‘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.
Up-close-and-personal research tactics can involve visits and telephone calls; peer screenings; meetings with other donors, volunteers, staff and friends; and contact through churches, clubs, schools, choirs, gyms, etc. The important part is to get out there and make contact with donors.
Fredricks advises major-gifts officers set a deadline for themselves or, if they have one, their prospect researcher to gather information on donors. Allow a maximum of three weeks to find initial research, and then set an appointment to meet the prospect. Don’t put off visiting donors you don’t have research on.
“If for some reason you can’t get that information or the deadline goes past, you go and see the prospect anyway,” Fredricks says. “I think people hide behind prospect research saying, ‘I can’t see the person because I don’t have the information.’”
This piece of advice is No. 1 in Fredricks’ top three prospect-researching tips, which include:
1. Don’t hide behind prospect research. “Just go and see the person you want to see,” she says. “I’ve seen so many people say, ‘I don’t have the research. I’ll wait,” and months go by and you don’t get the appointment.”
2. Just go in and be yourself. Talk about the organization, about its mission, why you’re there and ask prospects questions like, “What do you like about us? What could we be doing better? If and when you would give something, what would you give it towards?”
3. Stay open and listen. “A lot of times we go in there and we talk and talk. Keep your eyes open and listen, and you’ll just glean so much information in the most gentle, easiest, nonthreatening way,” Fredricks says. “It keeps it personal, soft, easy, and you’ll have an ongoing relationship with the person you want to see.”
Laura Fredricks can be reached via www.pace.edu