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?