You may think that’s an outrageous amount (and it is) but I’m saying it anyway. Let me explain why.
First of all, many professionals in the world have one main job. They repair things in a human body or in an automobile. They speak in front of cameras and explain what a company means to do, or what a politician did do. They deliver mail, or babies. They build houses or computer programs.
There are many elements to the performance of their job, no question, requiring tactical skills or an off-the-charts knowledge base, but generally speaking most people don’t have to do on-the-job training every single day. Continuing professional education, sure, but outside of the intelligence and knowledge-worker community, I’m finding it hard to think of other professionals that end every day knowing quite a lot about something that they knew nothing about when they flipped the switch on their computer that morning.
Prospect research professionals, for those of you unfamiliar with the requisite tasks, have to be Jacks and Jills of many trades every day. They have to know just enough about a wide variety of industries, countries, customs, laws, search techniques, resource location and usage, databases, software programs and more, just to know where to go to get more information to fulfill a request or do a proactive project. Oh, and they have to do that within the constraints of limited finances/resources and time, as well as ethics and legal requirements. That’s a lot of hats to wear.
A typically untypical week might look like this:
On Monday, a prospect researcher might need to familiarize themself with the key players in the North American pharmaceutical industry, determine which company/ies are profitable within a geographic area, and create reports of each company’s products, markets, and financial viability for partnership with the organization’s innovation hub.
Tuesday could mean brushing up on global financial markets, and exploring the difference in returns (and compensation) between hedge fund and private equity deals and dealers in order to fulfill a research request on a well-placed constituent with a position in finance.
On Wednesday, a university president may ask the researcher for a detailed biographical narrative of the college’s founding family with in-depth information on any living heirs.
Thursday could find the researcher working with the nonprofit’s legal counsel to discuss the implementation of HIPAA or ICO regulations, lawful data storage, or aspects of due diligence research they may have done on prospective donors.
On Friday they may be entering data into the organization’s database, and pulling it out again using third-party report-writing tools that allow them to identify new donors, analyze and visualize patterns in giving. Or they could be checking alerts they set up to notify them of wealth events in the lives of their principal prospects. Or training a new frontline fundraiser how to use the database.
Good prospect development professionals have to know how to do many things, respond swiftly and professionally, and be flexible enough to switch gears between these tasks at a minute’s notice.
I thought it might be interesting to break down what researchers do into component careers, where one is paid just for doing that one job. Being a typical researcher, I low-balled the estimates to stay on the conservative side. (That’s kind of an in-joke).
Within each good prospect research professional lives:
- An author of nonfiction who churns out work daily
- I’ll call that a journalist, and provide an estimate $50,000/year
- A biographer that concentrates on corporate leaders and the high net wealth (HNW) world.
- Most biographers at this level are well-respected interviewers, so I’ll put an estimate of $70,000 on that job
- A private company valuation professional
- Consultants in this area are estimated to make $80,000 per year
- A public company stock analyst
- Right out of college, a finance major can make $150,000 analyzing stocks for places like Goldman Sachs. Like prospect researchers, he or she must be aware of current events impacting any given market, and must be able to read, understand, and interpret complicated SEC filings.
- An HR/Compensation expert
- Like a compensation expert in your organization’s human resources department, a prospect researcher must know the difference between specialties within professions and how they are compensated, for example: hedge fund managers vs. private bankers; forensic MDs vs. neurosurgeons; corporate lawyers vs. public defenders; builder/contractors vs. real estate developers. I’ll estimate that someone with this expertise brings in at least $85,000 per year.
- A genealogist and network mapper
- Rates to hire genealogy experts vary, but I’ll cap it at a very low-ball estimate of $35,000 to cover someone with expertise in both family trees and personal relationship mapping.
- A rich list analyst
- If you were to hire someone, like a Forbes or Sunday Times Rich List researcher, you’d have to pay at least $85,000 to find someone who can reliably estimate the net worth of people with hidden assets like they do (remembering that nonprofits also are not provided with the level of resources that Forbes has.)
- A customer service representative/trainer
- Most research professionals have many ‘clients’ to support, including their peers, their supervisor, frontline fundraisers, the executive team and senior leadership including the volunteer board. Average salaries for CSRs are around $30,000, higher if they also do training.
- A reference librarian
- Answering random questions and knowing where to look up (and find!) the most reliable answer is a strong suit of prospect researchers – many of whom have Library Science degrees. Average salaries are in the range of $50,000.
- Data entry specialist
- Conservative estimates for compensation for a skilled professional that enters data and pulls reports is about $40,000.
- Ethics manager / data protection and compliance officer
- Corporate and governmental compliance officers’ salaries average about $75,000 per year.
And then there are the soft skills that are part, but not all, of peoples’ jobs, like someone who…
- Understands how foundations operate, and how they differ from donor advised funds (so mentally add a portion of a CNF officer’s salary here)
- Is able to spot subtle cultural nuances of wealth, for example what having a family office or Coutts account implies (private banking prospecting sales rep)
- Can follow tenuous leads and interpret non-specific requests (FBI agent)
- Stays aware of current events and global markets and how they impact the nonprofit and its constituents (foundation program officer)
Put all those professions together, and you’ve got someone who is worth at least three quarters of a million dollars, and I didn’t even begin to put a price tag on the value of their actual work: the reports that enlighten, the memos that provide talking points, the lists of new prospective donors to begin relationships with, and the gifts that eventually come from all of that ground work.
I’ve changed my mind. I think prospect researchers are worth a million bucks. #ResearchPride