In late June, the HBG team hosted Natalie Westfall, a nine-year research veteran and a member of the steering committee of Researchers in Fundraising (RiF) in the United Kingdom. Over Natalie’s 10-day visit, we collaborated on projects, did several show-and-tell sessions with the different resources we each use, and discussed the similarities and differences of prospect research in the US and UK.
One of the similarities we found was the issue of how prospect researchers can be front-and-center in the fundraising operation – true strategy partners. We’re delighted to present some of Natalie’s insight on the topic here.
Prospect Researchers: going beyond the ‘Who’
The Prospect Research specialism has come a long way in its relatively short life; from books to the internet and (hopefully!) a departure from the familiar request that haunts every prospect researcher: ‘can you just Google this person for me?’
These advancements and the desire to add greater value, have in recent years, seen a prospect researcher’s skill set widen beyond traditional research to more advanced data analysis, and using insight from their research to help shape strategic fundraising plans.
I really like this simple flow chart and have used it in a number of planning documents to illustrate how much additional value can be added if the Prospect Research function is allowed to go beyond producing pieces of pure research.
- Build relationships
This sounds a bit obvious I know, but if we asked ourselves honestly how much time we spend building relationships with people outside our team we’d probably say very little. The problem with this is that we aren’t spreading the word about we can do, or how our work can impact on other areas of fundraising. If you find yourself stuck in a corner, try hot desking and moving around the office; talk to different people and as they become aware of what you can do and how much knowledge you have, you’ll find them asking all sorts of questions! Integration helps build trust with colleagues who may then ask your advice on other fundraising matters.
- Be your own best advocate
It’s easier said than done but try to lose the fear of being wrong and ‘get an opinion’. It’s something we, as prospect researchers, are known to struggle with but if you think you have something valuable to say, then share it!
I’m going to risk the next point and say its ok to say ‘no’ sometimes. If you value your work and your time then others will too. If you think your next hour is better spent gleaning useful insight from a report to share with a group rather than completing a full profile for a fundraiser who doesn’t really need it today, then say so, but be sure to back up your view with good reason!
- Get involved
If you get an invitation for a creative session, try to find the time to go along. It’s a great opportunity to show others how you convert information into ideas and actions. You might bring a different perspective to everyone else and therefore demonstrate the added value you can bring to discussions. You are no longer just a Googler but an idea genius!
- Engage people
Think about how you present information to others – not everyone is going to engage with a full profile, however brilliant and detailed it is. Try adding some visuals to your work and use language common to the rest of your fundraising operation. If you can engage people in your work in a way that interests them, you are more likely to get a positive response and build trust. They may just remember your meeting the next time they are putting a project group together.
- Find some time
This can be difficult especially if you work alone but try to find time to talk through your research with your fundraisers to help them understand the wider value of your skills and knowledge, and if you can, offer to get involved in any team strategy planning sessions, again you can share your wider skills and add greater value to the fundraising operation.
Be bold and you shall prosper…