Communication is key for every single relationship to work, whether it’s in your personal life or at work. But you can’t just say “Hey, communicate more!” You have to have an idea of what to communicate about, and how to get the conversation started. For organizations to run more smoothly and for nonprofits to raise more money, creating a culture where everyone knows what to ask for makes it possible for everyone to get answers more quickly. This week, Jayme Klein shares great tips for frontline fundraisers and prospect development pros to create clearer pathways of communication. ~Helen
I’ve worked in prospect research for a third of my working life (thankfully, my first job assembling gift baskets didn’t pan out). While many of my previous employers had their own unique challenges, one of the most consistent issues that I observed was communication between prospect development and frontline fundraising staff.
It wasn’t for lack of trying, but rather, frontline fundraisers didn’t know what information was important to share with us, and we didn’t know how to ask them for information that would be the most helpful in our research. Also, policies were not in place to import institutional knowledge.
Whether you are in a small or large shop, there are ways to improve communication, reduce those clarifying emails and phone calls, and create an overall better working relationship with your fundraising partners.
What is your system for fundraisers to request information?
Do you have a research request form, a spreadsheet, or do you communicate requests via email? Before those requests arrive, do fundraisers know what to tell researchers, and do researchers ask for what they need? For example, does your request process ask the fundraiser to provide the prospect’s ID in the CRM? If not, providing any name variations (nicknames, prefixes or suffixes) can also go a long way towards identifying the right person, and for those John Smith’s out there, it can save so much time!
Are expectations set so they can be met?
Often, what can help prospect researchers the most is to ask the requester what they already know about that prospect. Maybe there is information that hasn’t yet made it into a contact report?
Here are some other useful questions to ask requestors to provide the best information possible:
- Is there an upcoming meeting scheduled? If so, what is it about and who will be in attendance?
- What information is the fundraiser looking for? Do they simply need contact information or do they need a full profile?
- Has the prospect mentioned any new jobs, home purchases, interests or gift intentions to your organization or elsewhere? Are they unable to meet because they’re at their summer house or on vacation? Where is the house? What type of vacation is it (camping versus their European villa)?
- Names and information about spouses, parents or children is always appreciated.
- Contact information (especially professional information) can put a prospect researcher on the right path faster. (Fundraisers, collect those business cards and share them with your research partner!)
Another way to help improve researcher/fundraiser communication is to give each other insight into what you do.
A stand-out memory from my first research job is a meeting that we had with an academic department and their fundraiser liaison. The professors had a genuine interest in what we researchers did and asked us to describe our line of work. The fundraiser interjected: “they Google all day.”
While we managed to avoid violence that day, it did reinforce the need for us to better communicate what prospect research is (and perhaps isn’t) and how researchers find information.
If you’re reading this blog, you know the depth of our work. However, how can this be better shared with other fundraisers so that they better understand our process?
- Does your organization have lunch and learns? In person or virtual, they can be a great opportunity for everyone to meet and share their knowledge.
- If you’re in a small shop, create opportunities to help fundraisers find basic information more quickly on their own and show them what you typically look for in resources they don’t have access to.
- Have a conversation with them to show them how much value is in the information that they have in their heads. They often know a lot about their prospects that they may not think is important, but would be incredibly useful to a researcher.
- A one-on-one call to discuss a research request can go a long way. It is a great chance to get to know each other better, show what you each know, and help determine what’s left to be found.
- If your schedules allow, meeting for real or virtual lunch or coffee often allows you to discuss work challenges and successes in a more informal atmosphere. Some of my best strategizing sessions with fundraisers were over a cup of coffee outside of the conference room.
We all know that entering contact reports is not always the most popular task, but the information within them can be a gold mine for researchers trying to pull at threads of information to find the whole cloth.
If information doesn’t make it into your CRM, it may be lost to history. (Or to a dusty basement, like the one I once dug through to find paper files for a trustee who served 30 years ago but had an empty digital record.)
While there is often no money in an organization’s budget that can be allocated to digitize paper files, a long term project of importing paper records is a worthy goal.
It helps to take the “we’re all on the same team” approach when it comes to data. A fully-formed prospect record, inclusive of all information found, will help both fundraisers and prospect researchers alike. This all comes back to communication and valuation. When prospect researchers share the value of their work and fundraisers share their valuable information, it makes for a more successful organization overall.