Prospect Research: What You Don’t Know — and How It Can Hurt You
A few years ago, one of my clients requested rush research on a prospective donor. The client, a development officer at an independent school, explained that the headmaster was planning to meet with a parent to ask for a gift. He believed that the prospective donor had the capacity to make a $300,000 gift, but the development officer thought the number might be higher.
The completed research supported my client’s feeling; the school revised its strategy and asked for a $1 million gift. The meeting was a great success — the donor agreed to make a gift totaling $1.3 million over a three-year period!
Without understanding the donor’s capacity to give, my client would have received a much smaller gift, and the donor might not have felt as connected to the school.
Prospect research should be considered the invisible yet indispensable arm of a major-gifts program. It helps you understand a prospective donor’s giving capacity, among other things.
Unfortunately, many nonprofit development offices are not using research to understand the giving capacity of their prospective donors because they believe they can’t afford to set up a research department. As my client’s story illustrates, you can’t afford not to have some level of research.
What is it?
Prospect research typically is a multifaceted process of retrieval, analysis and dissemination of biographical and financial information. This information can be at the core of identifying, cultivating and soliciting major-gift prospects. It often uncovers:
- shared values,
- prospective donors’ friends and
- associates who can help form a basis for institutional involvement.
To develop donor profiles, researchers consult biographical and general reference books, scan journals and newspapers, and search computerized databases, and unpublished public records to cull the necessary information. As I’m sure you can imagine, the Internet plays a big role in research.
Related story: Fabulous Free Sites