The gift that led to the billionaire
A friend and colleague of mine (who is one smart cookie) was researching a newly-identified prospect in his 30s. Although relatively young, Mr. Jones seemed to be on a steep upward trajectory in his career, and he had volunteered for the organization where she works on a number of recent occasions. She wanted frontline fundraisers to get to know him. When she started to write up the profile and filled in the section about his philanthropic gifts to her organization, Cookie noticed a tribute gift that was even higher than their “Hmm, look at that!” category. (That’s a stray gift in whatever amount that makes you do a double take when you see it). The tribute gift was given to her nonprofit on the occasion of Mr. Jones’s wedding by a Mr. Smith. “Now why would Mr. Smith give such a large amount in honor of Mr. Jones’s wedding? That seems overly generous,” she thought. As an experienced researcher, it didn’t take long before Cookie discovered that Mr. Smith was the head of a large, very recognizable family-owned company, and he had given the gift on the occasion of his daughter’s marriage to young Mr. Jones. Possibilities immediately opened up for both family and corporate sponsorship opportunities at the 7-figure level. Wow!
The prospect, the golf club, and the island
Here at HBG, we have a test profile for prospective employees. The name we used to give to applicants was a man who was at retirement age. The gentleman in question had done well in his career, but it was his wife who had brought a significant amount of money to their marriage. Being a trick profile, this fact wasn’t evident on the face of things. The pair’s house in Connecticut was up for sale and they had recently bought a home in Florida. Both the prospect and his spouse were members of golf clubs in Connecticut and Florida (which made sense), but they also belonged to a very swanky club on an island. Successful applicants would ask themselves: what’s up with that golf club on the island? And the next nagging question would be: Why would they belong to a club if they don’t own a residence nearby? Further research would lead them to discover a significant family compound in the spouse’s maiden name, and a host of information about her family’s old money would be discovered from there.
You can just check off the boxes…
Doing these two profiles, someone just checking all the boxes and reporting the details as they saw them would still have a fact-based report. And of course, the extra effort may only pan out a few times in a dozen with such spectacular discoveries as these. But even unspectacular discoveries make a difference to the quality of a profile, and small details can help frontline fundraisers craft just the right approach.
Golden String Theory
Last week in this space I talked about the data elements that can go into a full prospect research profile, and the menu of items I listed was pretty exhaustive.
But finding and making a note of available information at face value isn’t using (or providing) intelligence. It’s just collating and reporting what is obvious, or merely available.
When we pull at those golden threads – those nagging bits of information that don’t make sense – it’s like the bang generated when you pull on the string in a Christmas cracker. You power up your impact. That kind of critical thinking is what makes good researchers great – and makes our contribution to the bottom line evident. Especially when we pull strings that lead to 7-figure possibilities.