Friday, February 7, 2014

Review of Prospect Research for Fundraisers

I recently had the pleasure of reading Jennifer J. Filla and Helen E. Brown’s book, Prospect Research for Fundraisers – The Essential Handbook (Wiley, 2013).  The authors, each renowned consultants, lean on their considerable experience to provide clear philosophy and how-to’s for this evolving field.  A passage midway through captures the book’s essence:

In the past, prospect research was known almost exclusively for simply gathering data.  This was in the form of printing reports from the database or compiling information on prospects.  Prospect research pushed information out in the development arena.  Like gift entry and other advancement services, a prospect researcher would not always have had regular interaction with the frontline fundraising staff.  The information was often collected in the same way:  without too much consideration for changing needs.  Today, the prospect researcher has evolved into the position of development partner.  Inundated with information, the development department relies upon prospect research to provide strategic information and work in partnership with frontline fundraisers to provide real-time data.  More than in the past, prospect researchers are recognized as fundraisers too, understanding development principles and directing front-line staff to exactly the information they need.  Prospect research also creates and maintains donor relationship management systems and introduces and assimilates new technologies to provide an organization with competitive advantages (page 124).

Filla and Brown have a steady vision for the work of prospect research that they hold high on each page.  They take us to insights on every facet of the work – from understanding the different levels of research needed, and when, to the ‘hows’ of creating a donor relationship management system.  In the International prospect research chapter, they give exceptional strategy and thought using lessons from work with Habitat for Humanity.  The final chapter reviews trends and suggests the future landscape of prospect research.  This chapter is worth acquiring the book alone as the authors delve into content curation and look at cutting edge resources beneficial to researchers.  They address social media and how data visualization is a powerful resource.

I commend acquiring Prospect Research for Fundraisers to any development operation!  These ladies have assembled a crisp, ever-relevant handbook of ideas.  It is surely useful to the one-person development professional as much as a large research shop – such as the staff of fifteen researchers I help to lead at Vanderbilt University.  The book even includes seven appendices including resources for codes of ethics, researcher skill sets, and relationship management concerns.   

Geoff Little, Secretary/Treasurer, APRA MidSouth


  1. Thank you, Geoff, for the well-written and thoughtful review. It's such a thrill to discover that our labor of love is helpful to others!

  2. Haha. The book is GIANT. I love it. Been doing this awhile and you guys nail it.