Web Search Strategies: Traits of Great Researchers

DNAHow do you know if there’s researcher potential within you? Nearly every time someone interviews me about prospect research, they ask me “what are the key components of a great prospect researcher?” Here is where I start:

  1. Natural curiosity
  2. Tenacity, paired with…
  3. The ability to know when to stop

These, I think are the top three. The first, natural curiosity, I like to describe in this way:

Imagine a group of friends sitting at a restaurant. As the conversation passes from one topic to another, there is invariably a question no one can remember the answer to (like “Where were the 1966 World Cup finals played?”). A natural researcher is the person at the table who gets twitchy and can’t move on until they’ve pulled out their smart phone and looked it up.

Tenacity, to me, is not just stick-to-it-iveness. It’s the ability to follow the bread crumbs up the stairs of the path – you may be huffing and puffing through the effort, but it’s worth it to get to the top. For example:

A colleague I am training is researching a gentleman who recently made a very large gift to the athletics program at his alma mater. His name is not distinctively unusual, and no information was provided about his profession or where he resides. The university supplied that he serves on its athletic council. Here are the first few bread crumbs that she uses to find more information about him:
- His name (in both long and short format), is entered in the search box on the university’s main website, the athletics department web page, and two search engines (both with and without the university’s name, and with and without the city name).
- The name of the university, the name of the athletics council, and the words “roster,” “list,” or “members” are entered into the same search boxes.

Each time a new sliver of information comes up, she tracks it down. She finds which sport he donated to, and uses that information to craft her searches. She discovers that he attends every game, so she gathers that he’s probably local to the college. That moves her toward a regional search. It’s a painstaking process, but she will come across a clear path, or decide when it’s time to move on.

Knowing When To Say When

It’s a tough call, that “knowing when to stop” thing. Sometimes you don’t want to give up the search – you’re convinced that the information is out there somewhere. When you get to that point, that’s when you have to stop – either to give your brain a chance to work it out subconsciously, or to just move on to the next prospect because you just don’t have the luxury of time. Set an alarm or just make a note of the time when you research.

Here at HBG, we stop after an hour if we’re hitting a brick wall. We call our client to let them know that it may not be worth it to continue, to see if they have any further intelligence that will help us, and to ask if it’s okay if we write up what we’ve found so far.

Which brings me to characteristic number four…

4. The ability to write clearly, concisely, and compellingly

It’s not all about the research. A great prospect researcher needs to be able to gather, synthesize, and communicate the most relevant pieces of information that will enable fundraisers to do their jobs well.

5. A team player

Finally, a great researcher is excited about their organization’s mission, and about sharing what they know to help further that mission. They are interested in continuing their own education so that they grow personally and remain a key player. Finally, they seek to understand their organization’s goals (fundraising, programmatic, strategic, organizational), and are a key intelligence advisor based on their knowledge of these areas.

That’s my list! What are the characteristics that you think make up a good researcher?

The Boys of Summer

Back View of Baseball Player

For some folks it’s Gershwin’s “Summertime” performed by the incomparable Ella. For others it’s James Taylor’s “Summer’s Here.”

For me, it’s always been “The Boys of Summer.” From the opening beats and guitar riffs, I’m instantly sucked back to a hot cloudless day driving in a Mustang by the ocean singing with my friend and Don Henley at the tops of our voices. Don was unable to physically make that gig, but let me tell you, he missed a good one.

I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun. You’ve got your hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby.

What pulls you instantly back to summer when red and gold leaves, or snowflakes, are falling? Is it a song? A scent? A flavor? [Read more...]

Effective Web Searching – social media search tips

Are you including social media searching as part of your prospect research?

Today’s blog post is a slide show featuring some tips and tricks for getting the most out of searching Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Make sure to turn your speakers up if you’re solo (or plug in your headphones) and click on the little speaker in the center of each slide to listen to the audio.

Let me know if you have found other ways to search these great resources!

Having trouble viewing the presentation in this window? Go here:http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/HelenBrownGroup-2204575-searching-social-media-helen-brown-group/

iPad and iDevice users: I’m sorry – The audio may not work for you. It’s a Flash thing, apparently. Come back later and view this post on a laptop or desktop.

The Field Guide to Efficient Searching

Let’s just dive right in, shall we? Here are my top five tips for efficient web searching.

Tip #1: Use Quotation Marks

Bing Council on Foreign Relations

If you want to get the best results for an exact name or phrase, always put your search string in quotes. This works really well for names, for example, of a person or an organization.

Searching on Bing for Council on Foreign Relations got me 18,700,000 hits. Searching for “Council on Foreign Relations” narrowed down the hit count to a mere two million.

This might not matter when you’re searching for something like the COFR, but what if you’re looking for a name? [Read more...]

Web search overview: Three Key Things Everyone Needs to Know

farm gate

Web searching can be a lot like hiking. Sometimes it’s a pristine path along the coast with stunning views over the channel, other times it’s a bracken-laden jungle where you can’t even see your feet. I’ve been on both kinds of paths, and I much prefer the former. [Read more...]

Search Strategies – The hunt begins


I admit that sometimes I cringe a little bit when I watch [some] other people search.

Not all people, mind you. Not professional (and natural-born) researchers. I actually love seeing how they search differently than me – the terms they use and how they use search engines and deep-web sources. I always learn something. It’s fun to share techniques and watch them get from point A to point B efficiently. [Read more...]

Looking Homeward

Old SouthI went back to the place where I got my first job in fundraising last weekend. Luckily for me, it was also my alma mater.

My college degree was in English Literature and I just loved researching and writing papers. But after I graduated from Carolina I took a job with a catering company that provided low-cal meals for a clinical diet and fitness center. (To this day, I can remember how many calories are in a third of a cup of corn…half an apple…a piece of pita…)

At 22, I was still trying to work out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and since I’d been a waitress and sous-chef to help pay for college, catering worked while I figured things out. [Read more...]

The Fair, the handwriting analysis booth, and relationship management

Handwriting analysisWhen I was a kid, we went to the Bloomsburg Fair every year, rain or shine. The Fair has been a magical place for generations of kids (no matter their age) and a place of hope as well. It’s been held in late September since 1855, and hundreds of thousands of people come every year for miles around, making it the biggest fair in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

It’s an agricultural/exhibit fair, and my mom tells me that during the Great Depression, many folks relied (some fairly desperately) on winning cash prizes for things they grew, bottled, jarred, knitted, sewed and showed at the Fair. Slightly more recently, the Bloomsburg Fair was the place where Taylor Swift made her concert debut. So I suppose it’s always been a place where dreams (and money) are made.

Every year as we [Read more...]

Ratings: What happens when you drop a prospect status ball

prospect management processKeeping track of one or two major gift prospects isn’t too difficult, but when there are scores of donors you need a system to make sure that no one gets forgotten.

Imagine your horror to discover that a loyal donor [Read more...]

Ratings – Measuring inclination

Dirt Bikers Giving High Five During JumpIn fundraising when we are trying to measure how close a prospective donor feels to our organization or cause we call it their inclination to give (or to be involved as a volunteer). Sometimes it’s also described as a prospective donor’s affinity or interest.

[Read more...]