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Apra-IL Blog

You Should Write a Blog About That!

As part of our goal to share industry and career-related information to colleagues in the fundraising development field, we encourage you to contact us if you would like to contribute to our blog. 

Current 2022 Blog Series:

T.R.U.S.T - What Does Collaboration Mean to You?

Completed in 2021/2020: 

The Research Rabbit Hole

The Hot Seat

The Prospect Development Professional's Haven

Questions, Questions, Read all About the Answers!

Placing a Seat at the Table

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  • Fri, January 14, 2022 12:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    T.R.U.S.T - What Does Collaboration Mean to You? Jessica Boudakian, Associate Director of Prospect Development at CHOP Foundation and Joan Ogwumike, Blogger and Prospect Researcher at the Obama Foundation are delving into the Apra Illinois inbox. They are answering questions and giving advice on relationship building in prospect development between frontline fundraisers and PD professionals, and so much more. If you want to submit a question please email us at apraillinois@gmail.com (you can be anonymous as well, we are here to help).

    Anonymous Question: Thank you in advance for answering my question. I would like to know how to talk to my fundraisers about their lack of interest during our prospect management meetings. I know I can’t force interest, but this is my job, and I make their jobs better. How can I make them see that this is a necessary partnership? One of my fundraisers told me that although she believes “our prospect management meetings are important, it takes too much time.”  I work at a small K-12 private school and we have a total of 5 fundraisers, I am the sole prospect research and management specialist, and my role was newly introduced to the organization in 2017. In the last 3 to 4 years, it has been a real learning curve, so, any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    Jessica: I too have struggled with gift officers that are disinterested in prospect management meetings. Please continue to be enthusiastic about your work! Not only are you valuable to your organization, but colleagues can pick up on our enthusiasm. Our passion for our work can get them excited too!

    A couple of thoughts:

    • One of your fundraisers says that the meetings take too much time. Are your meetings too long? Personally, I find myself struggling to pay attention to anything over an hour long, no matter how much I enjoy the work. Zoom fatigue is real! 
    • Are you meeting too often? Find the right cadence to give your gift officers enough time to take action. This will hopefully stop you from reviewing the same data points over and over, and everyone will have enough time to make updates in the CRM. Consistently providing clean, accurate reporting will go a long way towards building trust between you and the gift officers you support.
    • What is the goal of the meeting? What is the ideal outcome? Think critically about what information needs to be covered and why. Consider taking a break from meetings. Pull down all meetings for a set period to see what is truly needed. 
    • Get back to the basics. Start and end meetings on time. Send an agenda in advance with a time frame added to each topic (for example: open solicitation review - 15 minutes; planned solicitation review - 10 minutes; new prospect discussion - 20 minutes; research request updates - 5 minutes; etc.). I like to include “could have been an email” type information at the bottom of the agenda for gift officers to review on their own time. 
    • Find a champion on the fundraising team that will advocate for you, and don’t be afraid to shine your own light. You are the expert on your work in your shop! If a prospect you identified gave a nice donation, don’t be afraid to let people know that you found them.
    • Teach your team how to use your work, and how to read data and find the actionable item. Some gift officers can receive prospect information and reporting and run with that, but others will need a little bit of coaching. 
    • Depending on your relationship, you might be able to have a candid and vulnerable conversation on what is and isn’t working. Ask for feedback! You can do this 1:1, via email, or even by an anonymous survey. Listen to the feedback you receive too. Often colleagues just want to be heard and acknowledged even if you can’t incorporate their ideas.
    • And finally, it might be time to ~let it go ~ Sometimes you will do everything right and still the team won’t see you as a partner. This is unfortunate, but it’s their loss. Continue to do excellent work that is integral to a well-functioning fundraising shop!

    Joan: Jessica has made phenomenal and practical points! My addition - Education is crucial to disinterest and partnership. Fundraisers shy away from learning the operational management of prospects, but they excel in cultivating relationships and asking for money. Which is exactly where we need them, but we have to communicate the need for portfolio cleanups, solicitation management, and prospect development. Both areas in the fundraising field need one another, and you are absolutely right, this is a necessary partnership. Stand in that truth!

    • Have you considered a training session that introduces or refreshes your fundraisers on the concept of prospect research and management? Sometimes, they know something is important but they don’t know why. Also, they may know something is important but not how it directly affects them.
    • Make sure your training session is not a presentation in which you are just talking at them, find a way to spice it up so you are having a conversation. If it is interactive, then they can feel involved in the experience.
    • Your experience with your fundraisers is a shared and relatable dance that far too many in prospect development have engaged in. But there is always an opportunity for enlightenment and change. Please try to not feel defeated by their attitude towards your great work because you are true to this, and they are simply new to it.

  • Thu, October 21, 2021 1:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Amy Tibbs, Development Research Associate at the National Audubon Society.

    My favorite kind of rabbit holes, which are born of the same cursed curiosity that leads to casual genealogy projects, a curiosity most people share in our line of work. My very favorite rabbit holes are the ones that uncover tawdry, pearl-clutching, gossip column fodder.

    One that sticks with me involves the widow of a prominent developer known for his work turning a swampy southern city into a retreat for the ultra-wealthy. The widow was left a substantial estate in the 1910s and shortly after she was widowed, she reconnected with a former beau – a poor country lawyer, also recently widowed. They married after a brief courtship, and when she mysteriously died less than a year after their wedding, the whispers commenced. Despite swearing he would make no claims to her wealth, the poor country lawyer had been added to her will for a few million dollars, very upsetting to her relatives (note: she had no children, relatives were siblings, cousins, in-laws) who stood to inherit the lion’s share of the estate. What had he done? How can they prove there was foul play? Obviously an exhumation… and here’s where it gets wild. The family secretly assembled a team of high-profile doctors from all over the United States and transported them to the cemetery on private rail cars. Post-exhumation and examination, the family dropped their fight against his inheritance. BUT WHY??? While many rumors swirled, the results of the examination were never released. In the words of the wise Tootsie Roll owl, the world may never know. 

    Of course, often these stories are well-known to those at the family’s favored institutions. But they are new to me, and I would rather breathlessly pore over 25 Chrome tabs of century-old articles than click on a sanitized Wikipedia page any day. I think this Twitter thread from the great Rebecca Makkai, reveals bits and pieces of a mysterious relationship and death, excitedly I share these details as I learn them, in short bursts, with my poor husband: OKAY, mystery time…

  • Wed, September 22, 2021 2:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Joan Ogwumike, Prospect Research Associate at the Obama Foundation.

    Can we unanimously agree that prospecting begets research rabbit holes? We all know what happens when you’re told, “I’m interested in X prospects with Y philanthropic interest, within 3.5 miles from the city that I will be visiting.” The prospecting project (affectionately regarded here as a math formula) equates to several hours of work, compiling a list and verifying the right prospects for outreach.

    The wealth lists – 2021 Forbes 100 CEOs, Law 360’s Top Law Firms in the U.S., Top Tech Investors in New York – we are all familiar with them. We scour through them, and bookmark for “a quiet day.” How about the lists pulled from database reports, we can consider them mining expeditions. The typical prospecting process: you begin by intentionally carving out time to prospect, then the search per name via the web, begins. And, within moments, you suddenly switch to your 16th tab to open a research tool so you can find giving information, property, and hopefully a live email.

    Let’s talk about emails. Actually, let’s not, because there is no need to remind a prospect researcher of how long it takes to find, and verify, an email address. My success stories include the many moments when I found an email address buried in a person’s personal website – the photographer who puts their contact information in very tiny font on a random sub-page; the tech developer who has a “contact me” link on their personal website, and when you hover over link the email address appears; or the entrepreneur who is a part-time rockstar and you happen to stumble onto the band’s website just to find the entrepreneur’s email to their current VC firm. Sometimes, research tools are a success with emails and prospecting projects, and other times, Google is the undefeated source on what is current and needed.

    Well, as they say, it is all in a day’s work.

  • Mon, August 09, 2021 4:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Joan Ogwumike, Prospect Research Associate at the Obama Foundation.

    Throughout our tenures as prospect researchers, we experience and conduct a genealogical search at least once – you know, the search in which a family tree is uncovered, explained, and analyzed. Well, my most recent search was unlike any before it. It was the year 2021, the Summer was hot, and Covid 19 masks were optional. The research request was based on an email from a daughter inquiring on how to get her parents more philanthropically involved with the mission. From there, my quest began – who were her parents, and what was their capacity? First, I searched high and low for more information on the daughter, learning occupation, spouse, and aha, alma mater! By knowing her alma mater, I hoped that I could find a graduation roaster. If I could find that, somewhere in the depths of Vint Cerf and Beyonce’s internet, then I could find her maiden name which would help me find her parents.

    After an hour of selective keyword searches, I was able to find a scanned graduation program, and most importantly, the daughter’s maiden name. As I searched for any results on the name, I was able to find her grandmother and grandfather’s obituaries, which also listed her parents. This was a joyous moment, one of those moments when you sat back in your seat and felt accomplished because, finally, the parents were found.

    But yes, now you are realizing it too…I had spent all of that time figuring out the parents’ names. Hours, spent on names, meant that now the actual prospective research was to begin.

    Long story short, the parents were wealthy, what more could be said?

  • Mon, July 12, 2021 5:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Kathryn Thomas, Senior Prospect Identification Analyst at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.

    How many of us in Prospect Research have done a biographical profile, capacity review, or contact update on Oprah Winfrey? How about Bill & Melinda Gates, MacKenzie Scott, or Sheryl Sandberg? And how many of our organizations have, in turn, received a gift from them? We all know, after working in this field for just days or weeks, that there are white whales of philanthropy. People whose names are quietly vetted by boards in closed conference rooms or lauded as program saviors in prospecting brainstorms.

    A request came through our research request queue that perfectly describes my relationship with this type of prospect. One of our campus units focused on environmental sustainability met with their board and a name had been floated as the perfect campaign lead. For the sake of this conversation, I’ll call him “Jack.” You may know Jack; he is infamous for his shenanigans in the middle of the ocean – dancing a jig, falling in love, and tragically drowning despite the availability of a perfectly good, floating raft-like device.

    Although his exploits in the ocean didn’t end well, Jack has a passion for clean water. Therefore, he was the perfect whale for our campus unit. The problem, from a researcher’s standpoint, wasn’t affinity, but access. Jack’s contact information wasn’t going to come up on LexisNexis or the YellowPages. His cell phone number and business numbers were as closely guarded as Rose’s grip on that door!

    At this point, I was ready for a little research treat (some cerebral junk food to balance out the healthy diet of easy-to-answer capacity review questions and address updates). So, despite knowing it was a longshot and anticipating my request would end up with a recommendation to reach out to Jack’s foundation through formal channels, the hunt was on! And let me tell you, Jack has formidable fans. Sometimes it’s scary how much information we’re able to discover about our prospects, but when researching a celebrity, the information skews less scary and more … odd. I was able to, within an hour, describe where Jack likes to lunch, how he takes his coffee, and his suit measurements. Within two hours, I could name every country he had visited for his philanthropic work, every woman he had ever looked at, and his childhood pet. And within three, I found several addresses, email address, and phone numbers.

    In the end, I did not share this contact information with our Development Officer. Not only would contacting Jack on his cell phone be unprofessional, I was certain it would also wig him out and not engender positive feelings toward the cause. But if ever we have dire (and relevant) need of another celebrity phone number, I know just the rabbit hole to jump down.

  • Mon, June 07, 2021 4:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Research Rabbit Hole - a blog series exploring all the fun, random paths we end up on at work. Today's entry is from Tesha Pittenger, Prospect Research Analyst at the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.

    Prospects Who Invent Their Own Countries

    I’m relatively new to prospect research; August will mark my two-year anniversary in the field. One of the characteristics I love best about my work is its variability – you never know where a research request will lead. I’ve learned of the myriad ways wealth can be acquired (having a lumber baron for an ancestor, producing meat products, inventing just the right thing at just the right time) and stumbled across fascinating family histories (living in Nazi-occupied Holland, being a distant relative of a famous advice columnist, having a child who represented a country in the Winter Olympics in its first ever appearance). I can safely say, though, that I never expected to research royalty, much less the royal members of a country I had never heard of.

    Earlier this year, a development officer had received an inquiry from a micronation representative and asked the Research Team for more information. I volunteered for the request and thus encountered my deepest research rabbit hole: the world of micronations. Defined broadly, micronations are political and generally small or virtual entities that declare their independence but are not internationally recognized. They can range in size; the Kingdom of Lovely, created as part of the BBC show How to Start Your Own Country, had an East London flat as its official territory, while Sealand is a metal platform off the coast of England. Their motivations are equally varied. Karo Lyn started the Ambulatory Free States of Obsidia as a self-proclaimed “ridiculous project.” The Principality of Hutt River began as a dispute with the Australian government over wheat production quotas, and Giorgio Rosa created Rose Island as a symbol of freedom. Micronations have produced their own currencies, flags, governing documents, postal systems, holidays, citizen applications, and more, depending on their leaders’ ambitions and priorities. Primarily, established nations ignore them, but there are some notable exceptions – the Italian Navy seized control of Rose Island in 1968 and used explosives to dismantle it in 1969.

    As it pertains to development – though an individual can claim a country, announce that they are royalty, and express interest in making a gift – they may not be a good prospect. Cryptocurrency created by a fake nation certainly isn’t worth the same as Bitcoin…at least not yet. A kingdom may be more virtual than actual real estate assets. The title of “dictator” could evoke reputational risk concerns.

    Time will tell what the results of my specific research will yield; however, an assignment to delve into micronations epitomizes the kind of fun and diverse requests that a prospect researcher can encounter. I’m happy to have joined the team!

  • Wed, May 05, 2021 10:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    Beth Bandy is principal of Beth Bandy Research + Consulting (www.bethbandy.com). She has been an independent researcher, trainer, and consultant serving not-for-profit organizations around the world since 2011. Her weekly International Prospect Research Newsletter has been going out more-or-less regularly since 2012. Her clients include independent schools, colleges and universities, museums, hospitals, and global NGOs. She has delivered training sessions on fundraising, operations, and governance issues for organizations in the US, Canada, the EU, and South Africa. Earlier in her career, Beth worked for Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations; was Director of Development Research at Amherst College; and contributed to fundraising efforts at Bennington College in various capacities, including as Manager of Research and Director of Advancement Operations. 

    1. Do you ever collaborate with prospect researchers or other non-profit professionals in the countries that you are researching, for help or advice? Is collaboration and networking important when trying to learn about wealth in other countries?

      I think networking is important in general. As researchers, we are an inquisitive bunch. Touching base with colleagues in other parts of the world can be a fascinating experience, giving us insights into the day-to-day realities of working in the not-for-profit sector outside of the United States. That said, I have not collaborated with prospect researchers in other countries when working on specific research projects or to learn about wealth trends around the world. 

      I started doing international prospect research in the early 2000s and was working regularly on international projects by 2005. Back then, the prospect research profession was mostly centered in the US and other English-speaking countries (Canada, UK, and Australia) where it was relatively easy to figure out how to find the information I needed about prospects. When I researched prospects in other countries – from France to Mexico to Bhutan – there were no prospect researchers (that I knew of, at least) to contact. 

      In the absence of people to ask about wealth and philanthropy in other countries, I developed a two-part system of doing international research that I still use today. The first part involves asking a series of questions to find the best data sources. Who collects the data I need and why? Do they make that collected data available to the public? If so, is it in an electronic format that I can access from the United States? If not, what other sources might be available? The second part involves self-education. There are many research and philanthropy organizations around the world that regularly release reports on business, compensation, real estate, and giving trends. In addition to reading a lot of these kinds of reports, which are invaluable for understanding global wealth, I have hundreds of alerts set up for search terms related to wealth, business, and philanthropy. I also scan news feeds of dozens of international magazines and newspapers each week. My understanding of wealth around the world primarily comes from working in this system for a long time. 

    2. True or False: There are not enough resources or trainings on international research. Please explain your answer. Also, please tell readers about any resources that have helped you in your career so far. 

      Regarding resources for international prospect research, false. There are lots of resources available for this kind of work. It is difficult to find them, however, because they generally are not available through centralized databases and often are in languages other than English. 

      Regarding trainings, true. Some country-specific trainings are available, and these can be immensely helpful when you plan to research prospects in a particular country within the next six months to a year. Beyond that point, old resources may become obsolete and new resources may emerge. 

      One of the exciting things I find about doing international prospect research is that it requires a strategy for finding the sources you need, regardless of where a prospect lives. There are not enough classes that focus on developing an international research strategy, even though this process is essential.  

      Prospect researchers may tackle only a few international projects a year. How do you get up-and-running on an occasional international project without the ability to quickly figure out what sources might be available and best to use when you need them? When a researcher leaves one organization and joins another, they may find that they suddenly need to research prospects in countries for which they have no existing list of resources. How do you gain the professional flexibility to do international prospects for different organizations during your prospect research career? Having a solid international research strategy is the key.

      When I started doing international prospect research, there were not many opportunities for training in international prospect research. I began collecting lists resources and looking for patterns in how data was collected and shared. Along the way, I found lots of country-specific wealth lists, salary surveys, philanthropy trend reports, and other resources that provided context for my work. You can see examples of these kinds of resources on my Pinterest account: https://www.pinterest.com/BethBandyResearch/_saved.

    3. When it comes to researching international prospects, what are 3 challenges prospect development professionals and fundraisers ask you advice on, and what are your responses?

      • Will my prospect in [fill in the blank] country want to give?

        As with prospects here in the United States, your prospects in other parts of the world will have individual reasons to make (or to not make) gifts to your organization. More broadly, there are many philanthropic trends reports for countries and regions around the world. Examples include the India Philanthropy Report, which has been released annually by Bain India, for many years (https://www.bain.com/insights/india-philanthropy-report-2021). You can find these reports by Googling the name of the country or region with terms like “philanthropy report.” Some reports may not be available in English, so you also can try searching in your prospect’s local language and then using a translation tool to help you read the report if it is in a language that is not familiar to you.
      • Why can’t I find anything about my prospect in China?

        There could be many answers to this question, but often the first stumbling block has to do with not having the Chinese characters for the prospect’s name. There are many places to look for these characters – but no guarantee that you will find them. For top company executives, places to try include the Chinese-language versions of corporate websites and public company filings, as well as corporate registration materials, which will be in Chinese only. If you cannot read Chinese, use a translation tool to help you find the correct person by job title.
      • Where can I find a deed for my prospect’s house?

        Here in the United States, we are used to being able to look up property ownership records by an individual’s name. This option is generally not available in other parts of the world. In some places, such as in Montreal, you can search by address and find the owners name on public record. In other places, you might find property records without any names listed. Many countries do not make real estate records available publicly at all.

        This situation is one in which having a solid international research strategy is key. Start by asking basic questions: Who collects real estate data and why? Are property records collected by a local government office or perhaps a national land registry? Are the collected records made available to the public in an electronic format that is accessible from your computer?

        In the absence of public records like deeds and assessments, you will need to find comparable values for neighboring properties. Try checking recent sale prices on local real estate websites in your prospect’s local language. Large real estate companies and government agencies also may put out real estate price trend data that can be helpful in your search.
  • Fri, April 02, 2021 2:10 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    Ruthie Giles is a thought leader in the field of prospect management. She is a straightforward, big picture thinker with an analytical mind and a passion for systems, analytics, and strategy. Ruthie is the Associate Director of Advancement Services at Westfield State University. Previously, she worked at Amherst College, Mount Holyoke College, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, The Loomis Chaffee School, and The Williston Northampton School. Ruthie has 5 cats and a dog, she is often found powerlifting at the gym, and embraces being a data nerd as if it were the most coveted superpower in the universe.


    1. How can we reimagine portfolio analysis with an eye for collaboration between fundraisers and prospect development professionals?

      Portfolio analysis is the new and improved version of portfolio review. We are no longer reviewing a portfolio and the prospect within it. We are looking at the portfolio as a whole, doing data analysis on it to discover not only what is working well, but what is being overlooked and where to find the “white noise”. Portfolio analysis includes, directing fundraisers towards areas of opportunity and challenges, while making room for new opportunities; helping fundraisers become more efficient and effective in their efforts by offering them multiple strategies for various scenarios in their portfolio; And, transforming the old style of portfolio review meetings and fundraiser team meetings into meetings where we talk collaboratively about strategy. We need these meetings to be the forums in which we share what is working and what is not, and offer insight through various lenses of our work.

      I know of fundraising shops that have seamlessly and brilliantly integrated prospect management and portfolio analysis with their frontline fundraisers. The silos are gone, the egos are set aside, and no longer is the phrase “but we have always done it that way” being muttered. The team looks to data and prospect research to help guide their strategy and help tailor their portfolios. The data and the work of prospect development professionals build the foundation for fundraisers’ success. This is an ideal configuration for any fundraising office; however, it is currently the exception and not the rule. 

      To achieve this level of “fundraising nirvana”, a paradigm shift is necessary in the entire nonprofit sector. Currently, we are in the early stages, and I expect that we will see this change happen one shop at a time until we reach the tipping point where everyone recognizes it as a best practice, and everyone scrambles to institute it. This type of transformation takes time, and it counts on there being buy-in at various levels. It also requires a leap of faith, jumping away from the way things have always been done, toward a new way of approaching our work. But the return on investment for making this leap is worth it, and the shops who have already gone this route can prove it. As Darth Vader once said to a young Luke Skywalker, "Join me and together we can rule the galaxy”.

    2. What is a rule of thumb that motivates you through your everyday tasks?

      Years ago, I heard a story that originated in a conversation by English architect Sir Christopher Wren (1623-1732) during the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire. In this story, Sir Wren came upon three men who were working. He asked the first man “What are you doing?” and the man replied “I am laying bricks”. He posed the same question to the second man who replied “I am building a wall” when he asked the same question to the third man he replied “I am building a cathedral.” While the three men performed the exact same task, their responses demonstrated how each saw that task through a different lens.

      On a daily basis, we all do various tasks at work. We look up information, we do data entry, we reply to colleagues, we learn new skills, we write profiles, we create lists, we make recommendations, and we discuss strategies. We all make our own choice as to how we view our efforts. While I often think I am simply “laying bricks” I know that my ultimate goal is to “build a temple”.  

      When I go into the office, turn on my computer and check my email, I am not there to perform a task, pull a list, write a profile, or strategize with colleagues. I am there so a deserving young person has the means to attend the university, has the tools and resources necessary for their courses, and has access to quality professors. My work is important because these young people will go on to become our accountants, police officers, nurses, social workers, bankers, doctors, entrepreneurs, innovators, entertainers, teachers, veterinarians, librarians, mayors, nonprofit professionals, and perhaps even prospect researchers. In order for them to be the very best at their future profession, I need to make sure that I do my job well.  Not to sound overly dramatic, but I get up in the morning and do my job because the future depends on it.  

      I think of it like the hologram message from Princess Leia saying “Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope” – I wake up in the morning and choose to be the Obi Wan to my organization’s Leia …. Every. Single. Day.   Seriously, what better motivation is there than that?

    3. True or False: Prospect Management is difficult, and it takes a long time to get everyone onboard with policy changes and portfolio management. Please explain your reasoning. 

      This is both true and false.  

      There is often one initial early adopter, and they are vital to getting your entire team onboard with a new prospect management system. The initial early adopter is a risk taker and a trailblazer. They are open to fully immersing themselves in this new approach to achieve better outcomes, in spite of the fact that no one has yet proven that the prospect management system works as promised. They would follow the teachings of Yoda: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” They are a strong partner with prospect management and an advocate for it. Every shop should be lucky enough to have an initial early adopter on their team.  

      Without this initial early adopter, things are a bit more of a challenge in getting everyone on board.  People do not like change. There have been numbers of studies and papers on the topic of why people resist change. When faced with a team firmly grounded in their resistance to change, it takes a long time to get everyone on board. You will need to go over the new policies and procedures ad nauseam, and do a fair amount of hand holding as each team member tentatively dips their toes into the prospect management pool. All the while, you sit there like Darth Vader thinking “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

      And in either situation - there is always the laggard - that one person who is the last to get on board with the implementation of prospect management in an advancement shop. These are the individuals who have an aversion to change and adhere strongly to their personal mantra of “this is the way we have always done it”. That person may hold out for years on fully embracing the prospect management system, and even then, they may still long for the old ways of doing things. In those cases, you must simply be comfortable with the fact that you cannot get the laggard to be fully on board, and turn your focus to the remainder of the team who have made the adjustment. 

  • Tue, March 02, 2021 10:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    David Lawson is a leader in bringing actionable insights to the fundraising community. He is the CEO and Co-founder of NewSci, LLC and author of the notable book, Big Good: Philanthropy in the Age of Big Data & Cognitive Computing. Additional career highlights include but are not limited to - In 1997, he founded Prospect Information Network (P!N), which became the largest wealth screening company before being purchased in 2004. In 2014, he was among the early application developers approved to use IBM Watson. And, David is the recipient of the Apra Distinguished Service Award and the CASE Crystal Apple Award for Teaching Excellence. If you have any questions for David, you can reach him at David@NewSci.ai

    1. True or false: Data is a renewable resource – vulnerable and valuable. Please explain why with your answer. 

      The blessing and the curse of data is it never stops being created, so while some call data the new oil, it is more like the sun, constantly generating new data and combining data to create even more for us to consume and make sense of. So, data is renewable in the truest sense of the word.

      As to vulnerability, data presents special challenges because it can so easily be transferred between entities and individuals. That ease puts a premium on an organization's data governance capabilities. Too often data is merely stored instead of managed and that leads to data breaches and data leaks. Data is also vulnerable to becoming out-of-date or irrelevant. Two big vulnerabilities are the quality of the data and missing data. Ensuring data quality is a full-time job, and identifying missing data, including why it is missing, is too often overlooked and leads to erroneous information and insights.

      The value of data is closely linked to the ability or inability for it to be turned into actionable insights. Without the insight, it is just a collection of facts and data points, and without actions, the insights are rarely turned into something of high value.

      My experience over the years with wealth screening has been that the organizations who combine the data obtained from a screening vendor with internal information in order to go beyond just wealth indicators, and then integrate the insights into their fundraising processes, are the ones who realize the highest return on their investment. 

      Truly appreciating the value of data requires an organization to see data acquisition and analysis not as a cost-center, but rather as a profit-center. To make your case look at the value of the insights you provide such as what is the mean major gift from newly discovered prospects. Multiply that by the number of new prospects and you have a potential Return on Insight formula, and you can of course use the actuals to show the value already realized. For lower level donors, look at direct mail and marketing. You need a correct address in order to potentially receive a gift, so it is fair to highlight the amount of donations received through the mail from people who had a corrected address (or a correct email) in the last year. If you really want to show executives how valuable keeping track of people is, calculate the life-time value of your donors and then use that as you multiplier.

      Machine learning, natural language processing, and deep learning, known collectively as AI, are making data exponentially more valuable. At the same time, this technology has the potential to dramatically increase the vulnerability of data as it requires the aggregation of more and more sources to create the algorithms used to glean insights. Monitoring the quality of all the data going into an AI-powered platform requires new levels of data governance especially around data provenance to ensure you know from where data came. Privacy regulations such as GDPR are making it mandatory for organizations to be able to explain how their algorithms work which means you have to know what data was used, how it was used, and its origin. We can expect this type of data regulation to become more prevalent as algorithms are more deeply integrated into our everyday lives making the consequences of data bias and misuse even more consequential

    2. What is our argument for the ethical use of data analytics in the nonprofit sector?

      Being data-driven has become a cliche, but it became one because it is critical to an organization’s success. For a nonprofit organization this is even more true because they do not have resources to waste being data-blind. Before analytics, organizations ran on intuition and gut instincts. In a small nonprofit you might get away with this approach much as a startup company relies heavily on the passion and knowledge of its founders. Once an organization matures it is frankly unethical to keep operating without a deeper understanding of what is happening within the organization and to use that understanding to make better decisions.

      This does not, however, give a nonprofit free reign to do whatever data collecting and analysis they want to do. Just because one is doing good with data does not give one a pass on not doing that good as ethically as possible. Keep in mind data ethics isn’t just about you and your organization. It is also about the sources of data you acquire and the companies you use to manage your data. They too must adhere to the same standards you set for your organization. 

      Data ethics begins with establishing clear values and principles for how your organization sources, collects, stores, analyzes, transmits, and uses data. With these in hand you can build an ethics-first data governance program to support your organization’s actionable insights needs.

    3. What are some strategies for effective data collection? 

      Start with cataloging all of your current data. This is a daunting task, but easier now that there are platforms specifically designed to help you create one. The data catalog needs to be across your entire organization, not just in a departmental silo. You will be amazed, and at times shocked, by where data resides and who has access to it.

      With the data catalog as the foundation, you can begin a deeper analysis of the quality of your data as well as identifying missing data. This is never a fun exercise as you will surely find serious quality issues and critical data completely absent. Rather than fear what you will find, recognize the first step in data governance is accepting the inherent imperfections of data. What is important is to then establish processes to increase the quality of your data and minimize instances of missing data.

      With the catalog and data analysis completed, you can focus on data provenance, also known as data lineage. This provides a clear picture of the sources of data, enabling you to accurately trace issues and errors back to their source and, if a breach occurs, where it happened and what data was impacted. Whether it is an internal source such as your gift processing team or an external data provider, knowing where, when, and who your data came from can no longer be ignored if your goal is to have an ethical, effective, and efficient data collection operation.

      Given the speed at which data is created, collected, and analyzed, it is also worth considering an anomaly detection system. How you monitor for anomalies will depend on the frequency and importance of the data being monitored. You want to find a balance between being alerted to anomalies in time to take action, and not having so many alerts you start to ignore them. To help make the case for anomaly detection, take a data point such as the amount of a donation and trace it through your reports, dashboards, analytics, and predictive models dependent on the data to show, for example, the negative impact of a $1,000 gift being entered as $100,000 or meetings with campaign prospects not being recorded. Anomaly detection was something we did a lot of in my wealth screening company, Prospect Information Network (P!N). What we found was data providers during an update would not always send everything we were expecting. Because of the large volume of data, it would have been easy to miss, for instance, one county's real estate records, and only through anomaly detection were we able to find missing data and fix it!
  • Tue, February 02, 2021 3:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Hot Seat is a series in which prominent industry experts answer grueling questions stemming from prospect research to consulting to analytics. How will they do under pressure? Read to find out!

    Kelly Labrecque is a senior researcher at the Helen Brown Group. Prior to joining HBG in 2013, she was a research analyst at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the Division of Development & Jimmy Fund as part of the prospect identification team. Kelly began her career in development in 2008 as an administrative assistant in Major Gifts at Wheaton College. When not doing research, you can find her at the barn with her horse, JP.


    1. When do you find conducting research difficult, and when do you find joy? 

      I think regardless of the level of difficulty of the task, I always derive joy from my work. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be in this business. That said, there are times of frustration. In particular, when I can’t find visible asset information for a prospect when my “spidey senses” are telling me he or she clearly has capacity. I tend to convert that frustration into creative energy – developing new ways to look at and think about wealth, philanthropy, and the process of cultivation itself. I think the most rewarding part of the job is when your organization or client gets a transformational gift as a result of your hard work!

    2. When prospecting what is the last thing a prospect researcher should ever do?

      Aside from the typical ethical standards, one thing I have learned over the years is “don’t judge a book by its cover.” I know it’s trite, but hear me out. I often think about the tag line from the book The Millionaire Next Door (Stanley and Danko, 1996),“most of the truly wealthy in this country don’t live in Beverly Hills or on Park Avenue-they live next door.” Researchers need to dig deeper than the typical trappings of wealth in order to truly understand the extent of capacity. Delving not only into giving history and career, but genealogy, hobbies, and social connections.

    3. What would be the perfect research tool, if you could create it? What would it be able to offer? What would be its downsides? 

      As far as I’m concerned, we already have the most perfect research tool -- the prospect researcher. No amount of machine learning or software can replace what we bring to the table. We are able to offer actionable intelligence to our teams by providing detailed, thoughtful insight into the wealth, capacity, and inclination of donor and prospects. We also bring a human element to the profession – we can put ourselves in the shoes of our donor – what information would we want or not want to see in a profile about ourselves? Would this project or program interest this prospect or are we wasting their time? Is now a good time to make an ask if they just sent their son to college? I’m sure many in the technology industry would differ with me in their opinion on this subject. But I dare them to try! 

      Be well, everyone!
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