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By DonorSearch

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Jennifer Filla, the CEO of the Prospect Research Institute and President of Aspire Research Group LLC. Please enjoy her post! 

Avoid the Rabbit Hole! When to Stop Searching

How many times have you heard a prospect research professional tell a story about how she dug just a little deeper out of curiosity and found the key piece of information that her gift officer used to make a successful solicitation? We all want to be the hero researcher who expertly identifies the right information. But the truth is that most of the profile research we do is pretty routine. And for many of us craving the excitement of a scintillating find, we spend far too much time unraveling threads of information that have no substantial benefit to our work. How do we avoid falling down the rabbit hole? First, we must recognize the rabbit hole! Only then can we make a rational decision about whether or not to fall down it. No matter what type of profile you are working on, you should be answering a question or set of questions. Top questions are frequently:
  • Does this prospect have the capacity to make a major gift? In what range?
  • Does this prospect have philanthropic inclination? Does she make philanthropic gifts?
  • Is this prospect interested in the mission of our organization and the project(s) we need to fund
  • What is the prospect’s connection to our organization?
If you don’t know what question you are answering, you will not recognize the rabbit hole and risk falling down it. Stop researching when you have answered the question or questions you set out to answer. For a newer researcher, the stumbling point is usually over the question. You might not be sure what question or questions you are supposed to answer. Work on figuring that out before trying to be a hero – because even heroes need a period of training! Once you are a pro at answering the question at hand, then you will easily spot those rabbit holes. Here is a pop quiz for you: Out of the following rabbit holes, which one might you deliberately choose to go down?
  1. Prospect is an attorney who sits on the board of a public company. I’ve pulled the beneficial ownership of shares for the prospect, but I wonder if I should try to value the options. Gift officer has a first visit scheduled.
  2. Prospect is an entrepreneur who has successfully sold a company in the past and I have the sale amount. Prospect is also the officer of a handful of LLCs. I’m tempted to search each LLC for assets and information. Gift officer has identified the prospect’s interest, but isn’t quite ready to solicit.
  3. Prospect has stated she will give us a large gift out of the profit from an upcoming IPO. I found the current filing and presented it, but I don’t fully understand the reference to a “Dutch auction.”
  4. Prospect is listed on the Forbes Billionaires list as well as our organization’s campaign leadership gift prospect list. I have pulled some great media quotes that demonstrate personality and giving inclinations. Then, I uncover a series of articles including a one-hour video interview describing how he built his fortune.
Are you the kind of prospect research pro who wants to go down each every one of those rabbit holes? Me too! We are born problem-solvers. Our motivation isn’t to wrap up a quick profile. We want to follow the clues and solve the mystery! Personally, I might take rabbit hole #2, and without question I would go down hole #3. Rabbit hole #4 would probably be reserved for the weekend coffee read and rabbit hole #1 would be great if I needed to practice calculating options. If you are prone to unraveling mysteries that don’t need to be solved right now, maybe you need to redirect your energies. It can be de-motivating to feel as though you have to cut short a thrilling information adventure, even when you really should. Choosing an appropriately motivating rabbit hole is tricky, but book titles like these might work some magic:
  • Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles by Michael Gross
  • Valuing a Business, 5th Edition: The Analysis and Appraisal of Closely Held Companies (McGraw-Hill Library of Investment and Finance) 5th Edition by Shannon P. Pratt
  • Family Fortunes: How to Build Family Wealth and Hold on to It for 100 Years by Bill Bonner
So while I do my best to stop researching as soon as I have answered the question, re-directing my problem-solving curiosities into (really fun) continuing education helps to keep me motivated and best of all, helps me recognize which rabbit holes I really should fall blissfully into in the future.
About the Author

Jen Filla - Prospect ResearcherResearcher, consultant, author, speaker and educator, Jennifer Filla is on a mission to provide prospect research professionals with the power to perform their work with excellence, lead with research, and make a difference! Jen is CEO of the Prospect Research Institute and President of Aspire Research Group LLC. Connect with Jen on Twitter: @jenfilla

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[Guest Post] Avoid the Rabbit Hole! When to Stop Searching