Are you a small-shop researcher? Wearing (one-too) many hats – or maybe managing someone who is? HBG’s Maura Baron has some great advice for you in today’s article about her journey from having multiple responsibilities in a fundraising department to becoming a full-time research professional. ~Helen
The Art of Part-Time Research: Strategies for Success and Effective Management
Like many others in this field, I became a prospect researcher in a roundabout way, and through a series of diverse roles, I discovered my passion for digging deep into donor information and uncovering hidden connections. Here is a reflection on my journey and some valuable insights I’ve gained along the way for people who juggle multiple responsibilities including prospect research and their supervisors.
A Meandering Path
My journey into prospect research began after I took some time off from the workforce to be a mom. When the opportunity arose to join a capital campaign at my alma mater, a school close to my heart, I jumped at the chance. I started as a “campaign associate,” and this marked the beginning of my third career as an advancement professional.
From the start of the campaign, I was immersed in research-focused tasks: creating gift charts, identifying lead donors, preparing leadership gift asks, conducting wealth screenings, creating profiles for donor visits, and managing event guest lists. These responsibilities gave me a taste of the world of prospect research, and I quickly realized that I loved it!
However, as my tenure in the position progressed, I found myself pulled into various other areas of advancement, from event planning to alumnae activities. While these experiences were valuable and allowed me to gain new skills, my heart remained firmly rooted in research work. I wanted to uncover new donors, identify aligned foundations, and locate elusive alumni who had gone on to significant roles.
When the campaign ended, and I began contemplating my next career move, I discovered a job opening for a dedicated prospect researcher at a community foundation. This position was added to support an endowment campaign and required me to build a research department from the ground up.
In this role, I created research profile templates, managed the organization’s first-ever database wealth screening, and selected vendors to support our research efforts. Yet, as time went on, I found myself being pulled into various other responsibilities (sound familiar?). While I appreciated the diverse experiences, I realized that my true passion lay in research work, and I was determined to find a way to focus on it fully.
Landing My Dream Job
As the endowment campaign began to wrap up, I started thinking about my next career step. I saw a job posting on LinkedIn for a consultant position at the Helen Brown Group. The idea of being completely dedicated to research every day thrilled me. I admired the work of the Helen Brown Group and had thought about how wonderful it would be to join their team.
Now, as a dedicated research consultant at the Helen Brown Group, I can confidently say that I’ve found my dream job. Reflecting on my journey, I want to offer some tips to fellow “part-time” researchers and their managers.
Tips for Part-Time Researchers
In the world of non-profits, it’s a reality that many organizations consider a full-time dedicated prospect researcher a luxury. Research responsibilities often get bundled with other tasks such as event support, donor support, and database administration. Here are some tips for those who find themselves in similar roles:
- Advocate for Research: Ensure that your organization understands the value of research. Share examples of gifts and relationships that were advanced thanks to your research efforts.
- Collaborate with Gift Officers: Encourage your gift officers to communicate the importance of research within the organization. A successful collaboration with gift officers can showcase the value of your work.
- Segment Your Time: Work with your supervisor and team to allocate dedicated time and resources for research in your daily schedule.
- Utilize Remote Work: If you have a hybrid schedule, consider using remote work time for research tasks. Fewer distractions can enhance your research productivity.
- Expand Research Functions: Look for opportunities to add more research functions to your role. Explore avenues like foundation or corporate prospecting and prospect management processes within your organization.
- Leverage Events: Use events as opportunities to demonstrate the value of research. Ensure top prospects are on the guest list, coordinate personal outreach efforts, orchestrate meaningful touch points between leadership and prospects at events, and encourage gift officers to follow up effectively.
- Screen New Board Members and Volunteers: Continuously screen new additions to your organization to identify potential connections and prospects.
- Master Your Database: Become an expert in your organization’s database and CRM system. A well-maintained database is crucial to effective research. Teach your colleagues how to access wealth information and highlight its importance.
- Get Involved: Volunteer with local chapters of associations like AFP and APRA to expand your network and knowledge and to promote yourself as a research professional.
Managing Part-Time Researchers
If you’re a manager overseeing a part-time researcher, here are some considerations:
- Job Responsibilities: When creating positions, think about which responsibilities complement research work well. Avoid pairing research with roles prone to frequent emergencies.
- Skill Sets: Ensure you hire the right candidate. The researcher’s skill set, in terms of technical abilities and soft skills, may not necessarily align with the skill set required for other functions, making the hiring process challenging. It’s worth noting that one skill that cannot be taught is a genuine passion for research. Additionally, a researcher’s career progression is unlikely to lead them to a role as a gift officer.
- Protect Research Time: Recognize the value of research and prioritize protecting your researcher’s time for focused work.
- Strategic Assignments: When assigning non-research tasks, choose responsibilities that can benefit research efforts. For example, having a researcher check in guests at events can lead to the discovery of valuable donor connections.
- Full-Time Research: Consider the value of making research a full-time position.
My Journey’s Conclusion
My previous positions and the varied roles I’ve played in the world of non-profits led me to being a dedicated prospect researcher. My involvement in all aspects of fundraising, donor engagement, and non-profit management has equipped me with a unique perspective. I understand how organizations function, and I grasp the motivations of donors, making me better at what I do.
If you’re a part-time researcher like I once was, or if you’re managing one, remember that research is a valuable asset that when supported and promoted, can transform your organization’s fundraising efforts.