It All Begins With Prospect Research
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work for a children's medical center. It was an honor to work for such a caring and thoughtful organization. My boss said that, as vice president for development, I was hired to teach him and others how development works. He was extremely supportive and engaged, which is critical to success in this business.
As I finalized my first reorganizational plan, I had the opportunity to create a new full-time position. While many in my position would run out and immediately hire a talented "sales" person to seek annual, major or planned gifts, I immediately hired the heartbeat of any development program — the director of research and prospect management.
That resulted in the organization completing the first two successful capital campaigns in its history, plus developing the processes that enabled it to generate greater donors, gifts, dollars, volunteers, etc., each fiscal year during my tenure at that organization.
Why focus on the research position? Many in resource development do not understand the complex process of integrating prospects, priorities and data, and the discipline needed to generate sustainable and accountable ongoing metrics. Research-focused organizations identify key corporations, foundations, individuals, associations and organizations capable of making contributions. Through prospect research, public information is provided so each development officer can enhance his or her chances of success.
Having information is but a first step on the road to cultivation, solicitation and stewardship of prospect portfolios. Armed with new data, it's up to the development officer to secure volunteers and work with board members and others verifying information leading to successful strategies and gifts.
Prospect research also can identify data that shows how many times a donor has made a gift, for what purpose and of what size. The number of gifts and amount given can be helpful variables in determining the next step of seeking larger gifts. It's always about relationships and having the right person ask for the right amount at the right time.
There is no magic in the hard work and time needed to devote to research. Research also can determine if a prospect is an annual-, major- or planned-gift prospect, or all of the above. The key research staff member should direct other development officers in portfolio development and portfolio movement. Whether you can afford a full-time prospect researcher or part-time, by-project staff member, research is important!
Recently, I was notified that a woman passed away and left my organization $335,721 from her estate. We never cultivated her. The total sum of her lifetime giving to our organization was $429.70. Most of her 27 lifetime gifts from 1990 to 2008 were $5 or less and through direct mail. Her largest one-time gift was $100. In most cases, no staff member would have noticed her as a significant prospect because of her gift average. But her information became important due to both frequency and number of gift variables. Through research overlay analysis led by my planned-giving team, it was determined that this donor was born in 1918. Because of her age and ongoing interest in our charity, we began sending her planned-giving information — never knowing but hoping where it might lead.
By investing in research and being proactive, you may be surprised with your short- and long-term financial results. In reality, I would be surprised if you have long-term financial success without it!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.