6 Reasons Why Real Estate Matters to the Savvy Prospect Researcher

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?)

[Read more…]

You really should get out more

Strong wind blows the clothes hung on the clotheslineYou need to spring clean your brain – really air it out and get new, fresh ideas in. At least, I know I do. This time of year, I start itching to get out and meet people and learn lots of new things. It’s always worth it when I make the effort.

[Read more…]

Why wealth screenings are a waste of money

Money down the drain

“Yes, we did a wealth screening a couple of years ago. We didn’t really find it very helpful.” <pause>

“Well, to be honest, we didn’t really do anything with the information when it came back. It just kind of sat there.”

If I had a twenty for every time someone said that to me I’d be making major gifts already.

It absolutely kills me, too, because wealth screenings

     a) are not cheap, and

     b) can be worth every single penny.

[Read more…]

What your capital campaign plan is missing

There’s a critical piece of information missing from most capital campaign feasibility studies:

          The amount of money an organization’s constituency can actually give.

We need the answer to that before we can set the goal, right?

And yet… most of the time nonprofit organizations launch their campaigns without knowing the full answer to that question. They wait until after they’ve launched to finally get all the pieces in place. Which seems kind of crazy to me.

[Read more…]

What do you say?


Counter to what you’ve probably been thinking, I do have more to do than simply wax philosophic about what it means to be a provider of fundraising intelligence. I do sometimes go on a bit when I get passionate about a topic, and I realize that my last few blog posts have been heavy on the forty thousand feet and light on, well, the feet.

[Read more…]

Welcome Heather to HBG!

It is with great pleasure that we welcome our newest team member, Heather Willis. Heather was one of the first people I trained when I began my consulting business and I have always been impressed by her intelligence, professionalism and can-do attitude. Heather’s background in prospect research includes working for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and for Carroll College. For the past seven years, Heather had been a freelance researcher and owner of her own company, Willis Research Services in Buffalo, Montana.

We’re delighted that Heather is joining our team and are excited about the addition of talents she brings to our Group and our clients.

You’ve Got A Secret…

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…

More, Ben Franklin and Prospect Research

The creative fundraising folks at More Partnership in the UK recently put together a small book called More stories, which is the “first in a series of little books about fundraising.”  I hope they put out another little book soon because its 32 pages delighted and entertained me with inspiring and amusing stories on fundraising (just wait ‘til you read the one about the doctor, the lawyer and the development director at the Pearly Gates!).

One of the quotes in the book really hit home for me because it dovetailed nicely with a conversation I’d just had earlier this week…

The executive director of a nonprofit in New York City and I were meeting over coffee.  She asked me how we go about finding board, volunteer and major giving prospects, and I outlined the concentric circles we study:

Starting with those closest to the organization (trustees, lead volunteers, etc.) we work our way outward through their branches of connection, so that the people, foundations and companies we identify already have a clear connection to the organization or to the cause they serve.  We eliminate those who have been previously involved or were asked to serve but could not.  We build a model of the ideal prospect, and see what obvious connections can be branched from there.  And, of course, we do a few other trade-secret-y things.

Our process is hand-tailored and intense because we believe that one warm call that will be answered is much easier for a fundraiser to make than 15 cold calls.  And if it can’t be a warm call, then we suggest one where the potential attraction is so obvious that it has the power to lean the prospect like a magnet toward the new cause.

Reading this quote from Ben Franklin, I was struck by the thought that, even 220 years later, the important things stay the same.

HBG grows!

Last week I had the pleasure of welcoming two new colleagues into the Helen Brown Group.  The fundraising world being as small as it is, you never know when you’re going to have the opportunity to work with someone again, and it’s certainly true for me with both Andrea Marks and Maureen Kilcommins.

Andrea Marks

Andrea Marks

I first worked with Andrea Marks ten years ago at Northeastern University when she was just starting out in prospect research.  Bilingual and a cum laude graduate of Boston University in international relations, Andrea was quick to understand the value of research in fundraising and its global possibilities.  Soon graduate school called her, and after receiving an MBA degree specializing in international business and marketing, Andrea worked for three multi-nationals and an NGO managing their payrolls.  I’m delighted that we were able to entice Andrea back into prospect research, and happy to have her international research and language skills.

Maureen Kilcommins

Maureen Kilcommins

Maureen Kilcommins and I have worked together for the last ten years in support of the North American Foundation for the University of Manchester (NAFUM), England.  Previously Maureen worked as director of prospect research and management for Bentley University and as director of annual and special gifts for UC-Santa Cruz and associate director of the Harvard Law School Fund.  Maureen’s experience in research, front-line fundraising and operations brings a triumvirate of value for our clients looking for advice in those areas.  Maureen will continue in her role as North American administrator for both NAFUM and Sightsavers and will work with HBG on a part-time basis.

Welcome Andrea and Maureen!

17 questions to ask before hiring a research consultant

The Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII) has curated a group of great articles on how to be an effective partner with consultants in our sector.  As a riff on Alison McCants’ great web article sharing her experience, I thought I’d add some questions to ask before engaging a research consultant:

  1. What resources do you use?
  2. Do you purchase them yourself?
  3. How often do you attend continuing education courses to keep up with the latest resources and trends?
  4. Do you teach any training courses?
  5. What types of organizations have you worked for?
  6. What kinds of reports do you provide?
  7. How much do they cost?
  8. May I see samples of your work?
  9. How long does it usually take for you to complete a report?
  10. May I speak with three current/recent clients?
  11. What is your privacy/confidentiality policy? (Thanks to Jen Filla for that one!)

Ask a consultant’s references:

  1. How easy is this consultant to work with?
  2. Do they provide good customer service when something goes wrong?
  3. Do they deliver research when promised?
  4. How do you feel about the quality of what you receive?
  5. Is their work good value for the price?
  6. Are they innovative?

Do you have more questions to add?