You need to spring clean your brain – really air it out and get new, fresh ideas in. At least, I know I do. This time of year, I start itching to get out and meet people and learn lots of new things. It’s always worth it when I make the effort.
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Across the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia, and a growing number of other places around the globe, there are more than 5,000 of us.
People who, at one time or other in our professional lives have faced bias and, at times, even open revulsion from the public or the very people we serve. Most of the time we face well-intentioned misunderstanding without even knowing it.
Next month, members of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA) will gather in Baltimore, MD for the association’s annual conference. If you know someone who is thinking about a career in prospect research or are a supervisor with a staff member who needs training, this really is the conference for them to attend. Topics will range from basics training for new researchers to in-depth training on fundraising analytics and everything in between.
Throughout the rest of the year, many APRA chapters offer excellent continuing education, including networking events, brown bags, and conferences. Both APRA and many of its chapters also have monthly or quarterly newsletters as well.
BUT…in addition to APRA, there are a variety of allied professional associations that are highly relevant to prospect research, and reading their newsletters and blogs, and following the associations or members on social media can be a great way to enhance a researcher’s knowledge. They include:
- the Association of Advancement Service Professionals (AASP)
- the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP)
- Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP)
- Special Libraries Association (SLA) – Information Outlook, their association’s bi-monthly newsletter is available free at their website.
Finally, besides the newspapers and magazines that we may subscribe to keep up on business and industries there are also several journals, websites and blogs that provide insight about the craft of information discovery and searching. They include:
What resources do you follow to stay up on the craft of research? Share!!
I can’t stop talking about Big Data when I speak at conferences. I’m excited about the applications Big Data have for fundraising, and I’m not the only one – other prospect researchers, consultants and front-line fundraisers are talking about how Big Data analytics can transform prospect identification and donor engagement (amongst many other things).
For those of you who are new to the term, here’s what Big Data is: super large data sources, much bigger than the information in your Raiser’s Edge or DonorPerfect database. It’s huge data aggregators like the Securities and Exchange Commission or the US Census Bureau. Like Guidestar and Wikipedia. There are even clearinghouses that offer free, direct access to big data sources including websites like freebase, LittleSis and even Amazon (because, seriously – what can’t you get on Amazon these days? It’s not just for books anymore!).
With the recent revelations about the US government’s Big Brother-like access to information through the NSA Prism program, do you worry that the actions of us data nerds in nonprofits could make donors nervous that we’re doing something we shouldn’t be? That question lead me to an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Peter Manzo called “Can Charity Make Big Brother Benevolent?”
Manzo talks about ways that nonprofits/NGOs are using Big Data to effectively deliver essential services to their end users. He shares his vision of opportunities for transforming society that could be possible: for example, based on its use of Big Data, a food pantry or social service agency could proactively offer their services to a needy family in the community who didn’t realize they were eligible for support.
Which could be a wonderful thing.
Or it could signal a step closer to Dystopia. How much individually-identifiable information do we want out there about each of us? For example, in a recent Forbes article, writer Kashmir Hill described the fallout when Target knew that a teen was pregnant before she told her family. The teen’s father was livid (with Target) when she started receiving what he thought were inappropriate coupons. Soon he discovered that Target knew more about his daughter than he did. Target’s data-mining predictors are clearly sophisticated and surprisingly accurate, but as the company’s statistician commented, “…even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.”
Yes, indeed. Both the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA) and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) have ethical codes that we in the profession are obliged to abide by. But are they good enough? Do they cover this new era of technological possibilities? And even when we follow the law, will what we do make our donors queasy?
Technology and our ability to manipulate data are advancing so quickly that we have to be confident that our own eagerness and experimentation with what is possible are aligned with our professional compass of what is ethical. Because if not, we’re going to hear about it in the most public of ways and, much worse, it will damage donor trust for a generation.
Is ethics a keystone in the conversations you hear about Big Data and fundraising analytics at the water cooler or at conferences? As enthusiastic as I am about Big Data, I know that we we’ll be nowhere with it if ethics is left out of it.
As the new year builds up a good head of steam moving toward February, now is a good time to take stock of your prospect research department, whether it is you, or someone else, or (lucky you!) a department you supervise.
Today I was thinking about what makes for greatness in a prospect research department. Here are the components I’ve noticed from the organizations I’ve worked with, learned from and mentored over the years.
They know what their research is for
Great research departments understand the nuances between what is needed for identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship research. They work closely with fundraisers to target how much time to spend on a request, and they stay focused on exactly what is needed.
They know the priorities for today, 6 months from now, a year away, and 5 years out.
Great research departments work closely with peers and managers to develop an operating plan that helps them stay on task – geared to what the divisional priorities are. They use metrics to communicate their impact on the bottom line, and to make sure their work remains relevant and aligned.
They embrace innovation
Whether it’s creating new report formats or ways of delivering information, learning new research methods or investigating a new trend, great research managers embrace change and innovation. They go beyond reading trade journals to read books like Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit by Leonardo Inghilleri and Micah Solomon, the Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann, or Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh of Zappos to see how innovation and ideas from allied fields can elevate their department’s quality, productivity and visibility.
They stay current on resources, trends and skills
The best research teams regularly attend continuing education conferences and web seminars, benchmark with peers and take advantage of free learning by following people on Twitter, blogs and other social media. Some of these smart and generous folks include bloggers like the collective at APRA Mid-South, Chris Cannon, Chris Carnie, Mark Egge, Jen Filla, Kevin MacDonell and Liz Rejman, just to name a few. You can find these folks on Twitter, as well as others well worth following – visit this list to see the prospect research tweeting superstars. (If you’re a blogging or tweeting prospect researcher and you’re not on this list, please let me know!)
They believe in the mission
Great teams consist of people who get paid for the privilege of working somewhere they would care about even if they weren’t on staff. There are over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, and life is too short to be unhappy at work. Great researchers find a mission to believe in and give it their heart and soul. They also believe in the mission of prospect research as a profession, and are proud to be “out” in the community representing what we do best: helping nourish, protect, educate and grow our communities and our world.
What other key features of great prospect research departments do you think are important?
Resolving to make better use of prospect research in 2013 – or just interested in some new ideas for the coming year? Here are some suggestions to inspire you!
Are your organization’s fundraisers taking trips to warmer climes for events and meetings with snowbirds next month? Now’s a good time to do some simple data mining to find great prospects for fill-in visits while there.
Now is a good time to do an electronic screening of some or all of your organization’s new donors from the previous year. Which ones have the most potential to be major donor prospects? Develop a strategy to engage newly identified prospects by May.
What did your fundraising division do exceptionally well in 2012? Where do you need to do some work? Use analytics in-house, or have an independent audit done to measure last year’s fundraising/research performance. Set targets for using research throughout the year based on the priorities and needs you identify.
Tax season is here! Which of your prospects have giftable stock options? Several free and fee-based sources allow you to create alerts to keep current throughout the year on directors and executives of public companies who are required to report their stock and options holdings and sales.
Take a lesson from political fundraising: Targeted emails based on click-throughs and web usage have meant huge gains in involvement and donations during the last two presidential campaign cycles. Can you use market research techniques for prospect research purposes to discover what your annual fund donors are specifically interested in supporting?
For many educational organizations, June is the time to research parents of incoming students. How well do your data transfer systems integrate for ease of access to allowed information? Do you have a plan to manage this time-sensitive research? Create a process document for this important activity so that your best practices are repeated every year.
This is the month to declare independence from all of the prospects in your tracking system that have not budged (despite your best efforts) on the pipeline in the past year. All of the great new prospects you identified back in February should now be in your relationship management system. Draw up plans for new ways to engage them in the fall.
The beautiful waterfront of Baltimore, Maryland will be the location for the annual conference of the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement on August 7-10. The APRA conference is the place to be for prospect researchers and front-line fundraisers who want to learn cutting edge techniques and resources. Come prepared to learn – this is a no-fluff conference, and every aspect of research is covered, from the ABC’s through complex algorithms.
Back to school means making sure you have up-to-date information on your very top prospects, and on all of the new prospects you’ve identified over the year. Get ready now for those year-end solicitations so you’re not faced with a December research profile queue crush.
Find creative ways to use social media and relationship mapping to identify potential board members and other top volunteers. Who amongst your constituents have high Klout scores? Which ones are hubs on a relationship map? Find and use tools that help you pinpoint influencers who can be advocates and help you engage with a new circle of donors.
Does your organization put on a lot of events this time of year? If event briefings are part of the research priorities that you set back in March, now may be the time to update your event briefing template(s) and policies for information access – not overload. Plan now so that the right people are getting the right amount of information on time and within budget.
Before you renew research subscriptions for the coming year, take a look at the fundraising operating plan and talk with colleagues about priorities ahead. Will the chief fundraising officer be traveling internationally to meet with donors? Maybe it’s time to look into international research resources, training, or outsourcing options. Are you about to launch a campaign? You might need to budget for screenings or analytics now.
What resources will you need to be successful next year? Great success with prospect research is all about being prepared. Happy New Year!
Well, that’s just a big ‘ole fat lie, isn’t it? Any prospect researcher out there who has blown your socks off with a list of great new prospects they got from mining the database has training to thank for it. Ditto someone who proactively provides information from alerts they’ve created from Lexis Nexis or a search engine.
These sorts of skills don’t grow organically out of a new researcher’s brain, I don’t care how smart they are. Investing in prospect research training makes staff more efficient, and it also makes fiscal sense.
For example: everyone on my staff (myself included) is required to attend at least two continuing education seminars or conferences a year as part of their annual performance evaluation. If we’re not keeping up on the latest resources and techniques we’re not doing our best for our clients, and that will sooner or later impact my company’s bottom line for a whole variety of reasons, not least of which is team-member satisfaction. When I get a great employee, I want to keep them.
It’s good business, whether you’re a for-profit or a nonprofit.
Can’t afford it with the budget you’ve got? There are lots of free or low-cost continuing education options out there, too, through professional associations like APRA and through vendors.
Take a look at upcoming events for the next few months both virtual and in real life:
September 18: APRA/WealthEngine web seminar: “The New Face of Prospect Research” (Free to APRA members)
October 10-12: APRA-Canada conference: “Leading Discovery” at the Courtyard Marriott Downtown in Toronto
October 19: NEDRA day-long seminar: “Research Basics Bootcamp” at Northeastern University
November 9: APRA-Upstate NY Fall Conference: “Predictive Modeling from the Ground Up” at the University of Rochester
Not to mention lots and lots of free or low-cost replay seminars from APRA and most of the vendors out there.
Have I left any off? Want to promote your prospect research event? Comment and let us know!
When there’s a kid in your house, ‘tis the season for starting fresh. New notebooks, new pencils, a new calculator…it’s equal parts thrilling and daunting to look at the pile of brand new things and imagine them being used. Even though I’m long out of school, for me September always brings with it a sense of excitement and nervous anticipation about what’s ahead, even more so than January 1st.
In fundraising (or really in any field that uses reports), now’s a good time to take a fresh look at how we share information with each other to be sure that we’re doing it well.
What might that mean for you?
- Are the reports you created during the last campaign still working for the between-campaign period?
- Do you have new leadership that has a lot of information needs (but you’re giving them reports their predecessor helped you create)?
- What do frontline fundraisers and leadership need to know to do their best work? Is it different than four years ago when the profile format was created?
In this pre-dawn period before the fall season really heats up with meetings and events and homecoming and all of that – now’s a great time to set aside a few hours to talk with end users of your work. Ask your clients…
- Are we giving you too much information? Too little?
- Can we create a variety of report types that meet different needs?
- How can we help you be more self-sufficient?
- What kinds of information would you like pushed to you?
Be creative! There are all kinds of cool tools out there now for you to try! Do a little fun research to find dashboards … mapping … analytics … apps … even something as simple as re-thinking report formatting can help breathe new life into the mundane. (In fact, I heard a little bit of gossip from the APRA conference: a certain university with an awesome name now formats profiles so they can be easily read on an iPad – how’s that for creative thinking!?)
What do you want to do differently this new school year?
So after much soul-searching and advice from friends, partners, relatives and career/guidance counselors, you’ve decided that prospect research is the career path for you. Congratulations! It’s the best job in the world. Yes, really.
You’re not alone, though – this time of year I usually speak with three or four people who have recently discovered prospect research and are interested in informational interviews to learn more about breaking into the field. Most of the time they ask, “How can I differentiate myself?” Here’s my advice for ways to do that:
1. Do your homework
If you want to get into prospect research, you need to prove that you’re a natural at it. Prospective employers are looking for people that can’t help but find the answers to questions. Here are some to get you started:
- What professional associations do prospect researchers belong to? Is there a local chapter nearby?
- Do the professional associations provide introductory training?
- Are there other places for training available as well?
- Is there a listserv for prospect researchers?
- Are there leaders in the prospect research/fundraising field active on social media? (Follow them! Read what they recommend!)
Contact people in the field near you and ask them to meet you for 30 minutes in person (preferred) or on the phone for an informational interview. Chances are good they are not going to hire you, but if you make a good impression and they hear of a job in the near future, you could end up on someone else’s short list. Some key things to remember:
- Be respectful of their time. Start wrapping up your call or visit after 28 minutes have passed – if they encourage you to stay longer, follow their lead.
- Have your list of questions ready – remember, you are the interviewer.
- Provide them with a resume at least 24 hours prior to meeting you.
- If it’s natural, weave into the conversation things you have learned about prospect research from your homework as a basis for your questions. (For example, “I saw on prspct-l that researchers talk a lot about analytics. Would you say this is an area of growth in the field?”)
- Ask for others they might recommend you speak with (but don’t be surprised if they ask to think it over).
- Send a thank you note or email within 24 hours.
- When you do get a job in the field, get back in touch to let them know and thank them again for their time with you.
3. Educate yourself
Remember those local chapters and those training sessions you found out about when you were doing your homework? Go.
- If you’re serious about a career in prospect research (or any field), you need to invest in your future. You’d expect to take the time to learn and to pay for an advanced degree in business, architecture or any other specialty before you broke into those fields, wouldn’t you?
4. Offer to volunteer
Some established prospect research shops need extra help that they can’t afford to pay for. In exchange for some of your time, you’ll get valuable on-the-job training and (if you do a good job) a reference and another line or two on your resume.
- Although nonprofits large and small need volunteers, if you are specifically looking for prospect research training, focus on volunteering where there are experienced researchers that you can learn from.
- Be willing to do some clerical work in exchange for training on research resources, methods, and search skills, but be clear in your expectations for volunteering what you want to gain from the experience.
5. Keep a positive attitude
I know, it’s really hard to break into a new field. But if this was what you were born to do, keep at it. There are nonprofits hiring researchers right now, and there are job boards to keep a watch on. Keep educating yourself and become engaged in the research community.
Have you been successful in breaking into the prospect research field recently? What suggestions do you have for others?
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.