all-around talented researcher, Lori Hood Lawson, pointed out a 60 Minutes episode that demonstrated the power of some maturing technologies – and has me even more determined to vote at every possible opportunity!

Check out the 60 Minutes episode here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50153673n

With the proliferation and popularity of photos and videos all over the public domain, it creates an opportunity not currently considered in the text-based products such as Prospect Visual and Relationship Science that are on the market for nonprofits right now.

Relationship mapping and other prospect research techniques often follow behind competitive intelligence and other for-profit efforts. The uses are similar, but not the same, and as prospect researchers, we often find ourselves getting “creative” to make products work for us. However, with the nonprofit industry growing to such a powerful size, we might see a shift.

But don’t worry donors, prospect researchers have a code of ethics we take incredibly seriously!

Other Articles You Might Like: Relationship Mapping for New Prospects

Join the Relationship Mapping Workgroup:  Click Here to Sign Up

Questions? Want to talk about this post? Call Jen Filla at 727 202 3405 or email jen at aspireresearchgroup dot com.

Relationship Mapping for New Prospects

I just can’t stop thinking about relationship mapping! Probably because I am deep within a project to use relationship mapping to generate new prospects and illuminate the path to identified prospects within a campaign. A soft touch for new software, I really, really want the product I’m using, Prospect Visual, to deliver the goods. But will it?

The Many Shades of Relationship Mapping

Relationship mapping is not new, but some of the tools used to find relationships are new. Essentially, you create a visual (think family tree style) or data map (like in Excel or a database) or both of someone’s relationships. Many organizations collect this information in the donor database as an afterthought or “extra”. Relationships might be mapped to family members, boards served, club memberships, religious involvement and others. Why, you could even map all of the interrelated relationships of the Mad Men television show characters…

Mad Men Relationships

In higher education there may be a wealth of information from the school that connects individuals to one another, such as club membership, degree majors, and sports participation among many others. In 2012, Queens University presented at a CASE conference on their use of TouchGraph to map relationships within their own database.

What some new products, such as Prospect Visual and Relationship Science, are attempting to do is allow you to take the relationships you have collected on one individual and find paths to reach other individuals “out in the wild”.

LinkedIn does a reasonable job of this for prospecting within business networks. I have used LinkedIn, in combination with verbally asking people in my network, to identify paths to prospects I would like to cultivate for business. A personal introduction by someone with a strong relationship is much preferable to a cold call!

A nonprofit organization can use a trustee or engaged volunteer to introduce it to new prospects who are likely to have an affinity for the organization. Nothing new about that!

The Missing Piece: Spheres of Influence

What is new is identifying, perhaps by visualizing, someone’s sphere of influence. Some people are connected to more people and some people have many people in their network that are strong or deep connections. Strong connections suggest that the person can influence the other person. In the triad of Linkage-Ability-Inclination, relationship mapping provides the piece research has not always been so good at delivering in the past: Linkage.

In our book, Prospect Research for Fundraisers, Helen Brown and I discuss relationship mapping in the last chapter. Helen provides a great example of an organization that used its alumni group on LinkedIn to identify individuals who were highly connected and then qualified them for affinity. This process uncovered some great new prospects.

Jen Filla’s Facebook Spheres

I attended a course at the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay led by social media expert Bryn Warner, and I created a visual representation of my relationships from my personal Facebook page, which I have included here. Just look at all the connections around my husband and my favorite live-music venue, Mahuffer’s! Clearly this represents a sphere of influence. And it’s a messy, tangled ball of yarn, yes? I did not take the time to manipulate the graph results to make it pleasing to the eye or to make the names all readable. Make no mistake, these tools may be powerful, but they are time-hungry beasts!

Analyzing and Verifying

My experience so far using Prospect Visual is two-fold: (1) Visualizing spheres of influence is effective in identifying promising paths to new prospects; and (2) Just as in a wealth screening, this big relationship database is great at prioritizing, but I still have to analyze and verify the information.

What I have been doing so far in Prospect Visual is identifying clusters of relationships – spheres of influence – inside and outside the defined group of individual, foundation and corporation prospects in our project space. While one trustee may have strong relationships to identified prospects, another trustee may have a deep and wide network with organizations and people that my client has not considered before.

Once we see a sphere of influence, the next step is to confirm it truly exists and then discover whether there is any ability or inclination. Because there are errors in the underlying database of relationships – such as duplicate records and connections that are just plain wrong – the connections must be verified. And once the connections are verified, further research is needed to discover those shiny glimmers of affinity.

Getting Results

As with wealth screenings, moving the process from mass prioritization all the way through cultivation and solicitation takes time. It will likely be at least a year before any results, let alone gifts, are realized from the effort. And this project is not exactly number one on everyone’s to-do list. Prospects and donors in active cultivation and solicitation create the crisis of time that vacillate the prospect identification project between hot and cold attention.

Who is at the Watering Hole?

Are you actively using relationship mapping techniques and tools? Do you plan to? Do you wish you could be a fly on the wall hearing about it? Join the conversation! In a geographically dispersed environment where many of us perform prospect research solo, sharing our work successes and challenges builds our profession and ourselves.

Relationship Mapping Work Group

Aspire Research Group has created a free-to-participate work group that meets online. You can join the conversation – or lurk about listening – by signing-up for the email list. I’m looking forward to sharing with you!

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.

Facial Recognition Software & Donors

Does facial recognition software violate our privacy? What if we want to use it on donor prospects? The Economist wrote an article, Anonymous No More, in its 7/30/11 issue. It describes how facial recognition software has improved to the point that in the best scenarios you can feed a picture into it and discover personal information on one-third of individuals. Now, obviously, that means that two-thirds remain “anonymous”, but it does demonstrate that picture-based research is viable and will improve.

As it stands now, I start with personal information (name and address or occupation) and find my way to a matching photo. In the not-to-distant future I can imagine subscribing to software that allows me to take fundraising event photos and identify the people in them – perhaps even automatically screening them for wealth.

Now try to guess who has developed a facial recognition search engine? You guessed it! Google. But they have decided not to release it. Why? Because of the sensitivity around the subject of… [drum roll]… privacy! Now try to guess who isn’t afraid to use facial recognition. Facebook. U.S. Government. Prospect researchers? Hmmm.

Is there privacy left to care about?

It is very clear that the media likes to wheeze on about privacy (even in light of the recent Murdoch news scandals) and equally clear that most of humanity really does not care about privacy. We are happy to trade our personal information for discounts, convenience and even fun. Or are we? Mostly we are okay giving away personal information when we are asked and get something we value in return. It’s when we get duped, fooled, or humiliated that our hair stands on end. And I am grateful to the journalists who report on those abuses.

When does privacy really matter?

If your donors feel that their privacy has been compromised by you they will stop giving. Worse, they might start saying bad things about your organization and get others to stop giving. Privacy matters.

Having a donor privacy policy will go a long way toward helping your organization communicate its actions with donors, but it is not enough to keep you out of trouble. Common sense, empathy and good recordkeeping are required.

For example, just because you found your donor’s unlisted telephone number on her voter’s registration record doesn’t mean she won’t be offended when your president calls her asking for a visit. Was it found in the public domain – yes. Was it in the donor record as a contact number – yes. Did the donor feel her privacy was violated – YES! There are no shortcuts to establishing meaningful relationships.

Facial recognition software is most likely going to do “quiet” tasks like match faces from our organization Facebook pages or constituent forums with photos in our donor database to create deeper relationship maps. That’s not nearly as scintillating as using event photos to identify wealthy prospects, is it? But it is more efficient and respectful.

More info on ethics and privacy:

Aspire Research Group’s Ethics Video
Letter to Board Members on Privacy and Prospect Research
APRA Statement of Ethics
AFP Code of Ethical Principles and Standards