This month I’m delighted to highlight an article by HBG team member Grace Chandonnet, who shares some inside information about the prospect profile. Grace works with our clients from her home office in New Orleans, a town that Mark Twain would have been very familiar with from his Life on the Mississippi.
To shamelessly paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the death of the prospect profile has been greatly exaggerated.
It seems as though that during my entire 12 years as a development researcher, I’ve been hearing that the narrative prospect profile is “going away.” It’s been argued that it isn’t useful, it takes too much time to prepare and to read, that a gift officer doesn’t need all that information to cultivate and solicit their prospect.
One rampant rumor was that relationship management was going to take the place of the profile. In recent years, fundraising researchers have added prospect management to their duties, and in larger shops there are positions dedicated solely to the function of prospect management. Assisting gift officers in keeping their prospect portfolios lean and vibrant is no doubt a valuable and important function. But it has not eliminated the value of or demand for the prospect profile; it’s just added more value to our work.
Lately it has been said that data analytics is the thing that is going to kill the profile. Data, its collection and analysis, is a part of any forward-thinking industry at this time in history. Its value cannot be overstated. If your shop isn’t doing it, it undoubtedly is thinking about doing some sort of data analysis for planning purposes and to find new opportunities. And yet, the narrative profile lives on.
58% of the collective time spent by my Helen Brown Group colleagues and me in 2014 (and 78% of my time personally) was spent on profile preparation. Our clients love profiles. Here are some reasons why:
Hand-in-hand with the advent of prospect management and data analytics, the truly useful research profile has evolved into an incredibly strategic document. A good researcher is not just presenting facts and figures, but is also having a conversation with the frontline fundraiser. They’re saying to the gift officer “hey check this guy out, he’s really cool! Because of what I found out when researching him, I’d bet he’d be really interested in our ABC initiative, and he can definitely support it at a high level.”
Barron Segar, who is Senior Vice President of Development for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, said recently during a staff meeting where the discussion was strategy for a new board member:
We are very fortunate to have the Prospect Development team create donor profiles for us. [Because of the information they provided on our new board member], before we even met with him we were well aware of his capacity, his other board involvement, and his past philanthropy. The more knowledgeable you are about a donor, the more comfortable you are at the meeting, and the more likely you are to make the right ask. It pays to do your homework.”
Mary Flynn Myers, who is Vice President of Development at the Campaign for Catholic Schools in Boston says:
When preparing for a meeting with a donor, I find that having a thoughtfully prepared research profile helps me to formulate how I’d like the conversation to go. Knowing that someone has already been a generous donor gives me confidence that I am speaking with a savvy philanthropist and I would approach him or her differently than I would a person who has not been philanthropic to date.
It’s also immensely helpful to have a glimpse of their financial situation, which definitely informs my decision-making when considering an ask amount. Learning about their personal and philanthropic interests can help me to think about what programs my organization has that could fit in with their passions. And of course, a well written profile is truly an entertaining and even educational read.”
We may sometimes forget that each member of the development team’s work is symbiotic, with a common goal. Prospect profiles can inform the work of others on the development team, such as the communications experts. Katie Goodfellow, who is principal of development communications firm Causa Scriptor, says:
Personally, I think it would be a mistake to ‘do away with’ the prospect narrative. It provides valuable information on many levels. There are some things that raw data just doesn’t communicate. I recall how one narrative revealed the deeply Catholic beliefs of a particular prospect. In writing a proposal, we were careful to steer clear of stem cell issues for example.
In another case, the narrative recounted an observation by the researcher that a prospect was very opposed to a particular candy company’s operations abroad. The prospect was coming in for a meeting and we alerted the gift officer in charge in time for her to switch out the candy bowl which was…you guessed it, filled with the offending brand’s products. In other situations, the narrative helps the communications officer in speech writing, allowing him/her to tailor what is said to buzz-points likely to engage key prospects in the audience. Sometimes it can help set the tenor of a proposal, because it gives us a clue into the prospect’s personality, likes, preferences, dislikes, and quirks.
Big gift proposals must be tailored to an extent (i.e. not boilerplate) to the individuals involved. The more information in the research narrative, the better the proposal can be focused on the prospect.”
Data analytics and relationship management are wonderful tools in the prospect development toolbox. They make our profession stronger and relevant to current trends. Like Mark Twain, we fundraising researchers are storytellers. And the smart development professional wants to hear our stories. Twain was still very much alive when his demise was rumored and likewise the narrative prospect profile is also still very much alive.
Like Twain’s stories, they just need to be well-written and speak to their audience. How do you keep your profiles alive?