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


  1. Great answer in #3 until you get to the part about emailing the information. Our confidentiality restrictions would prevent us from doing so. We have other secure methods of communicating sensitive info. Just a thought...

    1. Good point, another way around this is a restricted shared drive/folder to house the information. You can then simply send an email with a notification that the info/profile is ready (even sending a link is possible this way). Plus, it saves space on the email server which IT will thank you for. :)

  2. Dennis HollingseadMay 24, 2012 at 9:34 AM

    Number 3 would be my choice, but this scenario seems more like an initial Discovery visit. Apparently, there is enough information to initiate conversation so that should not be a problem. In my opinion, it would not be necessary to have the latest financial update for a visit where there will probably be no ask. I would be inclined to hold off updating the profile until more information is obtained by the gift officer, which could lead to a more focused update to the profile.

  3. I advocate your tracking the numbers of these kinds of requests over a month period... and then communicating with your supervisor about how to increase the Dev. Ofc's confidence in the data already in hand. Also, share with the DO how to 'creatively utilize' what is at hand. This may communicate to your supervisor, although obliquely, how requests like this impact the work of the PR department, and protocols for service already in place.