Today I’m delighted to share an article with you written by guest blogger and HBG team member Grace Chandonnet. As you’ll see, Grace is an eloquent advocate and guide for those of us planning a move toward the strategy table in our fundraising operations.
As a prospect researcher, you have access to some eye-opening tidbits of information, which makes you exceptionally valuable to the fundraising team. The trick is to get others to see it—and to give yourself a seat at the table.
Recently, I started a new working relationship with a gift officer. In our initial meeting, she came right out and asked me to include my observations and opinions in the research that I provide to her. This was a gratifying milestone in my 13-year research career. As researchers, we often talk about how it can be difficult for research to get a seat at the strategy table and here was a frontline fundraiser asking me, unsolicited, with the implicit idea that my opinions were welcomed and valued. This gift officer gets it!
Especially in the case of a new prospect, Research is the first person in an organization to “meet” that person. We intuit things about a prospect when we research them — things that we would not always include in a bullet point, or even a narrative research report. We form opinions about prospects’ personalities, their preferences, and their giving styles. When we pass those observations along, it can be a valuable part of strategy planning. Making your observations known can elevate your visibility among frontline fundraisers and the rest of the development operation while elevating their fundraising abilities.
Here are five tips to get you that seat at the table
Write down the clues. What is the value of all your experienced detective work if you keep it to yourself? Even if your organization’s model does not give you a physical seat at the strategy table, or it’s difficult to get in front of a gift officer for a conversation, you can still offer your insights and educated opinions. Include them in a Research Analysis section in the research report or mention them in an accompanying note when you email the research to your gift officer. This is especially valuable when you come across clues to the prospect’s outlook on philanthropy and their preferred ways of participating.
Separate society belles from wallflowers. Does your prospect and their spouse show up in the society pages over and over again, having their pictures taken at fundraising events dressed to the nines? Suggest that the gift officer put these prospects on the invitation list for your organization’s next gala. Or, if you glean that Mr. Prospect seems to shun the spotlight and fly under the radar, that gala invitation or offering an opportunity to name a public space may not be the best approach. Call it to your gift officer’s attention to avoid a misstep and consider a different approach.
Flex your psychological muscles. Sometimes, the clues to a prospect’s giving style are much more subtle. Not long ago I was researching a well known, very wealthy public figure, who had been decried by his critics as not being philanthropic enough. As I dug deeper, it became apparent that, although his giving seemed to be all over the map, the common denominator among the organizations he did support was that each one was dear to one of his friends or business colleagues. I called this out in my analysis and suggested that as part of a strategy, the gift officers involved take a close look at all connections to the organization. Who is his friend who is passionate about your organization?
Recently I was reading an article about a prospect’s multi-million-dollar gift to his alma mater. Buried deep in the article was a direct quote from the donor about his philanthropy and he laid out exactly how he likes to interact with the organizations he supports: significant input in how his philanthropy is used and a low-pressure fundraising style. In case others came across the same article and had not gotten past the first couple of splashy paragraphs, I wanted to be sure I included the donor’s remarks about how he likes to be cultivated in my report.
Point out patterns. When you see things like this, call them out:
…You’re researching a prospect’s family foundation and you notice that last year she made a large contribution to it that increased its assets appreciably over all previous years;
…You notice that a family foundation founder recently died. His family members are now overseeing the foundation’s giving and recently there has been a substantial change in the foundation’s giving patterns.
These are patterns that may not be obvious when you report on recent assets and gifts made by the foundation, but they may mean something important to strategy planning—in the former case, Ms. Prospect may be ramping up her philanthropy and planning her legacy. In the latter, perhaps there are new opportunities for your organization with a generational change of control.
Don’t hide your light under a basket!
If you have a seat at the table already, you probably got there in part by bringing observations like these forward.
If you are still finding your voice, try including things you notice in an accompanying email when you send your research to a gift officer. Or give them a call, or take a stroll to their office and start a conversation.
Your opinion matters and it will make a significant difference! Once you start sharing what you’re noticing, well, if you don’t already have a seat at the strategy table, you may just be invited to take one!