By Catherine Cefalu, Lead Prospect Research Analyst at University of Chicago
The holidays are a time for coming together and deepening the connections with your family and friends. With that in mind, I'd like to talk a little about relationships: specifically, relationships between prospective donors.
Side note: I was interviewed recently for an article on the topic for The Chronicle of Philanthropy ("Nonprofits Find New Donors With Databases That Track Connections"; 11/16/2014 [subscription only]).
In fundraising, we tend to focus a lot on a prospect's relationship with our organization, but there are other relationships at play, too. While building a relationship with a prospect, it is also important to acknowledge and leverage the relationships that the prospect already has with other individuals connected with your organization. These friends and colleagues can deepen a prospect's engagement, provide opportunities for giving (nothing says "friendship" quite like naming a building in someone's honor!), and generally enhance the positive things that a prospect feels about your organization.
Additionally, leveraging a donor's relationships can be a great tool for proactive identification of new donors. The anxiety that some gift officers feel about "cold-calling" a prospect is averted: you already have someone who can make an introduction. As a bonus, the donor making the introduction has a greater level of involvement with your organization.
So now we have the "why"; let's look at the "how".
First, as technology has evolved, there are now many more vendor options for relationship discovery and mapping than there were even five years ago. Mostly consisting of large databases of names with connections between individuals, several of these companies are now making the leap into customized searches, news alerts, and even automated reports. While these services aren't cheap, you get some serious bang for your buck. Many of these vendors have extensive trial periods where you can upload a list of top individuals connected to your organization so that you can test out the kinds of results you would get.
If you decide to go that route, here are some things to consider when choosing a service: the price (obviously); the size of the database; how accurate, robust, and transparent the data is; the available search options and functionality; the quality of reports and how well they mesh with your own internal data; and what kinds of training and assistance are available.
Another way to gather relationship information is through good old-fashioned research legwork. This can involve clipping lists of board memberships and employee lists, sorting through news items, and mining data from your own database (for example, we had a number of major donors who all lived in the same high-rise building). While this can be time consuming, it's a good way to confirm that you have the most up-to-date and relevant data.
A third way to get relationship information is through your organization's gift officers. Talk to them, read through contact reports, look at event attendee lists. One great way to collaborate with your gift officers is to work together on a peer screening project for your top donors. Put together a list of people your organization wants to connect with, and put that list in front of your most involved volunteers and donors. Ask who they would be willing to introduce you to (and if you want to get them really involved, ask for their help in soliciting!). This kind of first-hand information can yield connections and details that you would not have been able to find otherwise.
Now, once you get all of this great information, what do you do with it? The first thing to remember is: if it isn't in the database, it didn't happen! Have a way to code these relationships and refer back to them in the future.
Additionally, have a way to display these connections. All of this data is useless if no one looks at it. There are lots of great data visualization tools that can help you illustrate relationships. There's a reason why it's called relationship mapping: visuals are important!
Finally, go back to the "why": remember your end goal. You're doing all of this work for a reason! Having a plan and a goal will inform your deliverables, the resources you put into gathering the information, and will help you plan your next steps in the upcoming year (introductions, solicitations, event invitations, etc.)
From all of us at APRA-IL, we wish you (and your prospects!) a happy holiday season.