The Three Stages of Solicitation
Prospect research is most effective when you have the information you need when you need it. Sounds obvious, right? But it implies that an organization knows what information it really needs. The type of information needed depends on the prospect’s stage in the solicitation cycle.
There are three stages within the solicitation cycle: the identification stage; the cultivation stage and the solicitation stage.
1. Identification of capable prospects is among the most important responsibilities of prospect research. At the identification stage, you only need to have clear evidence of major-gift capacity — expensive property or significant stock holdings, for instance. It is not necessary to know all of a prospect’s connections in the community, children’s names and meal preferences to know the person is a major-gift prospect, so don’t ask for full profiles at this stage. You’ll find out many of these details through the cultivation process.
2. During the cultivation stage, prospect research can verify what you learn from the prospect — and from others who know the prospect. The researcher (and others in your organization) will collect and organize information that is found about the prospect through public sources.
3. As you inch closer to the solicitation stage and prepare for the ask, it’s time to look at the prospect’s full profile. Analyze all of the information available about the prospect to make sure your ask is properly aligned with the prospect’s interests and capacity.
Wealth isn’t everything. Being wealthy in and of itself is no reason for a person to make a gift to your organization. The researcher’s task is not only to seek information about a prospect’s capacity, but also the his or her affinity for your mission and inclination to make a gift. Look for recent, regular and larger gifts. Look for personal involvement with the organization as a volunteer, a participant in the program or a service on the board. And look for giving or involvement with other organizations that have similar missions.
A statistical model can be used to identify characteristics of those who are most likely to give. You can then apply the model to the entire database to find prospects who have not yet made a large gift, but who statistically resemble those who have.
Make use of data from electronic databases to make your research time more effective. Many can be used without charge, while some require a fee or subscription. You can find links and information about many of these resources at www.aprahome.org/researchlinks/index.html#prospres
Don’t neglect the resources available for free from your local library. Among the most valuable of those resources is the reference librarian, who can be a wonderful partner in finding hidden prospect information. Ask about the business section of the library. The genealogy section also might provide helpful information. Many of the library’s databases can be accessed from your home or office over the Internet by using your library card number.
David Lamb is a consultant at nonprofit software services provider Blackbaud. He can be reached via www.blackbaud.com