There’s been a sea change in prospect research, and it was front and center at our international industry conference last week. The 27th annual APRA conference, held in steamy Las Vegas, was called “Prospect Development 2014; new approaches, new connections.” The Twitter hashtag was #APRApd2014 (have a look – good stuff there). As always, it was a great conference with lots of meaty takeaways.
Nonetheless, I kept shaking my head every time I saw the conference name or used the hashtag. I’m just having a hard time with “prospect development.” Not the profession – the name. Prospect development is relatively new as a descriptor for what we professionals formerly known as “prospect researchers” do.
So what is prospect development?
- prospect research (research and writing of profiles and other reports)
- relationship management (management of the systems that make sure current and prospective donors are appropriately looked after)
- data analytics (using internal and external data to identify new prospective donors and manage organizational efficiency)
Don’t misunderstand me, it’s a good thing that our field is getting a naming revamp. We’re proud of our research past, but we’ve exponentially increased our purview within our organizations and we deserve to have a descriptor that describes and promotes that.
But… “prospect development”? Really?
I’m just not a fan. It’s a sales term that our profession has appropriated, but instead of helping people understand what we do and the impact we make, it just throws up a smokescreen.
Scene: Cocktail party at a fancy hotel somewhere in the northern hemisphere. The sounds of clinking china, glasses, and hundreds of conversations happening simultaneously. People struggling to figure out how to eat from the tiny plate in their left hand while holding a glass in their right. We zoom in on a pair standing by the fireplace. One glass is on the mantle.
Chris: “…and that’s how I won that case. So, what kind of work do you do?”
Pat: “I’m a prospect developer!”
Chris: “Oh. Hunh. Really.” <pause> “Gee, those chicken satay skewers sure look tasty.”
If we thought “I’m a prospect researcher!” was a conversation stopper, wait ‘til we start using “I’m in prospect development,” “I’m a prospect developer,” or “I develop prospects.” (Really? How do you do that? Are they, like, on 35mm film?)
At least people could understand the term “research.” It gave them somewhere to go if they wanted to ask a follow up question.
“Prospect research? What kind of prospects do you research?” As opposed to “Oh. Hunh. Really.”
Oh is for obfuscation
We’re already in a profession that isn’t well understood. Why on earth would we want to make it even more difficult for people to see the benefit – the impact – of our work?
Lately when people ask me what field I’m in I’ve been saying, “I’m in fundraising intelligence.” If they look quizzical, I continue:
“Fundraising intelligence is business intelligence for nonprofit organizations. We’re the knowledge epicenter. We provide information about prospective donors and help organizations manage their systems so they can build stronger relationships with their donors.”
Mostly I find that people instinctively get the term business intelligence (BI) and don’t need the explanation. Even if they don’t know exactly what BI folks do, they understand why businesses need intelligence. And so they can easily make the leap why nonprofits would, too. And they start asking questions more about the why of what I do. We start talking about impact.
The term Fundraising Intelligence lays it right up front that we’re smart. It clues people in that we provide both strategic advice and tactical implementation. That we fundamentally understand the business we’re in and that our organization is serious about efficiency.
Yes, some might find the term “intelligence” CIA-creepy. But those are the same folks that will probably find our whole field creepy until they understand us (and our ethics) better.
I know that I’m probably swimming against the “prospect development” tide, but there are others out there beside me interested in ways that BI can inform FI. Publications like the Nonprofit Times, and organizations such as NTEN have been talking about it since at least 2007. Most recently, WealthEngine published a white paper called “Business Intelligence; a model for nonprofits.” (Get it here).
So what do you think about “prospect development”? Hoist the sails, or deep six?