The Intelligent Edge by Helen Brown

Archive for the ‘Research Tips and Timesavers’ Category

6 Reasons Why Real Estate Matters to the Savvy Prospect Researcher


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Driveway of Traditional Craftsman HouseEvery so often, the topic of “Should we or shouldn’t we include real estate as one of the factors we use to determine a prospective donor’s gift capacity” comes up in the prospect research community.

Some folks have this logic: “Well, our prospective major donor is never going to give us their house (or sell their house and give us the money), therefore we shouldn’t include it.”

Which is absolutely true. (<stage whisper>: I won’t mention “planned gift” at this point, okay?)


They are never going to sell their yacht, their plane, or their horses just to make a donation, either. They probably won’t liquidate their art collection, or the diamonds, or that fur they wore to the benefit. The privately-held company they own will remain unsold. Likewise the stock options that don’t convert for another 5 years.

So we should disqualify those assets, too, right?

You can’t pick and choose. If you select one non-liquid asset to take off the table, you have to take all of them. Figuring out someone’s gift capacity is hard enough to begin with. Purposefully handicapping yourself makes absolutely no sense to me.


Real estate certainly isn’t the be-all-end-all, but like all of those other assets I mentioned, it’s an indicator of wealth. So, #1, it’s information. In a realm where anything concrete is already in short enough supply.

But if that’s not enough, here are five more reasons why real estate is important to consider:

2. Real estate is a green flag. When I’m trying to find new prospects in a group of regular donors I may pass over someone who lives in a $850,000 home in San Francisco, but I’m definitely not going to pass over a donor who has a $850,000 condo in Aspen. I’m now going to search for their primary residence.

3. 100% of the world’s high net worth individuals (HNWI) own real estate. And for the more privacy-aware amongst them, real estate is sometimes the ONLY hard asset we can find for them. Knowing what kind of real estate they own gives you clues into the type of personality they are, how they may want to be cultivated, and what philanthropic investments may interest them. The billionaire who owns a 12-bedroom party house on Miami Beach is very different from the one living in a three-bedroom ranch in Omaha. Real estate gives you clues that they may be a good prospect for naming opportunities with big splashy events or funding boots-on-the-ground clinics for vaccine delivery and student scholarships.

4. We can use real estate for estimates. According to the CapGemini World Wealth Report 2013, real estate accounted for 20% on average of a HNWI’s total assets globally. (In the US, it’s 13.5% of total assets; in Europe it’s 27%). Even if all you can find is someone’s real estate holdings you can still come up with a fairly decent guesstimate of their total assets with that one ratio.

5. Super rich owners of real estate are re-shaping our cities. We need to be aware of who these movers and shakers are, and see if they’re among our constituents. According to a recent report by Savills, “Around 3%, or US$5.3 trillion, of the world’s total real estate value is owned directly by 200,000 of the wealthiest individuals (0.003% of the global population). These private owners are also very active in real estate that is held indirectly, through private companies and other entities, making them increasingly central to traded investable property…Around 35% of global big ticket deals (US$10 million-plus) in 2012 were only possible because of private funding. The behaviour of private wealth has the power to transform cities.” Would you want to miss knowing about one of those titans and how influential they are in your town?

6. Planned giving. There, I’ve said it. Let’s say you work at a college and you’ve got childless husband-and-wife alumni with a condo in Vermont, a vacation home at Los Sueños in Costa Rica and a primary residence in Boston’s Back Bay. They’re consistent donors and lifelong volunteers. You bet the planned giving officer needs to know about them. And in this case, it’s not only the real estate that’s interesting, but also what it tells us about them. Here is an active, outdoorsy couple who possibly enjoy golf, tennis and skiing. A pair that enjoys regular seasonal travel, but whose lifestyle may require extra cultivation time because they are not in town very often.


I know you’re dying to ask, so yes, here at HBG we do include primary residence in our total visible wealth calculations on profiles.

We believe it’s an asset.

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3 Ways to Build a Great “Gold Guide”


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Easter Egg HuntProspect researchers tend to grab great information sources with the zeal of kids let loose onto the lawn of the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll.  

And for good reason: well-curated information sources are really interesting and offer valuable time-savings. Especially because (for most of us, anyway) the pile of pending research requests is always a foot high.

Sources can range from compensation in the private equity industry to how many staff the rich need to hire for each mansion or yacht they own. Conferences where the rich and powerful hang out and discuss world business like Davos and Bilderberg. Or places where they hide out (or just hide out their money).

I’m not talking about just a list of websites that you check off when you do research. A great Gold Guide is the kind of thing you may even bind portions of to share with new fundraising staff members. For example, how about a chapter based on this segmentation:

“x% of our alumni are attorneys working in mergers and acquisitions. Here’s what their networks and compensation structures look like.” Wouldn’t that be a great chapter for a newly hired fundraiser to see on their chair on Day 1?

Taken together, a good collection can help a fundraising team work faster and smarter.

I’ve been privy to several “Gold Guides” and my team and I have helped a fair number of organizations create their own. It’s been my experience that a well-crafted guide of research sources gives a fundraising team a substantial advantage.

Do you have a Gold Guide?

Here are a few ideas to help you build your own guide or refine the one you’ve got:

Keep An Easy-to-Access Daily Research List

For my own purposes, I have a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Month/year found
  • Resource name
  • URL – unless it’s a print resource, of course!
  • Description – a few words (or copied snippet of information) to remind me why I loved it
  • Tags/Keywords – allow me to search and sort

I keep the list open on my desktop for easy access throughout the day. The best of the sources I find go on our free HBG Research Resources List, added to the ones my team finds, too. We put a copy of the best whitepapers and reports on our shared server in topical, regional, or profession-specific folders. Any “Rich Lists” or “40 Under 40”-type lists we find go on our Wealth Lists page.


Empower your entire team to update and curate your list. For some shops that place might be a centrally-located paper file cabinet; for others it may be on Evernote, or a privately shared spreadsheet created on Google Drive.

The most important thing is that your ‘Gold Guide’ gives you a space to keep and share information so that you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel.


It’s also really important to keep your treasured resources in categories where you can find them easily. Use folders, tags, and hyperlinks, and cross-reference when it makes sense. I’d rather have a copy of the same great resource in two folders rather than try to remember where I last put it.

Some categories you might want to consider keeping track of are:

  • Top co-op apartment buildings in New York City (and how much it costs to own them)
  • Planes, yachts, and collectible cars ownership
  • Horse breeding and thoroughbred ownership
  • Oil and gas rights
  • Venture capital, private equity and hedge fund deal structures
  • Information about family offices


What you decide to curate very much depends on the type of constituency you have; an art museum might decide to keep a deep reference Gold Guide on recent art auction prices, for example, but their Guide might be fairly thin on oil and gas rights information.

And finally, if you have found the most amazing resource ever and it’s updated annually – create a shared calendar for you and your team so that you never miss the latest version.

What have you got in your shop’s Gold Guide?

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Why Most Prospect Research Profiles Are Dead On Arrival

Buried treasure

Imagine that it’s 10 am on a Thursday morning and you have just discovered a new seven-figure prospect for your organization.

This prospect is an active volunteer and a recent donor.

She’s expressed a firm endorsement of your organization’s mission in the press, and she has undisputedly significant wealth.

You’re going to run down the corridor and tell everyone, right?

How? What is the first thing you’re going to say?

Will it be …

“Hey everybody! Susan Smith was born on December 15, 1958. She is the recently-retired chair of SuperMega Corporation which has sales of … She and her spouse Bob have four kids, Timmy, Becky, Mar…”

Is that what you want to lead with? Is that really your best shot?

Of course not!

You’re going to holler, “Hey everybody!! I just found us a million-dollar prospect! She loves us! She’s a volunteer! She just got $50 million from the sale of her company and retired at 55! She plays golf with the best volunteer we’ve got! She’s already a donor!



So why do most of us bury the lead in our research reports?

Most of the time prospect research profiles are written as biographical dossiers.

Vitals first, spouse and family, business and career, then the money, then the philanthropy, blah blah blah.


We can’t afford to waste our resources creating profiles that nobody reads. It’s demotivating to see our work just sitting there on the shelf, unread.

And what’s worse, if we lose peoples’ attention before they get to the good stuff in a profile, we run the risk of someone missing the best prospect that ever showed up.

Here’s What You Need to Do To Breathe Life into Your Profiles

Three tips for getting your research noticed and making it actionable:

1. Don’t bury the lead. Put the best stuff right up front, page one. Make it clear: what are the significant points busy people need to know about this prospect? Shout it out just as if you were running down the hall.

2. Go out on a limb. Have an opinion, and tell people what it is right up front. Until a prospect is met, you are the person who knows the most about them. Make it clear: why do you think a fundraiser should take action on this prospect?

3. Follow up. We’re all fundraisers, whether we work on the front-lines or behind a computer screen. We work together as partners. If you aren’t seeing action on a significant prospect-in-waiting you found, speak up! Maybe you can help research a way to involve them.

Help me on my mission to resurrect our prospect profiles!

I’m curious. What do you do to get yours noticed?


Want to listen to this article as a podcast via SoundGecko? Click here.


Four secrets for speedier prospect research


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Powerful Laptop Computer

As a fundraiser constantly on the go, sometimes it might seem like it takes a long time to get a research profile back from an in-house prospect researcher or consultant.  When you’ve got a meeting coming up or you need to prioritize your prospect pool in a hurry, I know that you really haven’t got a lot of extra time to wait.  Here are four secrets to getting information back faster from your research partner:

1. Tailor your research request to just the information you need to know. If you say, “give me detailed research on Joe Bloggs,” a researcher is probably going to throw everything they can find at you, not knowing which piece of information will resonate with you. Doing that kind of in-depth research takes a lot of time (see below). If you only need an idea of a donor’s philanthropic capacity, or to know where else they or their spouse are civically involved – just ask for the piece of information you most need. Then come back later for the rest.

2.  Tell the researcher everything you already know about the prospect. By the time you ask for research, chances are good you’ve already met the donor. That’s some great primary research you’ve got in your head and it’s critical it doesn’t get lost. Sharing what you know can cut out minutes (and sometimes hours) of a researcher’s time if they’re building on information rather than looking for what you’ve already found.

3. Be an informed consumer.  Know what you’re asking for; it will help you save time.  Research is a manual process and it takes time to find, verify, synthesize and write up a research report. If your research department has multiple templates, go with the one that best meets your needs. And if it doesn’t meet your needs, maybe it’s time to work with the research team to devise new formats.

4.  Only include people on the Forbes List in your request list.  Okay, I’m kidding – but not for the reason you think: sometimes the billionaires of the world take just as long as – or longer than – the “millionaire next door” to research because there’s so much information to wade through!  If you’re lucky enough to have a billionaire on your list, finding their capacity isn’t much work. That leaves more time to discover their interest and inclination to give to your cause and finding the right connection(s) to help with the approach. Keeping your eyes always on the top third of your portfolio (and adding in new research-identified prospects as donors give) is a key ingredient in fundraising success.

How much time does research take?

Here are some industry averages for the amount of time it takes to do top-quality research:

In-depth profile     6-8 hours     

Gift capacity rating   2-4 hours

Event briefing   1-2 hours per name/couple

So for example, to prepare for an event where briefings on the top 25 attendees will be needed, you should estimate that project will take a researcher about 3.5 days (not including breaks, meetings and interruptions). Unless of course you already store event briefings in your database, ready for printing when needed. Verifying and updating information that’s already there usually takes less time if the briefings are fairly recent.

Prospect researchers use many tools to find you the strategic information you need to qualify donors and build relationships. It’s a process that – when done well – takes time. Use these four tips to help you speed up the time it takes for you to get the research you need.

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One-stop shopping: Prospect research links


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Why reinvent the wheel? Prospect researchers the world over have created gorgeous pages of useful links to the best sites for finding information. There are more prospect research-centric pages out there, but the ones included on this list have been updated in the past year and seem to be well maintained. If you know of others please let me know by clicking on comments and sharing your favorites.

HBG’s own Research Links page

APRA Missouri-Kansas

Michigan State University Library     Prospect Research Resources

Northwestern University     Research Bookmarks

Prospecting For Gold:      Recommended Reference Sources

Stanford University Development Research

Supporting Advancement     Prospect Research tab

University of Southern California, University Advancement     Selected Sites for Development Research on the Web

University of Vermont     Prospect Research and Reference Tools

University of Virginia     Portico – Web Resources for Advancement Professionals


Other useful links


Our own great list of Wealth Lists from around the world

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Four Great Free Firefox Add-ons and a New Crush


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I spend a lot of time in my web browser, and I’ll bet you do, too. With the amount of time I spend there, I need widgets and add-ons that make my life easier and add value.I wanted to share these four time-savers and life-enhancers with you. They take just a few seconds to click and download – enjoy!

CLICK&CLEAN clickclean
Clearing your cache, cookies and browsing history is something we all know we need to do regularly, but unless you’ve clicked your settings to do this automatically, navigating through a bunch of windows to clear your cache means it doesn’t happen very often. Free add on Click&Clean lets you do it all with one easy click.

Everything you do on the web is being tracked. The pages you look at, how long you stay on each page, and where you move on to based on what you learn. Those sidebar advertisements that have the very shirt you just searched for an hour ago aren’t just a happy coincidence. As a professional researcher working with confidential data, I have to protect my client’s information. So I use Ghostery, a free add-on doesn’t allow sites to install web bugs, cookies or other tracking devices unless I exempt them. Ghostery works in the background and shows me who would have tracked me if I didn’t have it. When one of my usual go-to sites generated a list of 14 trackers and web bugs, my eyebrows nearly hit my hairline.

I love my Kindle, but sometimes it’s a real pain to get non-Amazon things on it. Enter SendToKindle, a Firefox add-in that allows you to grab blog posts, articles, and other web things onto your Kindle for easy reading when you’re on the beach, a plane, or anywhere else that doesn’t have web access…yet.

This app is called Awesome Screenshot, and if it was working perfectly at the moment it would be completely awesome. Once you load the app, Awesome Screenshot allows you one-click access to grab all or part of a web page to highlight sections, draw arrows and circles around text or pictures, blur out sensitive or confidential information, and save a copy of the image. Normally it allows you to save a copy of your work right to your hard drive, but until they upgrade it you will need to save your work at their site. You simply visit the link they provide and right-click on the image to save it. It’s a small workaround for such a great, free app. I used it to capture the screenshots of add-ins for this blog post.

You’ll have to visit HBG’s Facebook page to find out! If you’re a Google Reader or iGoogle fanatic like me (and even if you’re not), I think you’re really going to like it! (And speaking of ‘Like’ing things, why don’t you ‘Like’ our Facebook page while you’re there? We use our FB page to post quick tips, useful links and other great stuff!)

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12 Great Ideas for Prospect Research in 2013


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Resolving to make better use of prospect research in 2013 – or just interested in some new ideas for the coming year? Here are some suggestions to inspire you!

Januarybeach view

Are your organization’s fundraisers taking trips to warmer climes for events and meetings with snowbirds next month? Now’s a good time to do some simple data mining to find great prospects for fill-in visits while there.


Now is a good time to do an electronic screening of some or all of your organization’s new donors from the previous year. Which ones have the most potential to be major donor prospects? Develop a strategy to engage newly identified prospects by May.


What did your fundraising division do exceptionally well in 2012? Where do you need to do some work? Use analytics in-house, or have an independent audit done to measure last year’s fundraising/research performance. Set targets for using research throughout the year based on the priorities and needs you identify.


Tax season is here! Which of your prospects have giftable stock options? Several free and fee-based sources allow you to create alerts to keep current throughout the year on directors and executives of public companies who are required to report their stock and options holdings and sales.


obama posterTake a lesson from political fundraising: Targeted emails based on click-throughs and web usage have meant huge gains in involvement and donations during the last two presidential campaign cycles. Can you use market research techniques for prospect research purposes to discover what your annual fund donors are specifically interested in supporting?



For many educational organizations, June is the time to research parents of incoming students. How well do your data transfer systems integrate for ease of access to allowed information? Do you have a plan to manage this time-sensitive research? Create a process document for this important activity so that your best practices are repeated every year.

Julyrevere old north

This is the month to declare independence from all of the prospects in your tracking system that have not budged (despite your best efforts) on the pipeline in the past year. All of the great new prospects you identified back in February should now be in your relationship management system. Draw up plans for new ways to engage them in the fall.


The beautiful waterfront of Baltimore, Maryland will be the location for the annual conference of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement on August 7-10. The APRA conference is the place to be for prospect researchers and front-line fundraisers who want to learn cutting edge techniques and resources. Come prepared to learn – this is a no-fluff conference, and every aspect of research is covered, from the ABC’s through complex algorithms.


Back to school means making sure you have up-to-date information on your very top prospects, and on all of the new prospects you’ve identified over the year. Get ready now for those year-end solicitations so you’re not faced with a December research profile queue crush.


Find creative ways to use social media and relationship mapping to identify potential board members and other top volunteers. Who amongst your constituents have high Klout scores? Which ones are hubs on a relationship map? Find and use tools that help you pinpoint influencers who can be advocates and help you engage with a new circle of donors.

party balloons1November

Does your organization put on a lot of events this time of year? If event briefings are part of the research priorities that you set back in March, now may be the time to update your event briefing template(s) and policies for information access – not overload. Plan now so that the right people are getting the right amount of information on time and within budget.



Before you renew research subscriptions for the coming year, take a look at the fundraising operating plan and talk with colleagues about priorities ahead. Will the chief fundraising officer be traveling internationally to meet with donors? Maybe it’s time to look into international research resources, training, or outsourcing options. Are you about to launch a campaign? You might need to budget for screenings or analytics now.

What resources will you need to be successful next year? Great success with prospect research is all about being prepared. Happy New Year!

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Ten tips for a successful wealth screening


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You may remember a few months ago I talked about how Brown University got a 500% return on the proactive research they did for the Boldly Brown campaign.  One part of that was successfully integrating the results of several wealth screenings that they did.

Because some of the vendors are offering database screenings at a deep discount this quarter, a number of our clients are taking advantage of the savings … which means that it’s screening analysis season here at HBG!

Andrea, Jennifer and Maureen have been collaborating closely as a unit and with our clients on these screenings, and I’ve been really interested as I listen to them share ideas over lunch or at our afternoon tea breaks.

There’s a lot of delight and excitement when a screening is returned, but also some regret when they find an opportunity that was missed.

What I hear from their conversations underscores that how you approach a screening really makes a difference in the end result.

So I thought I’d ask them to share their top tips for making the most of an electronic screening so that we can all boost our return on screenings to Brown proportions.  If you have more tips to share with readers, we’d love for you to add them!

From Andrea:

I’ve become a big fan of wealth screenings lately.  I’d say my top three tips are:

  • Include as much information as possible: middle initials and spouse names are particularly important in helping save time later.
  • Don’t trust the database’s judgment: verify everything! Screenings are a good jumping off point but the human element of analysis is important.
  • Once the data is returned, try several different sorts to see if there are any trends.  I generally start to look for patterns sorting by confirmed assets, then by identified assets and filtering by state, zip, and past giving.  It’s really interesting what you can find!


From Jennifer:

  • Pay particular attention to high net worth individuals in New York City – chances are if they own a co-op apartment that the entire co-op building is being counted in their assets.
  • Cleaning the data beforehand is well worth the time investment. Fix any typos and check to be sure addresses are consistently entered – bad data is the #1 way why matches aren’t made. Time spent on this in advance can save lots of time (which is money!!) confirming later.
  • Don’t include anyone that only has a PO Box address.  Either leave them out or find their street address.


From Maureen:

  • Purchase an address update (NCOA) as part of the screening if you haven’t done one recently – a significant match point for assets is address.
  • If your budget is tight, don’t waste it on screening donors that you already know well.
  • Depending on the size of your screening, make sure to allocate at least one staff member to do the analysis when the results are returned.  Screenings are expensive and you don’t want the results to just sit there gathering dust.
  • Don’t screen if you don’t have the front-line fundraising staff to follow up on the leads that are produced.  Be strategic in the number of prospects that you screen and consider doing rolling screenings.
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For fundraisers working with a research team…


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Are you sometimes waiting (and waiting!) to have research requests completed for you? Or getting completed research *after* the visit? Frustrating, isn’t it? Wish you had a way to get your research requests done first? It can’t work all the time, but there is a way…

I read a blog post by Rajesh Setty the other day called “Help is on the way.*” Setty’s an entrepreneur consultant and writes for the business market. It’s not long, and it’s worth a read if you have time. If you don’t have time now, here’s my interpretation of what he wrote with regard to prospect research in a typical mid-to-large size development office:

Generally speaking, good help is scarce because:
• People that are good at their jobs are busy becoming even better at their jobs.
• People gravitate toward people who are good at their jobs and ask them to help with their projects …
• …which makes people that are good at their jobs even busier…
• …which makes good help even more scarce.

So what do these good, busy people do to cope with the increased requests for help? Setty writes:

1. They eliminate meaningless requests.

2. They eliminate requests that were made because the requester was lazy.

3. They eliminate requests that don’t deserve to be fulfilled.

4. They eliminate requests that are not meaningful to them.

They look at the remaining requests and choose the ones that will provide the highest ROI for their investment of time…[T]he odds change significantly depending on ‘who you are’ to them. If you are someone special to them, the terms and conditions section suddenly disappears.

The objective decision making walks out of the door replaced by subjective decision making in your favor.

Prospect researchers don’t usually have the discretion to eliminate requests for reports.  Normally it’s first come, first served… unless your job title gives you the cachet to jump the queue.  Requests – both worthy and worthless – pile up.  One person’s request for a full profile on a donor prospect they are merely curious about means that another’s truly hot prospect briefing goes further down the list. 

Would a researcher prefer to work with a major gift officer that actively sought visits with prospects that that researcher identified for them?  Sure.  Might that MGO’s requests mysteriously move higher in the research queue from time to time?  Mayyybe.

Would a prospect researcher work harder for a front-line fundraiser that came by their desk and said “Let me tell you about the great meeting I just had with that prospect you researched for me!!”  Absolutely.  Might that person’s requests mysteriously gain helium in the research queue from time to time?  Mayyybe.

I know that I’ve done it.  I worked with a fundraiser who made a fill-in appointment based on a gut feeling I had about a prospect I’d found.  I knew the prospect had their own privately-held company and there were rumors the company was going IPO in the next six months, but that’s about all I had.  Still, the fundraiser honored my gut feeling and set up the discovery meeting.  That act of faith (and the subsequent major gift donation of stock – I’m not kidding – yay!) forged a great researcher/fundraiser team that communicated often from then on.  I will admit to moving that fundraiser’s requests slightly higher in the queue from time to time because we were a team that was making things happen.

Research – good research – is a time-consuming job, and we all only have so much time.  All of us want our work to be for something – to know that what we do has meaning.  If you don’t have a fancy title after your name, consider internal stewardship to jump the queue.  You’re a fundraiser, after all.  You know all about relationship building.

You’ve Got A Secret…


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So let’s say you want to email a password-protected document to someone.  Or give them access to the back end of your website.  You need to send them the password to open it …but what if they’re half a world away, sound asleep?  Or they’re in a meeting, or just unavailable to take your phone call?  Emailing the word itself just isn’t a secure option, even if you are using your super duper top-secret spy subject-line code:

Trust me, the bad guys are going to figure it out – if they want to hack the document or your website, that would be the first email they’d look at.  And this is the second:

So here’s what you do:

Use a secret sharer.

One Time Secret

One Time Secret does just that – it allows you to share a secret just once.  It can be a word or a phrase that you want, or the site will generate a random password for you.  Just type in the word or phrase, click “Create A Secret Link” and an encrypted link is generated that you can cut and paste into an email.  You can set the period of time for the secret to expire – so when your secret is opened by your authorized person, it automatically disappears and can’t be accessed again.  Likewise, if it doesn’t get accessed within the allotted time, poof – it’s erased.


QuickForget does all the same things that One Time Secret does, but your secret doesn’t have to disappear after the first viewing.  So if you need to send the secret to more than one person, you can choose the number of ‘views’ the secret has as well as the number of hours it’s available for viewing.  There’s a handy email-it feature, too… (*cough*) as long as you don’t go with their suggested subject line…

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