Prospect Research Principles

Cecilia Hogan, Director, UniversityRelationsResearch
University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington

"I learned that people are more likely to entrust the story of their lives if they feel that I care about them, that I know something about them, and can comprehend what they're telling me.  So part of the reason I prepare so much is to be worthy of the person I'm interviewing."

--Terry Gross, National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" host, TNT, 04.27.00

First a little lingo, history, and the researcher’s professional organization
Prospective donor, or – as my Southern mother might say – “What are your prospects for getting a date with that cute guy with the red convertible?”

Suspect: Someone who we suspect can give a major gift (not someone we suspect has committed the crime of being able to give a major gift – it’s not a crime.)

Pool: The place where researchers keep the suspects. It’s really only a place in our minds and on our computers. No palm trees, no lounge chairs.

Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA)

What is prospect research?
Prospect research is the collection and analysis of information to identify new major gift potential or to further qualify known major gift donors with the goal to advance a major gift fund-raising program.

Prospect research uses the first major gift dollar raised to efficiently identify the next major gift donors.

Where does a prospect researcher begin?
The Prospect Research Triad: Affiliation, Capacity, and Interest

Who already has a relationship with this nonprofit? Let's make a list (a researcher would): 

College Affiliates

Theatre Affiliates

____ Parents of current students

____ Performers

____ Alumni who give 

____ Subscribers who do not give

____ Trustees

____ Community leaders & wealthy local people

____ Former parents who are donors 

____ Trustees

____ Alumni who do not give

____ Supporters of other art orgs

____ Parents of former students 

____ Attendees who give

____ Friends who give

____ Subscribers who give

"Giving is a very joyful activity, particularly if you're in a business that doesn't necessarily produce definable gains to society. I'm not exactly discovering the cure for cancer when I go to work."

--Stanley Druckenmiller, head of the Quantum Fund, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 08.14.1998

First, a few words about wealth. The wealth a researcher finds is unlike that most have ever known. To be able to see it involves a re-education. All development professionals – especially researchers – must become students of wealth.

How rich is the richest person you've known? Think of a story that demonstrates that wealth. What elements of wealth did you use as descriptors?

What are the signs of wealth that help you make that appraisal?

______________________               ______________________

______________________               ______________________

______________________               ______________________

______________________               ______________________

What the Big Dogs are doing: MIT: Founders, Owners & Builders; Harvard: tracking "heirness"

How wealthy must a donor be to give a major gift to your nonprofit?

More research work: establishing gift capacity, recommending the ask

Fundraising adages about wealth and giving capacity say that a major gift donor can give:

  • 20 times (sometimes 10 times) sustained annual giving
  • 5-10% of annual income
  • 5% of known assets
  • 2-5% of net worth
  • 10% of stock options of $1 mil+
  • 1/2 of 1% of gross company sales
  • 1.5-5% of net worth of the company

One more: Major gifts usually come from assets, not income.

"We all whined about how we didn't make money, but what we really meant was that we made $250,000, not the $5 million we had hoped to make."

--Malcolm Colton, about a startup sold before it went public, Forbes, 05.17.1999

Interest (or Inclination)
The key question: What is this individual passionate about?

This element of major gift identification often requires information from the prospect. That means that it is the beginning of the partnership between Development and Research.

What information is available to answer all these questions?
A few words about spies, detectives, snoops, and other characters . . .
. . . and then, on the other side of the room, there are the prospect researchers.

What guides researchers?

  • A nonprofit's relationship with its donors is not adversarial.
  • The information collected and analyzed must advance the cause of fund raising and reflect respect of the relationship the nonprofit has or plans to have with the donor.

Public Information vs. Private Information
Why is any information public? The U.S. believes in letting the sunshine in. 

What information is public? 
Name five.

What information is private? 
Name five.

1. _________________________

1. _________________________

2. _________________________

2. _________________________

3. _________________________

3. _________________________

4. _________________________

4. _________________________

5. _________________________

5. _________________________

A good question: What would a researcher need from what information is available?
Answer: Only that information that is relevant to major gift-getting.

“It’s amazing that many people are quite comfortable addressing business wealth but are shy or confused about personal wealth.”

--U.S. Bank President Phyllis Campbell, about charitable estate planning, PSBJ, 08.17.2001

The Research Task: Identify, Qualify, and Define
A prospect researcher’s job is to identify, qualify, and define major gift prospects.

Identify: Find viable new potential donors among a nonprofit’s constituents. Name current donors who have major gift potential, but who may be giving below their potential. Name major gift donors who are ready to give major gifts again.

Qualify: Collect supporting data so that new potential donors can be assigned to a fund raiser for cultivation. Collect and analyze supporting data to advance the major gift status of current donors or former major gift donors. Analyze the data collected to transform it into meaningful information related to major gift-getting.

Define: Analyze the data collected to establish the solicitation amount (the Ask), the purpose of the gift, the best solicitor, and the timing for the Ask.

The Research Process: Segment. Segment Again. And Segment Again
All Constituents ---> Potential Prospects (Suspect Pool) ---> Assigned Prospects

How to Segment
(or The First Steps in Locating Potential Donors and Under-Giving Donors Waiting to be Found)

Look for suspects (potential prospects) in all the right places (that would be among your own constituents) – but where?

  • Top lists, donor rolls, the news stories where your prospects live and work
  • Information from the donors themselves
  • Database screening
  • The research way
  • Via volunteers
  • By professional screening services

What’s next?

  • Create a pool of potential prospects.
  • Create coding and procedures for movement in and out of the pool, including assigning new prospects.
  • Establish a research plan (format, depth) for new prospect identification and qualification.
  • Monitor information, assignments, and movement through the cultivation process, ready to make recommendations that will move prospects toward a gift.

Research in the Development Mix

  • Identification
  • Cultivation
  • Solicitation
  • Stewardship

“One recently divorced money manager sold out for estate planning purposes. 
And his heirs? ‘Two dogs,’ he confesses.”

--“I’ve Got Mine, Jack,” Forbes, 04.20.1998

Prospect Research Ethics
Policy: Any donor or prospective donor may have the opportunity to view the contents of his or her file in the company of the Development manager or the vice president of Development. Such review will take place in the Development office.

  • Examine your own ideas about privacy, confidentiality, and ethics.
  • Establish confidentiality procedures.
    Who has access to (what level of) donor information?
    How are they educated about confidentiality?
    How is discarded information disposed of?
  • Establish central file procedures.
    What is filed?
    Who will monitor the file contents?
    Who has access to the files?
    Can the files leave the premises?
  • Monitor dispersal of your research reports.
    Where are your reports going? Who gets them?
  • Review the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement’s Statement of Ethics.

Relationships with donors are built on respect and honor. The information in donor files is a record of each philanthropist’s life-long commitment to an organization and to the broader community.

Internet Search Tips
Researchers believe that:

  • Size matters: The bigger the search engine, the better.
  • Skill matters: The better you get at searching, the more likely you are to use your time efficiently to find what you are seeking.
  • Collecting matters: There are things that you cannot (yet) find through search engines (current news, new pages, dynamically-generated pages, other types of pages, like .pdfs), so you must maintain a collection of Web sites that are directories or databases of information.
  • Planning matters: In pre-Internet days, researchers mapped out their course before they set on it. They still do.

The Search Engines Popular with Prospect Researchers

Eight Things to Do to Be a Better Web Searcher

1. Learn how to use two (or three) search engines well. Use the “help” or “advanced searching” links to learn how each engine effectively.

Be sure you are using two distinct engines – some search engines power other engines. For example, for a long time Yahoo was powered by Google.

Researchers use the advanced search feature at engines – more options to control the results. Check it out.

Researchers go narrow, then wide. A successful search is not one that returns thousands of results. It’s one that returns the results you need.

2. Learn how to speak your engine’s language.
Boolean and search engine math:
A Primer in Boolean Logic” by Laura Cohen
Search Engine Math” by Danny Sullivan 

3. Keep in touch with the latest developments in search engines and, in particular, in the engines you are skilled at using.
Example: In 2002, Yahoo switched to to Google for its results. The difference? It enhances Google results with its own directory.
Example: Google’s cached pages:

The 400 Richest Americans -
For the first time, everyone is a billionaire. ... Special Report The 400 Richest Americans Edited by Matthew Miller and Tatiana Serafin 09.21.06, ...
Cached - Similar pages

Example: Google’s Images search feature:

Searched images for "paul brainerd".  
Results = 20 pictures in .54 seconds

4. Let the masters show you how to snatch the pebble, Grasshopper.
Gregg Notess’ Search Engine Showdown
Gary Price’s Direct Search
Search Engine Watch
Search Engine Watch’s Search Day 

5. Clean out your toolbox.
Organize your bookmarks or favorite pages so that the pages you want to go to are accessible within one or two clicks–and so you never have to look for your tools.
Managing Bookmarks and Favorites

Bookmarking Tips

  • If you can’t find it, you don’t own it.
  • Be ambitious–the more folders, the better!
  • Watch for good additions to your bookmark collection as you search. The page where you found that last bit of information may hold answers you’ll need in your next search. Don’t hesitate–just bookmark it. You can get rid of it later if it isn’t useful.
  • Put new bookmarks you haven’t tried in a special place. Train yourself to go there often. If those new additions to your collection aren’t useful, get rid of them.
  • Go to Edit Bookmarks and change the meta-tag names of your bookmarks to be something that better represents the purpose of the site for you.
    Example: Change meta-name “Multex Investor from Reuters” to “Reuters Stock Quotes.”

6. Collect Collections: Let professional researchers lead the way to the latest and best Web sites.
Internet Prospector’s Review of Researchers’ Web Pages

7. Protect your library from destruction. Get insurance.
Save your bookmarks on a disk or use a Web-based bookmark manager: 

8. Try new things . . . 
. . . like a few of the things we are talking about here.

News Resources
Local and Regional
$$ Seattle Post-Intelligencer – online archive from June 1, 1986
Seattle Times – online archive from 1990 to present
$$ Tacoma News Tribune – online archive from 1993 to present
The Olympian – at least a couple of years
Puget Sound Business Journal – online archive from 1996 to present
$$ Washington CEO – online archive from 1995 to present

Forbes – Forbes 500, 400 Richest Americans, 800 Best Paid CEOs, and more
Fortune – Fortune 500, 100 Fastest Growing Companies, 50 Most Powerful Women, and more
$$ The Chronicle of Philanthropy – subscribers can search articles since October 16, 1997 
$$ The Chronicle of Higher Education – subscribers can search grants to higher ed since 1995 

Internet Access to Newspapers and Journals Anywhere 
Y Find Articles
Online Newspapers
Y News Trawler

Biographical Resources

  • $$ Marquis Who’s Who – now available online for a fee; access it at the library or purchase it
  • Specialty biographical directories (Who’s Who in the West, Who’s Who in Insurance, Who’s Who in American Women, and many, many more)
  • Officer and director profiles at company and foundation Web sites and in Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings (see Financial Resources page for links to the latter)
  • Magazine and news articles (see News page for links)
  • Contact Information from Internet telephone books (look up by name, by phone number, by address)

Other Biographical Resources
Vital Records Information
One-step birthdays
National Obituary Archive Security Death Index

Professional Databases:
Find a Physician
Find a Lawyer
Architects Online
Y Search Systems – collection of public records databases

Foundation Facts (in Relation to Individuals)

  • People establish foundations.
  • Foundations plan to give money away, they (usually) know what organizations they like to support, and they are happy to tell nonprofits how to go about getting money from them.
  • Foundation research is very easy after researching individuals.
  • Researchers want to know this: Which of our constituents are affiliated with a foundation? Which foundations have people affiliated with them who are also affiliated with my nonprofit?

"We've got a corpus of information that was virtually inaccessible some years ago."

--Greg Notess


Financial Resources

Real Estate Assessments
Y Portico Web Resources - links to assessors' offices
Christina Pulawski’s Tax Assessor Database – get the correct multiplier here 

Company Data – search for company information
$$ Corporate Information - Links to public and private companies by state or country
Washington State Business Records Database 

Salary Data
eComp – “The Most Powerful Executive Compensation Online Research Tool”   

Public Company Research
Y Securities and Exchange Commission EDGAR Database
Market Watch from Dow Jones - insider trading, historical quotes, link to SEC filings, IPOs

Foundation Data
The Foundation Center Online - search for private foundations
Y Guide Star - search over one-half million nonprofits
GrantSmart - search for foundations and more

"Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories."

--Laurie Anderson

Prospect Research Library
Shocking news! Everything you want to know is not on the Internet! We still need books!
Soon we will change that statement to read, “ . . . not on the Internet yet (and not free).”

Internet Flaws:

  • Historical information is not being retained.
  • Historical information available is no older than about six to ten years.
  • Some information will never be on the Web or will never be free there (premium content).

A Few of the Other (Non-Internet) Resources Researchers Use

  • Contact reports
  • Giving record
  • Central files
  • Other in-house nuggets

Many are purchased resources or available at the public library.

  • Chambers of Commerce and other business directories
  • Donor rolls
  • Annual reports
  • Superlative (“Top”) lists
  • Foundation databases (local resources, like Philanthropy Northwest)

Regional/National (online, print directories, CD-ROMS)

  • The Foundation Center
    Biographical and Genealogical Master Index; Marquis Who’s Who and other biography sets
  • Dun & Bradstreet, Standard & Poors, and others
  • Real estate information providers (FARES, Dataquick)
  • News information providers (Factiva and others)

. . . The skills required to be a successful researcher really have not changed. It still takes creativity, above all, a flexible approach to problem-solving, a good command of language, the ability to discern subtle connections and to make intuitive leaps instead of just proceeding down an orderly linear path. Those skills -- or maybe they're characteristics one is born with -- still define a virtuoso searcher."

--Reva Basch,, 08.05.99