If you’ve been in fundraising for longer than a couple of years, chances are good that someone has come to you excitedly with their new discovery, only to for you to see that it’s someone you or a colleague has researched at least 3 times before. This week, my colleague Karla Davis shares her novelty-forward approach for (re)considering familiar donor prospects with fresh eyes. ~Helen
Strategies for the Boredom That Sets in When Researching the Same Type of Prospect
It’s time to start researching a new prospect. As I look at the individual’s name, I hope it won’t be the same guy I keep finding myself researching.
Who is This Guy?
- He’s the CEO of a publicly-traded company, founder of a hedge fund, or a private investor.
- He’s among the top ten names from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List.
- He’s frequently on TV or quoted in newspapers, offering opinions on his business, the economy, or a subject no one asked him about.
- He’s so well-known that his exploits cause him to be featured on both CNBC TV and TMZ.
- He’s never donated to your organization but someone always wants a research profile.
- He rarely identifies as BIPOC.
This is when my eyes glaze over. I want to be excited when I research a prospect. To me, the primary draw to doing prospect research is capturing a person’s story and connecting it to the mission of a nonprofit. It is hard to get excited when the story seems extremely familiar.
When faced with researching This Guy, these are my strategies:
Confirm the Need for a Research Profile
Do I really need to research This Guy? Why? (No, I’m not trying to get out of doing work. I want to know more about what the fundraiser is hoping to do with my research, which is standard operating procedure in our profession to help maximize limited resources).
Is This Guy a previous donor?
Has a meeting been scheduled with This Guy?
Did someone read an article detailing the background of This Guy and now they want me to put the same information in a profile? Or what do they want to know that was not in the article?
Will they be satisfied with other information instead, like a record of the prospect’s philanthropic interests or a business e-mail address?
I always hope to hear an answer more substantial than “I learned of the existence of an affluent guy who lives in our city.” or “He gave a lot of money to XYZ. Maybe he’ll give us some, too.”
If the fundraiser still wants a profile after we’ve discussed options, I will continue to my next step.
Feel My Feelings
I allow myself time to get angry about This Guy’s role in my life. I’m always being asked to research him. It’s so unfair, I mutter under my breath like a bratty child. Why does he get all the attention? Maybe it’s because he makes up most of the demographic representing most of the CEOs, hedge fund founders, and investors. Maybe when my fundraiser thinks of the phrase “major gifts donor,” an image of This Guy comes to mind.
After remembering to unclench my jaw, I decide on my playlist for my workday. What’s going to make me happy? A podcast with hilarious hosts? Instrumental movie soundtracks? Songs that make me dance in my chair? Whatever I choose, it’s all about reframing my attitude.
Check My Bias
All of us are biased about something. My resistance to researching This Guy is likely tied to my issues with those I perceive to be privileged.
I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. After working primarily for nonprofits, I am not wealthy. I do not expect to inherit great wealth. I recognize that I have a chip on my shoulder about wealthy people. This may be why I consume and enjoy so much entertainment involving messy rich people or failing business empires.
Intellectually, I know the bias is my issue. It has nothing to do with This Guy.
Seek Out Something New About the Prospect
This Guy may appear on assorted business television shows weekly, but he’s usually talking about the same subjects. An interview in a glossy city magazine, local newspaper or a podcast may yield a new insight that can help with research.
Despite my feelings about This Guy, I do my job. I may roll my eyes as I note his recent purchase of a sports team, but I know it will be valuable information to my fundraiser.
Advocate for Different Prospects
Once This Guy’s profile is completed, I can get ready to start the entire process over again.
Or, I can build on the relationship I have with the fundraiser and talk with them about their prospects. Maybe they never noticed I’m always researching This Guy for them. Maybe they noticed, but they have different priorities demanding their time and energy. Maybe they share my feelings about This Guy, but they’re unclear about where to search for different prospects. Maybe This Guy dominates their donor pool. I won’t be able to help steer them in a better direction if I don’t speak to them.
One thing is for sure: This Guy isn’t going anywhere, and I’ll likely be researching him again.
It’s okay. I’ve got lots of experience.