Every half year or so, some newspaper or magazine comes out with an article about how creepy prospect research is (last spring’s example: the Wall Street Journal in a May blog post by Anne Kadet called “Is your favorite charity spying on you?”) (and no, I’m not going to do them the favor of linking to it here).
Usually articles like these run the third rail of incendiary hyperbole along the lines of how we fundraising researchers are just one half-step up from digging through ordinary peoples’ trash to find their pay check stubs so that our conniving fundraising overlords can trick them into donating their hard-earned cash to our undeserving and overhead-bloated nonprofits.
Okay, maybe I’m going slightly overboard, but it gives you the idea of how offensive these articles are to me and my colleagues, most of whom are diligently, honestly and ethically trying to help our nonprofits help people. Or animals. Or the environment. Or whatever else needs taking care of. It’s a long laundry list. And to have a journalist from a respectable rag freaking people out to sell a couple of extra papers is insulting. I get it, the paper business is hard these days – but go pick on someone your own size. Like politicians.
So when I saw the headline for last Friday’s New York Times article by Ron Lieber called “What Nonprofit Groups Know About You” paired with an article called “Taking Fund-Raising To a New Level,” I groaned out loud and thought “oh for pete’s sake, here we go again.”
But what do you know – I was pleasantly surprised. As I read through, I noticed that Lieber did his homework. He actually interviewed people – not something usually done in these types of exposes. And as I got further down, I realized it actually wasn’t an expose – it was a real education piece. I sat there reading it, tensed in my office chair, waiting for the cringe that …never happened.
Granted, the article relies just a teeeensy bit too heavily on fundraising software megagiant Blackbaud as a source but the two consultants he quoted, Lawrence Henze and David Lamb, were two good representatives from our industry for Lieber to talk with. Both are well-respected and Lamb is a former prospect research practitioner.
Commentary from a couple of experienced prospect researchers in the trenches currently would have been nice: I’m sure our professional group APRA (the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement) would have been happy to steer an enterprising journalist toward a pithy prospect research professional.
But, on the whole I was …well, I was going to say “impressed” or “pleased” but to be honest “relieved” is what I mostly felt (– isn’t that kind of sad?) Lieber actually bothered to find out what sources we use and how and why we use them. His article was even-keeled and informative to the point of telling people how to stay under the prospect research radar if they want to. And fair enough – everybody should have that option.
But philanthropy isn’t a game of cat-and-mouse. At least, it isn’t for most professional prospect researchers and fundraisers I know. The point is that we want to efficiently find prospective donors that want us to find them ~ and that want to work with us to (efficiently) change the world for the better. Lieber’s article gets us one step closer to helping people understand that, and for that he gets my thanks and this blog post.