‘Don’t Hide Behind Prospect Research’
Laura Fredricks, vice president for philanthropy at Pace University in New York, presented a session a the AFP Annual Conference in Dallas earlier this year on turning annual donors into major-gift prospects. Vital to this strategy is identifying best prospects through prospect research.
For starters, one of the most efficient ways to do initial research these days is through basic Internet search tools like Google, or the Foundation Center’s Web site, which enables Form 990 searches. Fredricks also recommends LexisNexis, which can unearth information on a person’s wealth, their assets, what assets they have that are publicly held, boards that they’re on, other organizations they’ve given to — if they haven’t given anonymously — and at what level.
Research also can be done at a local library, utilizing newspapers, trade journals, corporate and foundation guides, and chamber of commerce publications; and through annual reports, alumni lists, honor roles and membership lists, and Who’s Who guides.
This initial background research should yield information on everything from a prospect’s correct contact information, interest in your organization, gift history and activity with your organization to her employment history, family history, education background, net worth, support for other organizations, hobbies and interests, and religion.
While the Internet and paper sources you’ll find at the library can help locate this information, prospect research isn’t complete without an up-close-and-personal interaction with prospects.
“I think what happens is people take a look at where they live, how much they own, and they leap to an assumption that this person is an X-level donor. Well, that gives you some parameters of what they could possibly give, but in talking with them, seeing how they live, seeing what their lifestyle is, seeing what their family concerns are, what their work concerns are — that’s the absolute best prospect research, because after that meeting you’ll find out how philanthropic they are, where they are on their giving scale, issues that may prevent them from giving now or within the next couple months, and all that stuff you can’t find on the Internet. It’s a one-to-one relationship,” Fredricks says.