Thursday, June 28, 2012

Family Wisdom

My grandfather is one of the most upstanding human beings I have ever met.  Since I was a little girl, I have always felt I could never in a million years soak up enough of his wisdom.  When he speaks, I listen. 

One of his favorite reminders to his children and grandchildren has stayed with me throughout the years.  “Before you open your mouth,” he would say, “ask yourself these three questions – is it true?, is it kind?, and will it help?  If the answer is not ‘yes’ to all three, keep it to yourself.”

The deeper I dive into the field of prospect research, the more I realize that this advice holds true in our work as well.  Before I send information to a gift officer, I like to ask myself my grandfather’s three questions.

Is it true? – If there is any question of a source’s validity, have I cross-checked against other resources?  Is information volunteered by peers or development officers able to be verified using public information?  If not, depending on the significance of the information, I may mention it with a disclaimer that it could not be verified.  Otherwise, I may remove the information altogether.

Is it kind? – There are varying schools of thought when it comes to this concept.  I do believe we need to provide the best, most comprehensive information possible to our gift officers.  However, if there is sensitive information to share such as bankruptcy, criminal filings, or domestic troubles, I seriously evaluate the most appropriate way to share this information.  Obviously, it should always be shared in a way that is confidential and fact-based.  Sometimes it may be most appropriate to say something “off record” about such topics.  Different people have different ideas about how this information should be handled; the point is, we should never villainize our constituents.

Will it help? – This one is my favorite.  Although the prospect research application is slightly different than what my grandfather originally had in mind, the concept remains the same:  will this add something to the conversation?  As researchers we come across a great deal of information.  However, whenever possible, it is our role to filter this information into what will help the gift officer hone in on philanthropic interests and capacity.  Sometimes we don’t know what will help until we are elbow-deep in a project – it’s hard to know when a board of directors for a small organization halfway across the country will wind up being the link between a prospect and one of our trustees.  If nothing else, it is our role to highlight these things that “help.”
What do you think?  Do these questions shed any new light on your work?  Do you have any other simple mantras that guide your daily efforts? 

Caroline Rossini, Treasurer, APRA MidSouth

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Popsicle Theory of Prospect Research

I love popsicles.

I would say I love popsicles because it’s summer, but I must confess I love them year-round. Orange Dream Bars, Fudgsicles, Dove Bars, Bomb Pops, Peace Pops -- you name it. And don’t even get me started on the Double Caramel Magnum Ice Cream Bar.

How, you may be asking, does this relate to prospect research? Searching for our ideal prospects is like searching for people who love popsicles. It wouldn’t be enough just to search for people who love frozen treats. Who has time to wade through lovers of ice cream, sorbet, ice cream sandwiches, frozen yogurt, and milkshakes, etc.? Likewise, we can’t just focus on people who love food on a stick. We’d have to deal with people who love candy apples, roasted marshmallows, corndogs (pogo dogs for our Canadian friends!), and chicken satay. Our ideal combination is people who love frozen treats and people who love food on a stick. Those are your popsicle lovers.
In prospect research, pursuing wealthy people who don’t care about my mission is a waste of time and money. Likewise, pursuing people who have all the enthusiasm in the world for my mission but not the capacity for a substantial gift is also not a good return on investment. The way to be strategic and to wisely use your limited resources of time, money, and energy is to not be distracted by one or the other. Use the resources at your disposal and your own expertise to focus on people with capacity and inclination. Those are your prospects.

This is a pretty basic concept, but I hope I’ve helped you think about gift capacity and inclination in a new way. At the very least, I’ve made you think about popsicles. 

Mitch Roberson, Communications Director, APRA MidSouth

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Advice for the One-Person Prospect Research Office

While some shops are blessed with the resources to have several people assisting with prospect research requests, often it is the case in smaller shops that all of that responsibility falls to one person.   What’s more, if you are like me, there are several other areas you are responsible for in addition to prospect research.

So, what’s a one-person prospect research office to do?   Keep your door closed and refuse to answer the phone?   Run screaming from your office?   Although some days these seem like the answer, I’m here to offer some advice from what I have learned as an organization’s sole prospect researcher.

Look for free/cheap help (i.e., interns)

While your organization may not be able to hire any full or part-time staff to assist in the prospect research needs of the office, there are other alternatives.   Over the years, I have hired several graduate students to help with prospect research and have found that it was a win-win situation.   There are always students who are looking for employment experience and possibly a little extra income.   And, as the sole researcher, you need help.   A perfect match!   This is also a wonderful way to introduce students to the world of fundraising and help them start building a resume.   Let’s face it – fundraising is often a career that many people fall into or are introduced to by someone else.   Being able to show someone the ins and outs of fundraising is a great way to train a future fundraiser or prospect researcher.

Teach fundraisers how to help themselves

In my role, I support an office of about 12 fundraisers.   Since there is only one of me and several of them, there are often more requests for research than one person can handle.   The good news, though, is that there are numerous free online research resources that can provide a great base for a prospect profile.   I have provided training to the fundraisers in our office on simple techniques they can use to determine the basic capacity of a prospect.   This is especially helpful in regards to new prospects or discovery calls. (As a side note, many of these free resources are covered in APRA MidSouth’s Prospect Research 101 seminar and listed in other posts on this blog.)

Prioritize requests

It’s important to prioritize your requests when you are working with limited staffing resources.   Although there will be some exceptions, try to reserve full research profiles for the top 10% or 20% of your donor database.   This will help you dedicate more of your time to those prospects with the most resources.   Other prospects can be researched by the fundraiser themselves or given to your intern.

Know when to say when

When determining the length and depth of a research profile, I find that it’s helpful to keep these questions in mind: 1) is specific information needed? 2) what will be the end use of the information?   For the first point, if the fundraiser is only looking for specific information (value of stock, sale of a business, etc.) then a full research profile may not be needed.   Learning to communicate with fundraisers on what exactly they are looking for will help you in the long run.   On the second point, thinking about what the information will be used for can help you determine the depth of your research.   For example, if someone requests research for several people for an event, you just need to hit the highlights and provide fundraisers with good talking points.   On the other hand, if it is for a one-on-one ask for a campaign, you’ll need a more in-depth profile.   Trying to keep these things in mind will help you from potentially spending too much of your (limited) time on a research request.

Anna G. Verner, Membership Director, APRA MidSouth

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dallas Research Resources

A few months ago, I moved from Dallas, Texas, to Nashville, Tennessee. I have learned many new resources from my colleagues and was eager to share a few sites with the team. Here are a few sites to keep in mind when researching prospects in Texas.
DFW Most Powerful:
  • The site includes lists of the most expensive homes, most powerful events, most powerful couples, etc.
My Sweet Charity:
  • This site features people, events, and noteworthy philanthropic causes in the North Texas area.
  • It’s a great source to follow events in Houston and Dallas, Texas.
I hope you find these helpful!
Melissa Sridaromont, Secretary, APRA MidSouth