Development Research (or prospect research or donor research, whatever you want to call it) can be a huge asset to organizations of any size. But, to fully utilize and understand what, how and why researchers can do what they do, first we need to squash some popular myths. Here are four myths on December 4 (and one fact for good measure):
- The best prospects for any organization are the $1B/ultrahigh net worth, famously philanthropic individuals.
FALSE FALSE FALSE FALSE FALSE. Yes, these folks have demonstrated commitments to giving (and the means to do it!); but if your organization doesn’t already have a solid relationship with someone like this, you are competing with every other cause to solicit support. Instead, focus on individuals who already give to your organization or have connections to members of your board of directors.
- Prospect Profiles have every detail about a prospect, including their bank account balances, family quarrels, favorite colors and what they ate for dinner last night. Researchers can find everything about everyone!
Again, false. Profiles are crafted based on data collected from your organization’s donor database, background knowledge from someone on staff who may know the individual, and information in the public record. The degree to which information is available is also based on how much of an individual’s life is public. Does this person work for a publicly-traded company? If the answer is no, there may be little information about their salary history and securities. Does this person have a common name? If so, a researcher is limited in their ability to confirm giving history. Some people are very good at keeping their personal lives (and assets) private. If a development officer has biological information about a donor that isn’t included in the profile, they should by all means provide the additional details to the researcher and just as importantly, update the donor database. Anecdotal information is invaluable! Researchers use art and science to fill in the blanks to create a profile that is a general picture showing lifestyle, estimated capacity, likelihood of giving and a connection to your organization.
- Research is only relevant for high net worth individuals or donors who have given large gifts to your organization.
Yes, these are important folks to know; but think about donors who have been giving $500 or $1,000 per year for the last ten consecutive years. These may be individuals who, although are not millionaires, are deeply committed to your mission and could very well have the capacity to give more. The only ways to find out are to connect with the donor and through research. This type of research may not need to be as in depth, but it can be an important step in your ability to build the relationship. A batch wealth screening is also a way to filter these types of constituents to see if there are any surprises in outside giving or level of wealth.
- I don’t need a dedicated researcher. I can just Google or buy a screening tool. It only takes a few minutes to screen a donor.
Research is an investment. You can Google your donors or purchase a screening tool; but at the end of the day, the ability to confirm and synthesize the data takes experience and quite frankly (a lot) of time. Don’t get me wrong, screening tools are incredibly helpful but they still require manipulation to show the full picture.
- The more information you provide to a researcher about a prospect or donor, the better!
True!!! By providing a full name (spelled correctly!) and home address, in addition to anything else you may know about the individual (profession, alma mater, spouse’s name, birth date or age range), you are providing valuable information that the researcher can use to dig even deeper and save time. There’s nothing more frustrating than wasting time searching for Jane Smith when, in fact, you really should be researching Jane Smythe. In research, details count!
Some of these may come as a surprise and others may seem like common knowledge. If your organization could use a little help separating fact from myth in the world of research, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!