As Americans, we’re acculturated to believe – deep down in our cell structure – that no matter how dire the situation, the cavalry will always come at the last minute to save the day.
The cavalry can be a heroine, a hero, a bunch of dusty dudes on horses, or a squad of geeky introverts, but you only have to look at every movie ever made in Hollywood to know that when help is needed, it will come.
British films are like that, too. Do you ever doubt James Bond is going to make it through? Or that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it?
No matter what dark forces are out there, the light at the end of the tunnel will appear.
As you read in Ian MacQuillin’s article here on the Intelligent Edge last week, what’s happening right now in the UK concerning prospect research is scary for all charitable organizations. This is seriously serious, my friend. Chris Carnie writes that, on February 21st, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) will determine if someone at a nonprofit doing a simple Google search on a prospect is doing something illegal.
You read that right. A Google search.
If you’re thinking, “thanks, Helen, but that doesn’t really impact me. First of all, they haven’t been doing prospect research or fundraising all that long in the UK so maybe they’re just working out the kinks. Second, we’re safe in the US because our laws are totally different and our access and use of public information can’t be taken away,” be prepared to be surprised.
Philanthropy, professional fundraising, and prospect research have been around in the UK a very long time. The Institute of Fundraising, the UK’s version of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), was founded in 1983. CASE opened its first international office in London in 1994.
Prospect development is well-established there, too. Oxford University was posting prospect research openings in the Chronicle of Higher Education in the mid-1980s. (I know, because I cut out the ad and hid it in my office desk drawer). Philanthropy itself has been a common practice in England since at least the 1500s. It’s not a new thing. The kinks are gone.
Also, if you think that routine access to public information that you pay for with your taxes is in a safe place right now here in the US, you need to get a load of this from earlier this week.
Here’s the thing.
I woke up last Friday with the realization that the cavalry I had been waiting for wasn’t coming. It was a sober, gray morning, and the depth of the pit in my stomach was lower than it has ever been. I got up, brushed my teeth, and looked in the mirror at my face. And that’s when I realized. We are the cavalry.
And so on Saturday morning, I marched. And I was not alone.
And as I was marching, it occurred to me that, for the constituents of the nonprofits we serve, we prospect researchers are their cavalry. Not alone, of course, but you can easily imagine how fundraising falls short with a chaotic or nonexistent prospect development effort.
It filled me with a renewed sense of hope. Because I know in my gut that for every organization that has it figured out, prospect research and data analytics and prospect management are exponentially, transformationally powerful. We make a difference.
In every nonprofit in the world that has an Apra or RiF member, it has an individual who has signed a statement to uphold data protection and ethical standards. This person’s pledge signifies compliance not only for their organization but as an individual representative of our profession. We keep information about our donors safe and the work we do promotes organizational efficiency and donor-centered relationships.
Prospect research professionals are neither an organizational liability nor dispensable overhead. Each researcher that an organization is fortunate enough to have is someone whose everyday responsibility it is to support the uphill effort for the fiscal growth of that institution, and to help protect their organization from reputational harm through due diligence.
You know that I am fiercely proud of what we do. For someone who has made a career out of delving for and delivering up facts, living in a “post-truth” world – or being denied access to public data or unable to use it for legitimate purposes – is unacceptable.
We may be in a dark place right now, but we have glowing screens, and we know how to use them.
It’s a little over a month away, but March is prospect research pride month. I want you to get ready to write, to blog, to tweet, to RT, to Like, to share, to promise to make a presentation, to support others who do, and to speak up with your #ResearchPride stories. Our profession needs your voice, your fingers, and your feet.
March with me.