DonorSearch always aims to provide the best content available regarding prospect research and the broader nonprofit space. As such, we welcome guest contributors occasionally to mix things up here at our blog and provide new perspectives. Today, we’re happy to share a post by Solina Powell of EverTrue.
How to Utilize Social Insights for Prospect Research
While some workplaces frown upon employees spending their time on sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, those working in prospect research should be encouraged to invest their time in these platforms.
Social media has become an increasingly valuable tool for gathering insights on donors. As donors shift their lives online, small actions such as “liking” a post on Facebook or updating a LinkedIn job title can say a lot about a person’s affinity and capacity. Equipped with social insights, your organization can build stronger relationships with constituents and foster more philanthropic giving.
Spend some time collecting social data to help tell a story about your prospects. Here are some key strategies to harness the power of social media for more dynamic prospect research.
LinkedIn: Connect and Contact
Are your fundraisers tired of bounced emails or wasted paper mailings? Is your donor database littered with old AOL emails, home addresses, and job titles? LinkedIn is a great solution.
While it is unlikely constituents will update your nonprofit with every career change throughout their lives, chances are they’re updating these personal details on LinkedIn. For any prospect researcher, LinkedIn should be key to maintaining comprehensive donor information on employment, location, contact details, causes they care about, and more.
Cross-check your database with LinkedIn to verify, update, or uncover a prospect’s career and contact information.
Utilize updated LinkedIn career info as a starting point for determining a prospect’s capacity to give.
Leveraging the wealth of information on Facebook will help you develop a more in-depth picture of a donor or potential donor.
As your organization posts updates, pictures, and videos to its Facebook page, you should take note of who is engaging with that content. Studies show that there is a positive correlation between social engagement and giving participation, so the more socially engaged a prospect, the more likely they are to give. Who is “liking” or commenting on your content? What content are they engaging most with? Facebook is a valuable tool to help assess a prospect’s relationship with your organization, ultimately allowing your fundraising office to develop more targeted strategies.
Uncover new and/or engaged prospects by identifying those giving your content a “thumbs up.”
Prioritize engaged prospects and learn what events, causes, or initiatives they value to help your fundraisers make more informed asks.
Prospect researchers are tasked with the challenging responsibility of understanding people whom they initially know little or nothing about. By adding social data into your suite of tools (while abiding by the APRA Social Media Ethics Statement, of course), you’ll be able to craft better stories about prospects and set up your fundraisers for success. This is a guest contribution by Solina Powell of EverTrue, a Boston-based company empowering 300+ nonprofits with social donor management software. Check out the
Guest Post by Margaret King, Founder/President of InfoRich Group, Inc.
Recently, I asked Prospect Researchers to complete a brief survey to help me understand how they measure the value of the work they perform. The survey consisted of four questions:
What are the top three criteria used by management to evaluate your performance?
What are the top five metrics used to place a value on or showcase your department’s prospect research efforts to senior management?
What top three metrics would you like to add within the next 12 to 24 months to help place a value on or showcase your department’s prospect research efforts to senior management?
What are the top three criteria used by management to evaluate the Gift Officer’s performance?
Ah, the tricky business of interviewing. It is difficult in any field, as both the interviewer and the interviewee.
The person doing the interviewing has the challenging job of balancing selling the position and assessing the skill-set of the potential employee.
And, well, we all feel for the potential employee. Who hasn’t arrived way too early for an interview only to sit in your car for twenty minutes until you’re ‘appropriately’ early? Or, who doesn’t leave an interview and then just play the discussion ad infinitum for the foreseeable future?
Okay, so maybe I’m projecting my own anxieties, at least slightly. But, truthfully, interviews and the hiring process can just be incredibly stressful for all involved.
If you’re looking to hire a prospect researcher, you want to ensure you’re hiring the best candidate. Prospect research can be hugely beneficial for fundraising organizations, but those organizations need to have the right resources and people in the place to help steer their efforts in the right direction.
This guide is designed to lead you through the prospect researcher interviewing process.
Approach the interview with a solid knowledge of what the researcher’s place will be in your organization and what will be expected of him or her, so that you can best cater your questions to determining if he or she is the right fit.
Prior to the Interview
You’ll want to assess the current state of your organization’s prospect research before any candidates walk through the door.
Think through the following questions:
Do you already have a system of prospect research in place?
Will the new staffer be establishing a new system?
Who will the researcher be working with?
What tools will you provide to aid the position (i.e., services from a prospect screening company, like DonorSearch)?
Creating a Prospect Researcher Qualities “Wish List”
These preferences will vary depending on your answers to the above questions, but, in general, contenders for the job should be:
Researchers first and foremost (if this is an entry-level position, look for evidence of research skills in academia).
Inquisitive and willing to chase down donor data.
Proficient with databases.
Effective oral and written communicators.
Able to work independently and as part of a team.
Understand the inner-workings of fundraising.
Discreet and capable of handling confidential and personal information.
When you know what your organization needs from a prospect researcher, it’s time to get to interviewing.
For the purposes of this discussion we’ll be breaking our recommended interview questions into three categories:
Place in the Team
Once we get to prospect research, we’ll cover both questions for entry-level candidates and those applying for higher-level positions.
Every good interviewer needs to do a basic personality and general assessment of the interviewee. These are what we’d consider the universal questions slightly skewed to nonprofits.
What appeals to you about the role?
What is your understanding of the position?
Why do you want to work for a nonprofit?
How would you explain our mission to a potential donor?
Where do you see yourself in a year, three years, five years, etc.?
Who is your professional role model?
What nonprofit, besides this one, do you think has an impressive fundraising model?
Tell us about a time when a professional project went badly and how you handled it.
How would you handle a disagreement with your supervisor?
This list could go on and on. Try to find a good mix of easier questions, designed as a point of entry, and more specific, challenging ones. It also never hurts to throw in one or two fun ones that reveal more about the applicant’s personality — like, what’s your favorite television show?
#2: Place in the Team
Whoever you hire is going to be working closely with your entire development staff. The new staff member might have other prospect researchers to work with or have to coordinate with communications staff.
A successful nonprofit runs like an engine, multiple parts working side by side, fulfilling a common goal. A prospect researcher can’t simply be database bound, head in a computer all day. Researchers have to have good chemistry with your team.
You’ll need to dedicate a line of questions towards this, such as:
Tell us about a time when you had a bad experience working with a team.
Tell us about a time when you had a great experience working with a team.
How do you balance the needs of multiple people?
Would you consider yourself someone who is better as a team member or team leader?
How do you prioritize your own tasks and tasks others need assistance with?
Later in the interviewing process, maybe during a second interview, you could introduce the candidate to a few of the staffers whom he or she would be working with daily and get feedback from them, in addition to the supervisor.
Additionally, you could have the candidate perform a project where he or she has to work with other members of your team. This allows other people to get to know the candidate a bit better, and you’ll be able to see how the candidate interacts with your existing team.
#3: Prospect Research
These questions are the main course of the interview. You’ll be asking somewhat different questions of those applying to an entry-level versus a higher-level position, but in the end you’re looking for similar qualities and skills.
A) Entry-Level Position
What is your understanding of the position and the role you would play as an employee?
What past experiences have you had with fundraising?
What drew you to prospect research?
How do you usually perform research, say, for an academic paper?
How would you handle prioritizing two important tasks?
Do you consider yourself more of a data-driven and detail-oriented or a big picture researcher and analyst?
B) Higher-Level Position
Tell us about one success and one failure you’ve had in the past regarding prospect research.
Radio is a cultural stalwart. It has outlasted its naysayers.
When television came along people thought radio would disappear. It survived.
As the internet rose to prominence, people tried to knock radio once again. It survived.
Listeners can now find their favorite radio stations in the car, on the computer, and even on their phones.
Radio has diversified itself as it has grown, and public radio stations are no exceptions.
People say that ignorance is bliss. What about when you are no longer ignorant? That bliss disappears in a hurry.
Maybe you’ve been blissfully unaware of prospect research, but now you know. Or, you’ve known about it, but haven’t made screening prospects a priority. Either way, you’re desperate to make up for lost time and excited by the fundraising opportunities.
You’ve decided to catch up quickly and you are ready to hire a prospect researcher. One problem though, you’re new to the entire field of prospect research and don’t know where to start with your recruitment.
We’ve got you covered!
Below is a four-point breakdown of the development position of prospect researcher.
Point #1: What is a prospect researcher?
Walk before you run, right? Well, you can’t exactly recruit a prospect researcher if you don’t know what one is.
Just as prospect research varies by organization type, the position is going to change slightly from organization to organization.
In the context of this discussion, and a larger understanding of the role, a prospect researcher is a full time member of a fundraising/development team who provides deep background on high quality prospects.
More specifically, the researcher will be looking into prospects’ histories with the organization, motivations for philanthropy, and recommendations for solicitations.
Let’s unpack that definition a bit.
The researcher will be responsible for taking potential major donors and delving into their backgrounds with your cause and philanthropy in general. The staffer will then take what he learns and curate the ultimate solicitation approach for each researched prospect.
Prospect researchers should be major gift gurus.
Dedicated prospect researchers are most commonly hired by educational institutions. Organizations with full time researchers are hiring those individuals because they’re seeking a good return on investment.
At a large, educational institution, one major gift acquired by a prospect researcher can pay that employee’s salary for the year and then some.
Point #2: What will be a prospect researcher’s key responsibilities, duties, and activities?
A prospect researcher will be part of your development team. We’ve already discussed the general outline of this point in the definition of the role in point 1.
This section will serve as a multi-part breakdown of the various responsibilities, duties, and activities associated with a prospect researcher.
This list consists of researcher tasks commonly included in job descriptions for the profession.
Using a broad spectrum of sources, the employee researches, organizes, and evaluates a prospect’s financial capacity, ability to give, willingness to give, charitable interests, and connection to the organization
Produces in-depth, well-written reports on prospects based on a combination of data from the donor database, available financial records, real estate ownership, and other markers of high quality donors
Writes frequent prospect briefings for the use of the development team
Implements new research techniques as they arise, striving to design the ultimate prospect research methodology
Works with other development staff to improve the organization’s fundraising strategies
May provide general support to development staff and work on special projects when called for
The job description is going to change based on the type of organization hiring the prospect researcher and the make-up of the staff already in place.
Some prospect researchers will be the only ones on staff. Others might be part of a team that has even more additional prospect research tools at its disposal.
Point #3: What are the respective recommended education and experience levels for prospect researchers?
With the rise of the internet and social media, it’s possible to find information about almost everybody and everything. Whether you’re collecting data on a new renter, a potential employee or a prospective donor, knowing which information to use is important.
Fundraisers have an array of tasks, but learning all they can about their donors in order to build and cultivate relationships is among the most vital. From their home address to their financial investments, collecting important data about donors can help nonprofits build rapport, as well as discover their next major gift donors.
Different kinds of data can be discovered in a multitude of ways, but two of important sets of data are wealth information and personal information.
Knowing a donor’s financial information can be extremely beneficial, specifically when planning upcoming campaigns and fundraisers. This information is often available through wealth screening.
Wealth screening helps give your organization a picture of your prospects and their financial situations so that you know how to appropriately solicit them for gifts. Wealth screening can also help you find your next major gift prospect.
Important information to look for from wealth screening includes:
Giving history: Knowing where a prospect has donated, how much and how frequently can give you an idea of how philanthropic they are and what types of organizations they support, as well as the typical gift amount that they make.
Investments: Does the prospect own a yacht? A home? A business? Stocks? Knowing a donor’s investments – how much and where they’re allocated – can help you determine their financial standing, as well as their interests.
Business relationships: A particular donor may work for a company that is active in the nonprofit world, and that could be a great opportunity for your organization. If the prospect’s company makes frequent gifts to charitable organizations or makes matching donations, the prospect may be a great gateway into the organization’s philanthropic involvement.
From social media to blogs to 24/7 news services, there is more information on people available than ever before. You just have to know how to look for it.
Some people know how to block their online profiles from public view or limit the exposure of any online content about them. This is less a problem of making friends than it is a conundrum for prospect researchers who are trying to learn as much as they can about potential donors. Should nonprofits seek ways to obtain the purposefully hidden information? What are the limits to any workarounds?
The ethics of any topic is a debate that could last forever, but your organization doesn’t have forever to figure out right and wrong ways to raise money. You have a cause to fund, and without detailed donor profiles you can’t make the types of emotional pitches that excite donors about your organization.
We’ve compiled nine best practices to help your organization conduct prospect research in a way that’s both effective and respectful of sensitive information.
1) Focus on acceptable data
It’s obvious that you shouldn’t pursue records that are illegal to obtain, but just because certain records are legal doesn’t mean that you should be looking at them.
For example, you may be able to obtain criminal records on a prospect, but for what purpose? Prospect research is not about obtaining any and all donor information in the hope that some data point may be the nugget of gold that you’re looking for.
All data should follow two rules:
Be appropriate and pertinent to the specific fundraising campaign and prospect.
Fundraising is not a passive activity. Just like any other nonprofit, religious organizations need to get active and call prospects, host events, and engage donors in order to raise the funds that allow them to operate at full capacity.
To boost your church fundraising efforts, we’ll answer: