Friday, April 13, 2012

Tommy Lee Jones as a Development Officer

There’s a scene in The Fugitive that reminds me of being a prospect researcher. Federal Marshal Samuel Gerard, played by Tommy Lee Jones, takes charge of the hunt for escaped prisoner Dr. Richard Kimball, played by Harrison Ford, with this memorable speech*:

*“Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints will go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive's name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.”

Really?!? That’s 113 square miles! That’s the land area of the entire city of Las Vegas! Not only that, but the search area grows exponentially by the hour!

The above scene is great for dramatic effect. In fact, it helped Jones win an Oscar. I get his point. Tommy Lee’s character wants to get into the mindset of the fugitive and wants to be as thorough as possible. But practically speaking, he’s asking for a lot. To relate it back to prospect research, sometimes development officers ask for more than they need. They ask for everything.

When development officers ask for everything you can find on a prospect, what do they really want? I think they really want context. They want the confidence of knowing that you have been thorough. But in the effort to follow up on every tiny detail of a person’s wealth and philanthropy, the law of diminishing returns kicks in pretty fast. Determining what development officers need vs. what you can provide in the allotted time is one of the most important and challenging aspects of being a prospect researcher.

Given unlimited time, a seasoned researcher could find tons of information. But researchers don’t have the luxury of unlimited time. Therefore, we have to be strategic. We must forge and maintain relationships with our development officers so that our work is an ongoing conversation. We must do the basics exceptionally well. We must be thorough, but thorough within the time constraints we manage day to day. You may not have searched every henhouse and doghouse in the area, but establishing the critical overlap between gift capacity and inclination will get you most of the way there.

Go get ‘em.

Mitch Roberson, Communications Director, APRA MidSouth


  1. Great blog post. At the moment, I am currently struggling with the "You know, whatever you can find." request. That is, they don't know what they want, but know that asking for everything is unreasonable, so they pass the decision to me.

    I believe that skillful interpretation of data and of development officers is a key skill set for researchers that may not be fully appreciated.

  2. Greetings, I’m Sakht. I’m a writer living in Newark, New Jersey 07108, USA. I am a fan of technology and writing.