Written by Amelia Aldred
, Research Analyst, University of Chicago
On June 6, 2014 at the Rotary International's World Headquarters in Evanston, APRA Illinois held their annual Basic Skills Workshop, a day-long seminar series designed for new and aspiring researchers, as well as NGO professionals who wear multiple hats. The program included three lectures on prospect research basics, a panel discussion with seasoned researchers, and a networking lunch. Attendees also received a copy of the book Prospect Research is a Verb by Meredith Hancks. A happy hour at a nearby restaurant followed.
The first session, "Wealth Screening," was given by Jennifer Fry, Director of Prospect Discovery and Information at Northwestern University. Ms. Fry emphasized that wealth screening is a complicated endeavor that requires researchers to create a clear plan that defines their deliverables and outlines each step of the project. In addition, researchers must communicate clearly to stakeholders both the value of the project and the working conditions necessary for the project to succeed. Wealth screenings are often costly, in terms of both money and staff time but can allow a research team to discover and deliver a plethora of high quality prospects. "Any opportunity that you have to do it, you want to do it as well as you can to show its value," Ms. Fry concluded.
The second session, "Prospect Management vs. Prospect Research," was taught by Viviana Ramirez, Director of Prospect Management at Rush University Medical Center. The session detailed Ms. Ramirez's process of creating a prospect management policy from the ground up. Like a good researcher, she started by asking questions and documenting how prospects were already cycling through gift officers, and then created a policy based on the gaps and pain points in this current system. Ms. Ramirez stressed the importance of training gift officers and meeting regularly with all the stakeholders. Throughout the session, she used the image of the Rube Goldberg machine as a metaphor for prospect management policy often cobbled together from multiple sources and stakeholders, but all working together to move a prospect through the development cycle.
The third session, "The Hierarchy of Wealth," was presented by Rebekah O'Brien, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst at Loyola University Chicago. Ms. O'Brien started with a brief overview of wealth and philanthropy in the United States and explained how general wealth and giving trends inform prospect research. For example, while middle income donors tend to give away a larger proportion of their wealth than high income donors, the size of the high income prospects' gifts are still larger than those of middle income donors. For that reason, prospect researchers will want to focus their efforts on the very wealthy, but still send any middle income donors to an annual giving team, in order to build a well-rounded portfolio of donors. Ms. O'Brien also reviewed the difference between wealth and income, and the methods for finding publicly available information about wealth. Several seasoned researchers chimed in with additional recommendations on information resources.
The afternoon panel fielded several interesting questions, including how to best prioritize time, calculate capacity ratings, and what they enjoy most about prospect research.
After the sessions, participants went to Pete Miller's bar and restaurant, a local favorite, and swapped researching stories and tips over drinks and appetizers and was a wonderful way to end a full day of learning and sharing.
Many thanks to Amelia for writing this post! If you would like to contribute or volunteer with APRA Illinois, give us a shout.
Research Panel at recent Basic Skills Workshop