Wednesday, May 30, 2012

After the Campaign Winds Down – What Next?

I have come to the end of a road in my job as a prospect researcher. A place I have never been. Western Kentucky University’s $200 million “A New Century of Spirit” Campaign will close at the end of our fiscal year on June 30, 2012.

I am one of many in our division of development and alumni relations who cannot believe we have finally reached this end. This milestone. This finish line. Without revealing details (we are sworn to secrecy on the final number), we can definitely call it a success.

This is the second capital campaign undertaken by WKU. Our first capital campaign closed on June 30, 2003, with $102 million in gifts and pledges. Our “A New Century of Spirit” campaign followed with a public launch in September 2007.

When I joined the staff in July 2005 we were in the midst of the second campaign’s silent phase. As prospect researchers, you know that even though the word may not be out to the public, hard work hums along behind the scenes – we still identify and rate prospects, prepare briefs and bios, and perform all other prospect research and management duties.

So, I began my journey on the prospect research road in the midst of this second campaign. I had to hit the ground running, learn on the fly, and just go with it. (I know many of you can relate to that sentiment every day!)

While I have learned a lot over the seven (!) years I have been at WKU, I feel like I am still just beginning to wade into the pool (or is it better to describe it as an ocean?) of prospect research. Yes, there is still so much to learn. Including what happens when reaching this place in the campaign road.

As this campaign winds down, I certainly have a smile on my face for the good work done and what we have accomplished. However, along with that sigh of satisfaction a wrinkle crosses my brow and a question invades my mind.

“What next?”

My boss and I have a list of changes we want to make to our systems and processes. I know we will continue in our prospect research and management duties as fundraising will definitely go on.

I know another campaign is in WKU’s future. But until it’s announced and we are in campaign mode once again, we have another kind of “silent phase” – one in which much work still needs to be accomplished. With all that to think about, questions continually pop to mind.

So, in an effort to get a grasp on this new place I have reached as a prospect researcher, what it means and what to do next, I throw some of these questions out to you colleagues who have been down this road:

  • What have you done at the end of a campaign?
  • What changes have you made?
  • What processes have you established or eliminated?
  • What preparations have you made to be ready for the next campaign?

While WKU has a two person shop, I would love to hear from anyone no matter the size of your operation. Although we may work for different sizes and types of institutions, prospect research and management is something we all do.

I am excited to learn from you. And if I learn something along the way, I’ll be sure and share it while we wait for the next WKU campaign to begin.

Theresa Clark, Board Advisor, Western Kentucky University

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ah, the Request to Update a Profile… Which of the “Three C’s” Do You Use?

As a researcher, part-time or full-time, it takes just a short while of working with a front line fundraising staff/development officer(s) to receive the following kind of request, typically by email. Please note the fictional conversation below. 

[Email to me] Hi Geoff. I am visiting with Wellathee Parsons in two weeks here in town.
It looks like the last research profile completed on her was over a year ago.
Can you update this profile? Be in touch. Warmly, Colleen Ewes, Sr. Development Officer
Hmm. This prospect doesn’t immediately ring a bell. It hasn’t been on mine or my development officer’s radar (that I know of). I look them up in my organization’s development database. Ahh, Ms. Parsons, the partner in the big downtown law firm. I see that Ms. Parsons has minimal involvement with my group. However, she is a long-time corporate real estate attorney. She is rated to have high capacity because of her impressive real estate and compensation amounts. I see that her husband has attended an event with my organization, but that was six years ago. I see that the couple has contributed only a handful of token gifts over the years, $1,500 total. I see the last research profile. It is over 18 months old, and is in the old format. It looks a little stale to me, but does still have all of the key info, at least at first blush.

<Moments of indecision. Ranges of emotion.>

My workload is packed at present. I have barely begun one assignment lately without another request coming through. Colleen already has two other profiles/projects requests out to me. I have barely started those.

What is the best response to Colleen?

Let’s look at three hypothetical responses I might email back. I will call them the “Three C’s” for three distinct choices…

1. Compliance.

Thanks, Colleen, for your request. I will add this profile to my work queue and have for you as soon as possible. I understand you need it before two weeks from now when you visit Ms. Parsons.

2. Contention.

Hi Colleen, I was just beginning the earlier project you gave me last week – on finding 25 best prospects for you in Atlanta for your trip next month – when this new request came through. I am not sure if you understand the time it takes to complete a profile, even an update. It is easily three to four hours to go through the many research areas; then, it must be proofed and finalized. This all takes a lot of time. I’m sorry if I sound upset. I am a bit overwhelmed. I will be happy to have my supervisor contact you if that would be helpful. I will try to get to this work as soon as possible.

3. Collaboration.

Hi Colleen. That’s great that you were able to get a lunch scheduled with Ms. Parsons! After reviewing her information in our database, I see we have tried to meet with her several times, but she has been unable to make an appointment fit her schedule. You finally got to her!

Instead of recreating a profile, I wonder if I could get for you key information you are thinking of for this prospect. Are there specific questions you have about Ms. Parsons, even judging from her past profile? Perhaps you have questions about her wealth capacity, social/community connections, or current public philanthropy? I bet I could confirm these areas looking up a few things in our our subscriber resources. I could do this quickly and email you my results. I’ll of course also save it into our database at her record. I am especially busy in my department at present. Thoughts? Please let me know if this plan sounds okay.

Of course, I can’t tell you which “C” to choose. The best one may not be available to you – for reasons beyond your control. If this is the case, oh well.

But the best practice is for the researcher-development officer relationship to be framed by the word partnership. How might this be defined? Here are two suggestions: A) What can you do to help a development officer be most successful – to truly advance relationship(s) they have with their prospect to the solicitation stage? Is the answer really a profile update? And B) For your sake, in terms of flexibility, what can a development officer do to be flexible to you so that you can provide the greatest net impact for them, and for your organization? In other words, let’s think bigger picture, and bigger reward!

Building a collaborative, mutually satisfying, and tension-free workflow with a front line/development officer is a continual challenge, even for the most seasoned prospect research professional. However, it is no less a vital objective to plan for, even every day. Obviously, this goal requires careful, humble communication. Today’s best research staffers are careful to quietly, professionally under-promise and over-deliver what they can do when presented with a new project. They look for ways to compress a research request to its purest business need for the overall organization, and they communicate it through a collaborative framework.

Geoffrey Little, President, APRA MidSouth

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Building Relationships with Gift Officers

One of the challenges of prospect research can be stepping back from our quest for information in order to build relationships with the gift officers we serve. These relationships, however, have as much to do with a successful career in research as does knowing where to find the right information. Here are some ideas to help you expand and develop your relationships with gift officers.

  • Reach out. Playing offense can help you to stay a step ahead. Find out what your gift officer’s priorities are for the month, quarter, or year. Then think of ways you can help him achieve his goals.
  • Ask for clarification. Often a gift officer has something very particular in mind when she asks for research. When appropriate, ask questions to gain a better understanding of what information she wants most. These sorts of clues can help you find better information, narrow your focus, and show you are committed to providing what the gift officer needs. All of this in turn means you provide a better product, and everyone is happier!
  • Stay abreast of travel plans and prospect visits. Finding a way to stay tuned in to your gift officer’s plans will help you to be proactive. If he is travelling to another city, you could suggest a list of prospects he might want to call. If he has a meeting with Mr. Smith, you could do a quick search to see if there has been any news on Mr. Smith recently.
  • Share relevant news stories or articles. Finding news on prospects is extremely helpful to gift officers – knowing the good, the bad, and the ugly helps them to plan strategies for cultivation and solicitation. Even if a gift officer has already seen an article, she will be impressed that you picked up on the connection.
  • Choose your communication method wisely. Email seems to rule our world, especially for those of us who are constantly searching for information online. Picking up the phone can be useful when a complex question needs answering or when it is time for negotiating. Always seek out opportunities for occasional face-to-face contact, too. Finding a balance of these three communication methods will help to keep communication flowing.

These are a few ways to help build relationships with gift officers. What works for you? Leave a comment below.

Caroline Rossini, Treasurer, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rich Lists

The following link shows a compilation of various rich lists. It looks like it will be particularly useful for international research. The U.S. lists are at the bottom.