Elisa Shoenberger, Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst, Loyola University Chicago and Katherine Ingrao, Assistant Director of Prospect Management at Rush University Medical Center
When I’m meeting with gift officers and leadership, I’m often told just to go google information for them. People at work seem to think that I just use Google all day and cut and paste information. Sometimes I get really weird requests about finding information on movie stars and stuff. People don’t seem to realize that prospect research isn’t a research desk! How do I explain to them that there is so much more that I do and could be doing for them?
Not a Professional Googler
Prospect Research is more than putting someone’s name in Google. It’s a common misconception of the field. It’s true that part of the role is finding information. But it’s more than just a Google search. We find a lot of our wealth information on specialized websites and reports like county assessor’s offices, real estate websites, and much more. Information on those sites aren’t easily found via Google. It requires knowledge of what resources to use. We spend a lot of time at conferences, etc. exchanging ideas for new place to find information and that’s just a small part of the story. We have to take our training and expertise, and our intuition to understand the information that we find. Is it accurate? What does it really mean about the prospect? And then we unite that knowledge with the information we know as an institution by looking at old research, contact reports and even giving. It’s so much more complicated than a Google search. We assist in determining strategy for the gift officers. We help them figure out what motivates the prospect. We can even help with ask amounts!
But there’s even more that Prospect Research can do! We have to find leads for the organization, to build the prospect pool. That takes a lot of discernment and cleverness to find people who may be interested in your mission. Schools have the natural pool of their alumni as possible prospects but researchers still have to find them out. We spend hours looking at SEC documents, news articles, reviewing top business lists, LinkedIn, and so much more. Again, new prospects aren’t something you can just Google.
And finally, we can help overall strategy for a school or program. We can look at the entire data set and help gift officers make decisions about their donors. Where events should be held? How should we split up the US between gift officers? There’s so much that prospect research can do since we are in the data all the time.
Now, you are probably thinking: That’s great, Dear Analyst. I know we do so much. How do I communicate that to my colleagues and leadership? That’s the tricky part. Often times, we as researchers have to continually make the case about what prospect research can do. In many shops, it has been helpful for a research team to hold Prospect Research 101 trainings for all staff to start the education process and to reinforce it. It also helps if you have a good advocate at the leadership level who understands what your department can do. They can appeal to other members in the leadership team about what research can do for your institution.
Regular meetings with gift officers can also be a strategy. Maintaining a regular rapport helps gift officers and researchers stay connected and working together to find ways to collaborate. These conversations and meetings allow for the opportunity of researchers to offer gift officers different ways in which they can help them in their fundraising goals. Do they need assistance prioritizing their suspects? Do they want to know where their alumni live? These meetings demonstrate the depth and breadth of what a prospect researcher can do. Of course, it’s also important to remember that you don’t want to overpromise and get overwhelmed with side projects. Your main objective is to educate and inform the gift officers who you work with not entertain every demand. A good balance is always key.
And finally, you can advocate for research by identifying opportunities your gift officers may be missing. We are the hunters, gatherers, and disseminators of our organization’s information and many times are in the best position to point out a strategy, prospect, or opportunity being overlooked. Does the person seem to like giving to health organizations and scholarships? Maybe they might be interested in supporting scholarships at a medical school?
These are just a few ways that prospect researchers can make a case for their department. Dear Analyst would love to hear the different ways you and your department have helped make the case too. We’ll post responses in the next Dear Analyst column!