For those of you just starting out in prospect research, I have to be honest and say that the urge to check in just one more place never goes away. After a couple of decades (ahem) I’m now just about able to manage the urge, but I’ve never gotten rid of it.
I actually think that that hunger to keep seeking is a good thing, but being an effective researcher means knowing when to stop. It’s learning that you don’t need to find everything about a prospect and that – just because you can find a million pieces of information detritus – doesn’t mean they’re important to your end user.
But the most important part of being an effective researcher is knowing where – and how – to start. Because the bonanza of information you get on the front end leads to all of the threads you can pull (or decide not to pull) depending on what’s actually important.
This has been a summer of research tips and tricks on The Intelligent Edge, and we’re continuing today with one terrific tool and a couple of ways to think through your searching.
First up is a brand-new tool by the top-of-the-heap researcher, Tara Calishain. You’ve heard me praise the fantastic tools she creates for all of us in the search profession, and this week Tara debuted yet another tool – one that is purpose-built for prospect research.
It’s called Carl’s Name Net.
Carl’s Name Net presents you with a series of search boxes. You put in someone’s name and it creates a beautiful search string with all sorts of permutations on that name designed for various search platforms, like Google, Google Scholar, Google Books, and the Internet Archive. There’s even a spot for additional keywords.
Anyone who has ever taken a search class with me knows that name permutation searching is one of the very first things I teach about when looking for information on an individual.
We never know how an article, or donor list, or licensing body, or association, or bio is going to name someone. Depending on the formality of the situation, someone could be referred to in completely different ways.
Take for example, former president Clinton: He might be referred to as William Jefferson Clinton; William J. Clinton; Bill Clinton; President Clinton; Clinton, William J.; Clinton, Bill…
I could probably go on, but you get it. And not only do you want to create all those permutations, but you also need to search on Willaim Clinton, too. I’m constantly surprised by how many legit hits you can get on a misspelled name.
Don’t forget to do the same kind of search for the person’s spouse, too! Seriously – spouses own property in their name (and LLCs and trusts, and business names, and …) too.
And also (most importantly), why would any nonprofit not want to engage with donors as a family?
Can’t find the spouse’s name? Try AROUND.
Use all the permutations in parentheses and add AROUND(4) (wife OR husband OR spouse OR partner). So for example:
(“Joe Bloggs” OR “Joseph Bloggs” OR “Joseph J. Bloggs” etc) AROUND(4) (wife OR husband OR spouse OR partner)
What this does is find an article or mention of your prospect “and(1) their(2) husband/wife/spouse/partner(3), <name>(4)”
In this instance, you really only need 3 words in between the person’s name and the spouse name, but I always leave room for an extra potential word in case the article adds in something flowery, like “and their dynamic husband, Pat” which is four words in between the two names. You can always put in AROUND(5) or more. The trick here is that you want to avoid mentions of Joe Bloggs in the first paragraph and Bob’s Smith’s amazing wife, Joan, in paragraph 5. Using AROUND keeps the proximity within a reasonable, efficient, distance.
Thinking through your search to get the most information up front
Here are two key questions to ask yourself before you get started, and as you’re researching someone:
Why have they asked me to research this person? Now, this may seem like a gimme, but it’s not always. Your perspective on this (or the response you get from the requestor if you ask them) may lead you in more creative directions than if you just take the request at face value.
What is anomalous about the information that I’m finding on this person? Where does that lead you? “They have houses in Boston and Miami but they’re a member of a golf club on Long Island. What’s that about?” Give information that seems out of place a second look.
Speaking of places to look
Things that are important when trying to get a full picture of a person include searching all of the organizations the person volunteers for to find not only their giving, but also to see if there are pictures (you may see spouses, kids, or colleagues!), articles highlighting the individual (again, spouses and kids, but also philanthropic interests), or awards and achievements that may be meaningful to them.
Search the websites of their clubs, alma maters (almas mater?), and professional associations for both the main prospect and their spouse for all of the above reasons, too.
If an organization or association doesn’t have a search box (and even if they do) try a site search. So for example, in your search bar, type in “site:jpmorgan.com dimon” to see information about CEO Jamie Dimon (who also may go by “James” – just saying).
In poker, apparently everyone has a “tell.” That tic, or way of sitting, or mannerism that gives away the quality of your hand.
Sometimes prospects have a tell, too. For post-Boomer generations, it’s not uncommon for a woman to keep her family name when she marries, but if a married women 60+ kept her birth name, that could be a clue that her family name was more important to her than her married name, and it could mean that there is family wealth there.
Look for middle names of children that sound like surnames, because they can be a clue to family wealth, too. Just like Anderson Cooper’s brother, Carter, a child may have their father’s more ordinary surname of Cooper, but the middle name of Vanderbilt.
When it’s time to say “when”
So now you’ve gotten a lot of information and so it’s probably time to stop. How do you know when enough is enough? When you get the answer to the fundraiser’s question – whatever that is. Before you start, maybe try asking them what they particularly need to know, both so that you avoid the answer “everything!!” and so you can keep your own search hunger in check.