Art, Science, Success: Creating Opportunity for Prospect Development in Your Organization

JB+A is pleased to welcome guest contributor Marissa Todd, JD, MBA – a prospect development professional and current President of Apra Missouri-Kansas – as she shares her insights and experience on prospect research and development.

Marissa Todd, JD, MBA
JB+A Guest Contributor

How many of us have heard the phrase “the art and science of fundraising”? Probably many of you reading this. It’s quite the popular phrase and is often used to describe the intersection of data and research with the relationship building that takes place across the donor development cycle.

The art part of fundraising is generally the domain of gift officers and senior level administrators whose main role is to meet with donors and prospects in order to cultivate and solicit gifts. The science part, especially in smaller development operations, is often shared by many hands from the gift officers to the database manager to gift processing, and if you are fortunate, a prospect research professional. Having talented professionals to implement and execute both the art and science pieces is critical to a strategic, successful development operation.

However, many organizations do not believe they have the resources to invest in staff for prospect research. If you are one of the organizations who struggle with resources or time for the science of fundraising, fear not! This passionate prospect development professional has some tips that any organization, regardless of size, can try to take steps to integrate prospect research into your organization.

First and foremost, make sure you are collecting information from your prospect interactions. Most fundraising databases have an area for you to capture contact reports from your emails, phone calls and meetings with prospects. Make sure staff utilize this area to capture substantive interactions. These reports can be a wealth of information (pun intended!) on the potential capacity of a prospect, as well as provide historical context during staff transitions. Having a central place for relationship data is key to continuing to build relationships. If you are looking for good prospects, looking at who has historical contacts is a great way to start.

If your database doesn’t have this capability, consider creating a call report form your staff can fill out electronically and save to prospect files on your server. At my first fundraising job, our database was so ancient you couldn’t even click – everything was done using the F keys and commands, so not surprising there was no contact report area. The development used a call form and paper prospect files helped me many a time in connecting dots. When the organization converted to a new CRM, students entered the historical reports of top donors into the new system, so we had a complete picture.

Another great way to ease into some prospect research is by looking at your highest lifetime donors. Although many of these folks may have given their ultimate gift to your organization, many of your top cumulative donors get that way through loyalty and longevity, not a five or six figure gift. Look at the donation history of these donors and you will surely find some prospects who you could be creating more meaningful relationships with and moving to larger annual and major contributions.

Speaking of donations, does your organization produce a periodical donation report (daily, weekly, monthly)? If so, this is an excellent tool to proactively look for new potential prospects. At two of the organizations I have worked, I developed a donation report that also pulled in helpful information like analytical modeling scores, total giving, last two year’s giving totals and engagement information. Using this information, it is easy to scan the report and pick out donors who maybe should be looked at closer, like those who suddenly double their previous gift or make a first-time donation at a certain level ($100, $500, whatever is appropriate for your organization).

So let’s say you implement the donation report and have a good list of potential prospects. You don’t have any paid resources to screen them, so what do you do? There are a plethora of free resources out there to get started with prospect research! A simple search of a county assessor site to verify home ownership and value is a great place to start. Using a search engine to do a quick search of a prospect’s name and location may also open you up to employment information, business associations, etc. The Secretary of State’s office in each state has a business registry you can search to verify business ownership. The list goes on and on. I have numerous bookmarks for free sites, but some of my favorites are sites that themselves are curators of both free and paid resources, like Helen Brown Group or Prospect Research Institute. Most of these sites allow you to sign up for a free account, and then you also receive emails updating you on new resources and other potential services.

Investing a little time and energy in prospect research can make a huge difference in your fundraising efforts. As one of my former gift officer colleagues put it, before she worked with a researcher she felt like she was on a wild safari with no end that often came up totally empty. After research was put in place, she had a map and a plan and was better able to focus her time and effort on the right potential prospects. Don’t leave your gift officers wandering in the wild; invest in some strategic prospecting and keep everyone moving toward fundraising success for your organization.

Marissa Todd has been working in nonprofit and higher education fundraising for over a decade. She found her passion for the prospect development profession at her first Apra conference in 2014. Since then, Marissa has focused on developing and growing small shops, at Stephens College, University of Central Missouri and her next adventure, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. She is very involved with Apra, serving as the President of Apra Missouri-Kansas and on several Apra International committees. She has also presented at Apra and CASE conferences and loves to share her passion for prospect development with anyone who will listen.

Marissa earned her BA and JD from the University of Missouri and her MBA from Stephens College. In her free time, Marissa likes to experiment with cooking and wine, devour books and cheer on her favorite sports teams. She also likes to plan adventures with her husband, Michael, and snuggle up on the couch with their cats, Artie and Faurot.

 

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