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


  1. Definitely! Also be sure to have the right in-house software and let others do the work for you! (

  2. Nicely said! I started out as the sole researcher for a national organization. My frontline fundraisers were geographically distant. I used a newsletter to periodically provide hints and tips, both about how best to use researched info and things they could do on their own. As a solo researcher, it's nice too if you can find some local colleagues to have lunch with occasionally and share with each other.

  3. Right on -- this is great advice for any one-person shop, but it's applicable to a shop of any size!