Friday, October 11, 2013

Prospect Research, Management and Effort

As a follow-up to APRA MidSouth’s recent web interview with WKU’s Director of Prospect Research, Cheryl Kugler, who attended the APRA International Conference in August 2013, I wanted to stay on the hot topic of prospect management.
As Cheryl noted in the interview, some large shops, like Northwestern, have people whose whole job encompasses prospect management.  The rest of us are learning to make it a percentage of our job.  There are days in our small shop at WKU when it certainly seems that’s all we do.
But we’re finding that prospect research AND management go together like coffee and cream. (Yes, I need another cup as I write this!)
We have always been good at identifying prospects worth visiting and then pushing them to the development officers.  But we see that we also need to be able to show how we manage those prospects once they are identified.  As this process is taking shape, we have discovered something else: we also need to show the EFFORT it takes to find and manage those prospects.
Having a good database helps and you have to know how to use it (we are learning to do that in Advance Web).  That’s where we find ourselves these days at WKU - learning how and where to put the information so we can track the effort put forth to identify those good (and not so good) prospects and then how we present them in various ways to the development officers.  We have established codes that tell us certain things: when they come to our attention in research (and whether it’s for a future or current assessment); validation as a potential prospect (or not); recommendation for a visit in regards to a certain project or trip; and a prospect’s Total Philanthropic Capacity (TPC) rating (an estimate of a prospect’s giving potential to all charities over the next five years).
This is not an all-inclusive list of the ways and codes we track our efforts as prospect researchers and managers, because it is a work in progress.  So, if anyone has something great that they do on this front and want to share, my ears are definitely open!
As prospect research worked on this challenge, we made another discovery:  it is equally important to track the work of the development officers as the prospect cultivation cycle begins and progresses – no matter the outcome of their efforts. Sure, we all hope for a gift.  (And, if we’re asking – a BIG gift, please!) But we all know that it doesn’t always work out that way.  However, that doesn’t mean a development officer hasn’t invested time and EFFORT into trying to get that gift.
So, in addition to the tracking codes and reports we are creating to quantify the work of prospect research, we are also creating reports that show the efforts of the development officers.  We are currently creating reports that pull information from all areas in our database – entity level, prospect level and proposal process level - to show what has been done to identify and cultivate prospects.  Again, if anyone is up to sharing, please do!
While the idea of more robust prospect management was the impetus, and we still don’t know the full outcome (as stated before, it’s a work in progress), we can already identify some good things that have come from this project.
First, it has been a joint effort between prospect research and the development officers.  Second, the project has enhanced the communication between the fundraisers and the prospect research office (and proven once again how vital communication is!)  Third, it has highlighted once again that it is a real team effort to identify and cultivate prospects and ultimately book a gift.  We all know that, but getting the information from the database on paper is a real validation of ALL team members’ work and effort.
While working with my colleagues on this project, another team member came across and shared this blog by Sarah Von Bargen: called Work Happiness Secret: Track Your Efforts, Not Your Accomplishments.  While it isn’t exactly related to prospect research and management, I think there is a lot of wisdom to what she says.  If we’re all working toward the ultimate goal of identifying and cultivating those prospects who could make gifts that will make a difference for our organizations, then it’s worth keeping track of the effort it takes to find them and work with them.
It may take a bit more thought and time to do it this way - as we’re finding at WKU as we develop our system - but I have no doubt the effort will be worth it in the end.
Theresa Clark, Vice President, APRA MidSouth

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