Mark Noll, AVP of Research and Development Services at the University of Rhode Island started a conversation earlier this week in an article titled “Why Capacity Ratings are Bunk and What You Can Do About It.” In the post, Noll discusses the difficulties of assigning an accurate capacity rating to prospects. There’s just too much we prospect researchers – and frontline fundraisers – will never know about the totality of someone’s assets and their liabilities. Noll provides a solid lesson on what actually goes into a capacity rating. And what is logically missing.
Research veteran (and superhero) Mark Egge continued the conversation in a follow up riff called “Capacity Ratings Are Actually Small Sedans.” His response highlights a flaw in the expectations of some frontline fundraisers who may not be aware of the product they are “purchasing” from a prospect researcher.
To wildly paraphrase (and with apologies for doing so), Egge says “Look, what fundraisers *want* from a capacity rating is the equivalent of a Boeing 747. It’s big, shiny, sleek, and it flies. And there’s a pilot or two thrown in for free.
But what we researchers can actually provide is a sedan. A Volvo, maybe. It’s reliable, gets you through deep snow and on time, but it’s totally unsexy – compared to a 747. Oh, and you have to pump your own gas.”
In following this discussion and nodding my head in many parts, I’d like to add some comments and questions of my own for your consideration:
– Do frontline fundraisers actually *need* the prospect research equivalent of a 747 from us – a completely dead-accurate capacity rating – in order to be successful at their jobs?
– Or, do they wish for something that can never exist, such as – for example – donors that always say yes?
And did anyone ever start a rumor that donors always say yes? Is there even a remote expectation that donors will always say yes?
No, of course not. Because if so, frontline fundraisers aren’t very good at their jobs. Donors say yes approximately… what percent of the time? Think about your organization’s major gift ask accuracy rate. Is it 100%? Is is even close?
So who started this silly idea that it’s possible to provide an accurate capacity rating when it’s just not? Because most researchers aren’t stupid, or stubborn, or willfully hiding valuable information.
How do we mitigate – no, fix – this problem of unrealistic expectations?
Mark Egge points out two key solutions:
- While many experienced researchers can provide enough information to inform a reasonable capacity estimate, determining ratings and ask amounts is a team effort. That team consists of the researcher, the frontline fundraiser, and any volunteer that knows the prospective donor well. A collaborative effort with data points from three experts informing the best answer.
- It is our responsibility as researchers (and the supervisors of researchers, and enlightened frontline fundraiser/advocates) to explain often, consistently, and clearly exactly what answers researchers are able to provide.
If frontline fundraisers have unrealistic expectations of our products, then in many ways it’s our own fault. We’re not doing our job by accurately describing the goods we have for sale. We sell Volvos. And there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re great safety-conscious vehicles that don’t purport or dream to be race cars. Capacity rating perfection exists only in our dreams. Like donors that give 100% of the time. Trust me, all of us would love both things.
I’d like to add a third point, which is this:
- We have to have each others’ backs. If you’re a researcher, your work represents my profession’s abilities, and mine yours. Because when a fundraiser at another shop reads a profile, they assume “This is the best prospect research can do.” And if that same fundraiser comes to your workplace 18 months from now (and they will…), don’t you want them to start their first day already assuming you will be a critical partner for them to work with? If so, pay it forward.
And if you’re a fundraiser, tell us what you know that will contribute to a more accurate capacity rating. We’re all in this together.
Collaborate. Educate. Represent.
What do you think about all of this?