A few weeks ago, I had the lovely opportunity to sit down at Work & Play in South Orange, New Jersey, with local fundraising consultant Hannah Zollman, founder and principal of Mission Driven Fundraising, and talk all things prospect research from her point of view as a fundraiser. Here are a few snippets of our conversation:
BS: What do you consider to be the major benefits of prospect research for fundraisers and your clients?
HZ: Development is all about relationships. Before you ask for any gift, you want to educate yourself. Prospect research can help you ground the conversation as you begin and continue the cultivation process. Authenticity is important, not just chasing dollars. You are building relationships to sustain the future of your organization. As you learn and build the relationships, it is so valuable to understand where the individual gives and how they are connected to your organization and your greater community. Research can then give you this information and also indicate propensity and capacity – how much to ask for, when and how.
BS: I know you’ve done your share of prospect research. What are some of your favorite tools to use yourself?
HZ: I find Zillow to be really helpful for real estate assets. Weddings and obituaries are great for discovering biographical information and family ties. Also, I often use Google searches of the prospect’s name and “board of” to see where they serve as trustees and advocates of other organizations. And for foundations, I use the Foundation Center’s Foundation Directory Online (which is now in partnership with Guidestar and under the new name Candid).
BS: Building on how you have used research in the past, can you share a success story that can be linked back to prospect research?
HZ: Definitely. I worked for an organization who had a volunteer with no prior giving history. One day, the volunteer dropped off a check for $25,000. This was the organization’s largest gift at that time. Of course, I immediately began researching the donor to find out more about her. Unfortunately, she had no giving history in the public record, but she did have a public Facebook profile and I was able to learn a lot about her, her family, and her lifestyle. This detective work enabled me to continue cultivating her and led to securing even larger gifts in the future. Research matters.
BS: Those stories are always so fun to hear – and are so rewarding for the person doing the exploration. You work with many clients who are new to fundraising and those building new programs. What are some of the important takeaways that you hope your clients will understand about prospect research?
HZ: Whether you do it yourself or hire someone else to do it for you, research is worth the investment! It helps to qualify prospects and focus time and energy when there are tons of other shiny objects to distract you. That being said, establishing the proper systems and processes for prospect and donor management is critical, especially when developing your cultivation plan and tracking who initiates contact with whom when small shops are so reliant on board members and volunteers.
I always love talking about fundraising with other respected and knowledgeable professionals in the field. If you’ve enjoyed Hannah’s insights and are interested in learning more about what either of us can do to help your organization strengthen its relationships and meet (or exceed!) its fundraising goals, please reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.