3 Ways You Can Start Prospect Researching Right Now

Prospect research is one of the most valuable and important aspects of any nonprofits fundraising department. Advances in technology have made it possible for gift-officers to start doing their own research, especially for smaller nonprofits.

3 Ways You Can Start Prospect Researching Right Now
It’s 2016. We live in an era of self-driving cars and commercial space flight – isn’t it about time that prospect researching can be done on your own? Take a look at the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement’s definition of Prospect Development:
Prospect Development is the strategic arm of an organization’s fundraising operation, focusing on prospect pools and pipelines. Prospect Development professionals collaborate with gift officers and development leaders to ensure fundraising efforts are focused on working with the right donors for the right gifts at the right time (and in many cases, with the right initiatives).
The key takeaway here is that prospect researchers collaborate with gift officers. Which, in a large organization tends to make sense – let individuals focus on what they do best. Researchers research, gift officers facilitate giving. But, it’s 2016 and nearly every organization (large or small) has a surplus of data. That means the conventional silos and teams within a nonprofit’s structure can begin to mesh. With more data and advances in technology, teams can become less rigid and more flexible. A gift officer can do some prospect research, while a researcher can focus on deeper analysis. This is the fundraising dynamic we are living in today. Here are 3 easy ways any gift officer can start doing prospect research today ­– no handholding required!

Identify high-level trends in your data

You don’t need a degree in statistics to spot trends in your data. You simply need data visualization (more on the importance of visualizing data here). Human beings are supercomputers, we just aren’t that good at reading thousands of rows of data in Excel. Instead, we are adept at spotting trends and patterns in visual representations of that information. As more nonprofits evangelize around “data-driven decision making,” it is important to remember that gift officers shouldn’t be left out. A great starting place is to look for trends in year-over-year growth. For example, you can easily create a chart that shows annual revenues (donations), and donors. A column chart will work well for this. You should hope to see a pattern that trends up and to the right on both graphs, signaling a growth in donors and revenue. If you don’t, then that should sound an alarm. Another great place to look for trends is in lapsed donors and donations. Again, a column chart will work well for this analysis. Simply create a report of all lapsed donations and donors annually, and look for a trend. Identifying high-level patterns in your donor database is something all gift officers should be empowered to do. And, you no longer need to be an Excel expert to get the job done. Simply upload your anonymous data to the Fundraising Report Card, and in seconds you’ll have your visualizations.

Focus on common sense principles

Data analysis and prospect researching doesn’t have to be overly complex. Sometimes your data will paint an obvious picture. For example, identifying planned giving prospects can sometimes feel like an overwhelming task. You may conduct wealth screening, hire an outside consultant, or spend weeks pouring over Excel spreadsheets. But, with some common sense and the right tools, identifying potential planned gift prospects can be pretty straightforward. Set aside some time to determine all of your organization’s retained donors this year (individuals who donated last year and gave again this year). Common sense suggests that the donors you retain are (at least slightly) more likely to leave a planned gift than others who’ve lapsed. Next, segment those retained donors by giving level. For example, all donors who were retained but also gave more than $1,000 this year. You now have a list of pretty good planned giving prospects. Of course, this is far from comprehensive, but it is a good start. Any planned giving officer should be empowered to conduct their own research and then collaborate with a prospect researcher (if they are fortunate to have one on staff) to fine-tune their results.

Concentrate on the obvious

Remember above I said, “Researchers research, gift officers facilitate giving,” meaning that gift officers should focus their attention on the more obvious aspects of researching. This will accomplish two things. First, it will empower fundraisers to be a part of the data conversation. And secondly, it will allow prospect researchers to focus on more difficult or in-depth analysis. In the end, it is a win-win for the organization. But what is obvious in prospect research? I mentioned above that you should focus on high-level trends and common sense principles, but ultimately you should start keeping track of a few important metrics. I’d suggest keeping tabs on these reports: These five metrics are a great place to start when it comes to analyzing and understanding your donors giving patterns. Apply the concepts from above on these five metrics and you’ll be well on your way to donor prospecting. It’s 2016. It’s about time that some prospect researching can be done on your own!
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Author: Zach Shefska

I oversee the Fundraising Report Card, a division of MarketSmart. The Report Card is a free tool that empowers fundraisers to make data-driven fundraising decisions. It’s pretty neat.

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