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
Point #3: What are the respective recommended education and experience levels for prospect researchers?We’ll begin with education. There’s no such a thing as a degree in prospect research. Organizations typically require a Bachelor’s degree. This might seem obvious, but a prospect researcher should have a demonstrated track record of doing extensive research in his academic career. Although prospect research isn’t a major in college, there are nonprofit-related majors, so those are always good to look out for. Even if a researcher majored in Philosophy, she could still be very effective if she has a working knowledge of the fundraising community, as well as a natural aptitude for it. It is also important to note that job postings will average a requirement of 1-2 years of related work experience.
Point #4: What should be in a prospect researcher’s skill set?Because the education backgrounds of prospect researchers are so diverse and work experience isn’t always the best predictor of the capacity to do well, the most significant factor to consider in determining if someone is right for the position is an investigation of his skill set. Prospect researchers should be able to:
- investigate, analyze, and synthesize large quantities of data into a user-friendly and concise format for the use of the development team
- work in a deadline driven environment
- proficiently work with databases
- learn quickly and adapt to new situations well
- demonstrate strong oral and written communication skills
- be discreet with valuable and personal donor details that are often confidential
- problem-solve effectively
- take a tactful and ethical approach to fundraising tasks