You 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.
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.
I think it’s easy to get frustrated with assumptions that some front-line fundraisers have about prospect research. On the one hand, we researchers want people to see us as a resource. Indispensable. That we have (or can get) all the answers. Fast.
As a personality type, we tend to be diligent and dogged sorts of people – we generally can’t rest until we find the answer. We learn Boolean logic. We use databases that give us reliable answers. We get faster at it and we’re proud of our agility and reliability.
But that can foster an assumption that research profiles just appear (poof!) with the push of a button. Or that full profiles only take a couple of hours to do.
As a colleague at the APRA conference said two weeks ago, “Research profiles take two hours to do just like a major gift takes 18 months to get.”
They have no idea what we do all day…
A few months ago I did a training session – an introduction to prospect research – for a development team at a mid-sized nonprofit that had no researcher. I asked them to give me the name of one of their donors that they’d recently researched using the big search engine. They were feeling pretty confident that it had turned up everything there was to find about their Mr. Smith.
I admit, I just love the ooohs and the aaahs that always generates. Then I showed them a few other fee-based resources we use. Deep web, pay-wall, give-me-the-serious-411 kinds of resources.
“Wow, that’s a lot of information. It must take you forever to visit all these sites and pull together a profile on someone” said the director of major gifts.
…and we have no idea what they do.
But before we researchers start feeling too smug here, let me just say that we make a lot of assumptions, too, about what fundraisers do all day. The good ones make it look easy – but it’s a lot of hard work and it takes longer than we think.
So here’s my proposal: The next time your development office does a brown bag lunch together, show each other what you do. Just a half-hour each. Talk about how much time each thing that you do takes and what your greatest joys and frustrations are.
Honestly, it’ll just be…magic!
“The true test of research is whether people use it – for reference, for influence, and most importantly, for change.” *
We all want our work to mean something, don’t we? It just kills us when research (or screenings, or any information, really) just sits on a shelf unread. Unused. All that work – all that potential – just…going nowhere.
In order for it to be a force for change, our research has to grab hold of people and inspire them to take action with it. How do you do that?
Is your research being used?
How do you know for sure? Have you talked with your end users in the past 6 months? Are reports being delivered in a format that is helpful or would a different deliverable be better (fit for iPad, or in a podcast?). Do they contain the right amount of information? The right information? If so, have you shared your success stories with peers in the profession? What’s business-as-usual for one could be innovation to another.
Is your research creating change?
How do you know for sure? Are you measuring its impact? Maybe it’s making more of a difference than you think. Or maybe by tweaking your resources, your training, or your delivery methods a little bit you can deliver significant improvement. What metrics can you use to track and discover your success and gaps?
Your research and the critical information it delivers can create change.
How do you want to be part of that change?
*DFID website, several months ago. Sadly the quote is no longer there but they’ve got other great ones, as well as really interesting research studies.
Next month, members of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA) will gather in Baltimore, MD for the association’s annual conference. If you know someone who is thinking about a career in prospect research or are a supervisor with a staff member who needs training, this really is the conference for them to attend. Topics will range from basics training for new researchers to in-depth training on fundraising analytics and everything in between.
Throughout the rest of the year, many APRA chapters offer excellent continuing education, including networking events, brown bags, and conferences. Both APRA and many of its chapters also have monthly or quarterly newsletters as well.
BUT…in addition to APRA, there are a variety of allied professional associations that are highly relevant to prospect research, and reading their newsletters and blogs, and following the associations or members on social media can be a great way to enhance a researcher’s knowledge. They include:
- the Association of Advancement Service Professionals (AASP)
- the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP)
- Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP)
- Special Libraries Association (SLA) – Information Outlook, their association’s bi-monthly newsletter is available free at their website.
Finally, besides the newspapers and magazines that we may subscribe to keep up on business and industries there are also several journals, websites and blogs that provide insight about the craft of information discovery and searching. They include:
What resources do you follow to stay up on the craft of research? Share!!
If you’re not a prospect researcher, or if you’re new to the field, you might not know that we researchers have a running conversation going on every day on a listserv called PRSPCT-L (affectionately known as “the L”). Researchers, front-line fundraisers, and vendors to our industry post helpful resources, interesting articles, questions and the occasional “Friday Funny.”
Sabine Schuller (who always seems to have her finger on the pulse of what’s important in search) recently shared an article on the L, which she found in a monthly eBulletin published by the professional association of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP). As we read it, Sabine suggests that we replace “competitive intelligence” with “prospect research”:
It’s an opinion piece by Dr. Ben Gilad, President of the Fuld-Gilad-Herring Academy of Competitive Intelligence, who – rather provocatively – claims that in-house competitive intelligence officers (prospect researchers) will soon be a thing of the past – made redundant by vendors and consultants who provide easier, direct access to information that decision-makers (front-line fundraisers) need. His thesis (for our purposes) is:
If fundraisers can get answers quickly themselves, or have it fed to them by push technology, why do they need an in-house person to do it?
Which is a good question – if fundraisers are truly getting their questions answered. But I don’t buy into the notion that they are. Or that all in-house researchers will go the way of the dinosaur.
Some small-to-midsize organizations might end up eventually dissolving their prospect research departments because (in the long run, with strategically outsourced help), it may be cheaper and more efficient to do so. And by prospect research, I mean profile-writing, prospect identification and data analytics, which are easier to outsource. Prospect management, the other leg on the prospect development stool, is harder – although not impossible – to outsource.
But for large shops like universities and medical centers, research would still be more cost-efficient to keep in-house as part of a dynamic and effective knowledge center. Why?
Experience. Context. Strategy.
In the long-term, small to mid-sized organizations may not want to (or be able to) afford to train and sufficiently support a researcher to the level and years of experience that makes the critical difference when the rubber hits the campaign road. At some point, it is inevitable that a good researcher will want to leave for a more challenging assignment with better resourcing. And then the small shop is back at square one, rebuilding again. It’s a cycle that gets expensive for a shop with limited resources in the first place.
Universities, medical centers and large prospect research groups like HBG can afford to invest in training and resourcing staff to build that experience and strategic knowledge. It’s worth doing. Look at the huge impact it had on Brown University’s campaign.
How do we professional researchers set ourselves apart so that the difference between what can be gotten from technology and what prospect research can do is apparent?
It’s easy: Fundraisers are looking for more than just information, deeper than what’s found in Google.
They want answers to questions like: What does this job title mean? What kind of assets are we talking about? What is the prospect’s lifestyle like? Who do they know? What do they care about? How much should we ask them for? How can we connect with them? Who else should we bring into the pipeline?
Experience, context and strategy. These are the things we can bring.
Is technology going to make prospect researchers obsolete? I doubt it, at least for now – especially considering Google’s obsession with personalized search, which takes them farther away from being a reliable professional search resource. When computers reach Star Trek level, when they can provide strategy based on all of the information provided – then we’ll be in trouble. But based on how Watson fared on Jeopardy, I think we’ve got a couple of years yet before we have to worry about that.
BUT: In order to stay relevant, now and in the future, we professional researchers must provide what technology does not.
As the economy starts to pick up, particularly here in New England, I’m seeing more jobs opening up in prospect research. People are starting to feel confident enough to move around, move up, or expand a research department in anticipation of a capital campaign.
Which means lots and lots of job interviews will be happening over the coming months.
An interview isn’t just stressful for the candidate. For the hiring manager, it can be really stressful, too, especially if they’re not comfortable doing interviews. A lot of time and effort goes into training a new employee – even an experienced one – and getting the right person in the job is incredibly important.
Trust me here: tired old chestnuts like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” are not the way to go. An interviewer will rarely find out what they need to know, and it signals to the interviewee that their potential new boss isn’t creative or super-sharp.
The key is to ask questions that make the interviewee think on their feet and that shed light on their personality, ambition, intelligence and work habits. It’s what I call getting at information sideways.
I recently found a great article from Inc. magazine called “14 Revealing Interview Questions” that I thought you might find as interesting as I did. My favorite questions were:
1. If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for you in this role, what did we achieve together?
I like this question because it encourages the candidate to imagine the impact they can have on a program but also to reveal where they think their limits might be. It encourages them to be creative and to express what they know about the job and its purview.
3. If you got hired, loved everything about this job, and are paid the salary you asked for, what kind of offer from another company would you consider?
This was a real stumper for me, as I can imagine it would be for any interviewee. The person who came up with the question, Ilya Pozin, founder of Ciplex, said “I like to find out how much the candidate is driven by money versus working at a place they love. Can they be bought? You’d be surprised by some of the answers.” Answer this question for yourself right now – does your own answer surprise you?
Getting at information sideways
There are 12 other great questions in the article that encourage interviewees to reveal the things a hiring manager needs to know. Is the candidate smart? Creative? Efficient? A problem-solver? Self-starter? Team player? Truthful?
A question I like to ask is “Tell me something about your current/most recent job that you don’t like.” I once had a candidate tell me “Nothing. I like everything about my current job.” For the rest of the interview I wondered “How can that be so? If they like absolutely everything, why are they sitting here? What aren’t they telling me?”
Another favorite of mine is “Tell me about an experience at work where you had a conflict with another person, and what you did to resolve the situation.” One candidate answered, “Oh, I just smacked her.” I waited the requisite three beats for the mischievous look and the “Just kidding!” – but they never came. Yikes.
What interview questions do you like to use that get at information sideways? What questions have been asked of you that really made you think?
Look at what arrived by special delivery today!
It’s an advance copy, meaning that for all of you who pre-ordered (and thank you for that, by the way!), yours will be arriving very soon.
If you haven’t already ordered it, now’s the time to get your very own copy hot off the presses! Just click that little book cover over there on the right to buy it at a discount (!). It will be on your doorstep in no time. This book has got everything anyone working in fundraising needs to know about prospect research. You’re going to love it.
Thank you to everyone who was involved: those who agreed to be interviewed, who were the subjects of case studies, who provided quotes and who read (and re-read!) drafts and offered sage advice and suggestions. And the biggest thank you to my co-author, the awesome Jen Filla.
Tell me the top 3 things that you love about working here.
Now tell me the top three things you don’t like.
When I work with a client to audit their prospect research department, the answers to those two questions tell me a lot about both the nonprofit and the person I’m interviewing. When I review the answers of 10 or 20 employees, I start to see patterns of strength and gaps to be filled. Taken across several organizations, I hear a lot of the same things. From prospect researchers, I almost always hear
I wish they would let me work from home.
I would like flexible hours.
When I bring this up with their supervisors or leadership, I often hear “Yeah, yeah. Employees always say that. It’s never going to happen. They’re not living in the real world.”
Here’s Real World: A recent survey by career-management firm Right Management found that 86% of the people they polled said that they planned to actively search for a new job in the coming year, up 26% since 2009. A combination of work-place stress and doing more for the same salary were the major contributing reasons.
The reality of a typical prospect research professional’s work environment is that it’s a 90 percent computer-based job. If researchers and front-line fundraisers in medium to large shops communicate, it is mainly through email, forms, or on the telephone. Face-to-face time is generally a very small part of the relationship, maybe a couple of hours a week.
Research requires concentration – a lot of it. Have you ever tried to add up a column of figures while someone else is carrying on a conversation in the next cubicle over? It doesn’t matter if they’re discussing a work project or dishing about Downton Abbey, a constant background hum like that is distracting. The more distractions, the more on-the-job stress there is.
On Marketplace Radio, Stephen Dubner, the Freakonomics co-author, told the story of C-trip, the Chinese equivalent of Expedia. In order to save money on expensive office space, the C-trip CEO, James Liang, PhD (Economics, Stanford) decided to try an experiment. C-trip allowed 255 workers that wanted to work from home to try it out for 9 months. The company figured that they would save money on office space and attrition, but lose money on productivity. They hoped that those factors would balance each other out.
What they found was that productivity from the work-from-home group was actually 13% higher than their in-office peers. Employees’ stress from commuting was eliminated, they took fewer sick days and they got to work on time more often than their office-commuting colleagues.
In fundraising, we all know that it’s always cheaper to retain a donor than it is to acquire one, and the same is true for workplace talent. Some people prefer (and thrive in) an office work environment, and working from home is certainly not for everyone. At-home workers have a responsibility to track and maintain their same (or increased!) productivity levels, and the arrangement does require a commitment to communicate well. But for the manager of a valued, reliable prospect researcher, the flexibility of offering that worker the opportunity to work from home even a few days a week might be just the perk that not only retains them, but increases their job satisfaction, their loyalty to the organization, and their overall health.
Here at HBG, we have a new and beautiful main office where I and two other colleagues work most days, but the rest of my senior staff work from home. It works out well for all of us, and I think it’s one of the reasons why my staff work hard, produce great research, and stay with the company.
Does your nonprofit allow you or others to work from home? If so, what are the positives and negatives that you’ve found?
For further reading:
The Brown university white paper on the C-trip experiment can be found here.
Richard Branson’s recent blog post: Give People the Freedom of Where to Work
Forbes blog guest post by Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk: Marissa Mayer Is Wrong: Freedom For Workers Means Productivity For Companies
As the new year builds up a good head of steam moving toward February, now is a good time to take stock of your prospect research department, whether it is you, or someone else, or (lucky you!) a department you supervise.
Today I was thinking about what makes for greatness in a prospect research department. Here are the components I’ve noticed from the organizations I’ve worked with, learned from and mentored over the years.
They know what their research is for
Great research departments understand the nuances between what is needed for identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship research. They work closely with fundraisers to target how much time to spend on a request, and they stay focused on exactly what is needed.
They know the priorities for today, 6 months from now, a year away, and 5 years out.
Great research departments work closely with peers and managers to develop an operating plan that helps them stay on task – geared to what the divisional priorities are. They use metrics to communicate their impact on the bottom line, and to make sure their work remains relevant and aligned.
They embrace innovation
Whether it’s creating new report formats or ways of delivering information, learning new research methods or investigating a new trend, great research managers embrace change and innovation. They go beyond reading trade journals to read books like Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit by Leonardo Inghilleri and Micah Solomon, the Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann, or Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh of Zappos to see how innovation and ideas from allied fields can elevate their department’s quality, productivity and visibility.
They stay current on resources, trends and skills
The best research teams regularly attend continuing education conferences and web seminars, benchmark with peers and take advantage of free learning by following people on Twitter, blogs and other social media. Some of these smart and generous folks include bloggers like the collective at APRA Mid-South, Chris Cannon, Chris Carnie, Mark Egge, Jen Filla, Kevin MacDonell and Liz Rejman, just to name a few. You can find these folks on Twitter, as well as others well worth following – visit this list to see the prospect research tweeting superstars. (If you’re a blogging or tweeting prospect researcher and you’re not on this list, please let me know!)
They believe in the mission
Great teams consist of people who get paid for the privilege of working somewhere they would care about even if they weren’t on staff. There are over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, and life is too short to be unhappy at work. Great researchers find a mission to believe in and give it their heart and soul. They also believe in the mission of prospect research as a profession, and are proud to be “out” in the community representing what we do best: helping nourish, protect, educate and grow our communities and our world.
What other key features of great prospect research departments do you think are important?