Finding major gift donors without prospect research is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Fundraising is all about time. You can't dedicate excessive effort to every prospect, so you don't want to waste your finite resources pitching to donors who either don't care or don't have the capacity to give. With prospect research, you can pinpoint the best prospects and allocate your time accordingly. So, what is prospect research? Defined, prospect research as the intentional and strategic pursuit and presentation of relevant financial and biographical data that when combined together with internal anecdotal and relationship information, help us as development professionals best determine whom to ask, how much to ask, whom to engage, when to ask, and how to ask. Another definition for prospect research, is a technique used by non-profit organizations to learn more about potential or existing donors, personal backgrounds, giving histories, wealth indicators, and philanthropic motivations to evaluate a prospect's ability to give, or their capacity and warmth or their affinity toward an organization. Now that we have that definition out of the way, let's get into the details. In our discussion of what prospect research is, we're going to address four key questions. One, what are the benefits? Two, what types of organizations perform prospect research? Three, what are the common prospect research terms? And finally four, how does it work? During this discussion, we will be talking about suspects and qualified prospects. What is the difference between the two? A suspect is a possible source of support whose philanthropic interests appear to be a match with your organization but whose ability to give, interests and linkages have not been qualified via research. In other words, this is someone who looks good on paper but is unknown by you and the other members of your development team. A qualified prospect on the other hand, is a prospect who continues to qualify as a logical source of support for the organization throughout a research, evaluation and cultivation process. This is the point in time when a prospect becomes more than just a name on your list. Through your personal interaction, you have verified their potential both in terms of their interest and financial capacity to support your organization. prospect research reveals personal backgrounds, wealth indicators and philanthropic history. So you can quickly identify and focus your attention on the best prospects. You'll be able to predict both the prospect's giving capacity and it's affinity for your non-profit. Does the prospect on an impressive home? Does he volunteer on the board of a non-profit? Does he prefer red or white wine? Well, Okay. So prospect research can't reveal everything but the data will paint a vivid portrait of who your prospect is, how he or she spends their time, their affinity for charitable giving, and their capacity to give. This information not only unearths new prospects but allows you to tailor your fundraising pitch to the individual. When you decide to focus on prospect research, you'll see benefits across numerous areas including first, taking a more nuanced approach to major gift fundraising. One of the main reasons why many organizations incorporate prospect research into their fundraising process is to improve major gift fundraising. Screenings will point your team in the direction of qualified prospects and inform the ways in which you cultivate those prospects thereby increasing conversion rates. Secondly, the benefit of finding major gift prospects among your donor pool. This point is directly related to the first benefit listed. When you start screening for major gift prospects, it's important to search inward and among your donor pool. You never know which donor on your annual fund list has the capacity to become a major gift donor. Third, recognizing prospects for planned giving. Identifying planned giving prospects can often feel like an elusive task. The markers for planned giving prospects are not as readily apparent as they are for other types of donating, but prospect research will illuminate those less than apparent markers and identify high quality candidates for planned giving. The fourth benefit is identifying new prospects. Using prospect research, you can uncover valuable personal and professional connections that your donors have and ask those donors to help facilitate introductions. For example, you might realize that one of your loyal donors is a colleague of a high value prospect that your major gift officers are interested in cultivating. You could ask that loyal donor to introduce one of your officers rather than have a team member perform some cold outreach. Finally, the benefit of studying donor giving patterns. A major asset of prospect research is its ability to teach you more about your donors. By taking your screening results, you can study up on your donor's giving patterns and better predict their future charitable behavior. Prospect research is performed by non-profits of all sizes and a variety of sectors including education, both K through 12 schools and colleges and universities, health care organizations, Greek organizations such as sororities or fraternities, arts, culture and humanities organizations, museums, theaters and performance groups, faith based groups, advocacy groups, finally, environmental groups. The key takeaway here is that when it comes to prospect research, if your organization is looking to fundraise, you're bound to be able to take advantage of the benefits prospect research has to offer. Mature development programs use the outcomes or prospect research every day in a wide variety of ways. First, to set priorities. Do we have opportunities for funding that will allow us to pursue a new activity? To service donors and clients, which of our perspective donors should we be seeing more often? To facilitate and improve interaction with your organization. To document long term relationships that in the era of staff turnover provides a much needed level of institutional memory to our organization. Develop strategies and natural partners to help engage your prospective donors. To raise philanthropic sights by demonstrating the financial capacity of your prospective donor pool. And finally, to prevent embarrassing situations. Has your prospect recently divorced, had a death in the family, or perhaps a high profile legal issue? Better to know before you put your foot in your mouth when visiting with your prospect. The further you delve in a prospect research, the more related vocabulary you'll be exposed to. To get started, here is a list of terms you're sure to encounter in your research. You're bound to come across each of these terms as you embark on your work in prospect research. The better you understand the terminology, the better equipped you'll be to get up to speed on all things prospect research and launch an effort at your non-profit. First, a fundraising prospect. The prospect is an individual or philanthropic entity such as a foundation with the potential to make a donation to your organization. Prospects may be new to your organization or may have made one or more donations in the past. Philanthropic markers. A philanthropic marker is a type of prospect screening information that speaks to a prospect's charitable inclinations and helps predict the likelihood of that prospect making a donation. Top philanthropic markers include past giving to your non-profit, past giving to other organizations, and non-profit involvement as a board member or a trustee. Prospect researcher. A prospect researcher has a role within or coordinating with the fund raising operation that is responsible for compiling data on fundraising prospects. Based on the situation, the prospect researcher may also be responsible for the consolidation and/or implementation of data in the fundraising activities. Wealth indicators. A wealth indicator, like a philanthropic marker, is a type of prospect screening information. However, instead of helping forecast charitable inclinations, wealth markers assist in gauging a prospect's financial capacity to make a donation. Popular wealth markers include real estate ownership, stock holdings, and business affiliations. Finally, wealth screening. A wealth screening is the financial analysis portion of prospect research. When someone performs a prospect screening, they're looking at both philanthropic markers and wealth indicators. A wealth screening encompasses the research surrounding wealth indicators and helps determine if a prospect has the financial capacity to donate a gift. With the start of a prospect research program come some ethical considerations. First, ethical considerations are central to prospect research as a profession. An ethics statement for your prospect research program stresses honesty, confidentiality and professionalism and can help assure your volunteer leadership of the validity of the effort. Your research program should seek only that information which is legal and relevant and use it with great discretion. The purpose of prospect research is to build positive relationships, not to find embarrassing information that can be used as potential leverage with the donor. Much more information on this topic can be found by visiting the website for the Association for Professional Researchers for Advancement or APRA. When considering a code of ethics, prospect researchers must balance the needs of their institutions to collect, analyze, record, maintain, use, and disseminate information with an individual's right to privacy. This balance is not always easy to maintain. The following ethical principles apply and practice is built upon these fundamental principles. Confidentiality, it is incumbent upon your organization to ensure that confidential information about constituents, both donors and non donors as well as confidential information of the institution in all forms are protected so that the relationship of trust between the constituent and the institution is upheld. Accuracy, prospect researchers should record all data accurately and any recorded information should include attribution as to the source it came from. Analysis and the byproducts of data analysis should be presented and recorded without personal prejudices or biases of the research professional. Relevance, prospect researchers should seek and record only information that is relevant and appropriate to the fundraising effort of the institutions that employ them. Accountability, prospect researchers must accept responsibility for their actions and are accountable to the profession of development to their respective institutions and to the constituents who placed their trust in prospect researchers and their institutions. And finally, honesty, prospect researchers must be truthful with regard to their identity and purpose and the identity of their institution during the course of their work. No two non-profits are the same and no two non-profits have identical prospects. Even though the prospects they're looking for are going to vary, their overall need for prospects will remain ever-present. It's a fact of life as a fundraising organization and that's where prospect research comes in. The data and details that non-profits screen for are fairly universal. However, each non-profit has a unique supporter base and that uniqueness impacts who your organization chooses to screen and why you're researching them. When you conduct a prospect screening at your organization, hone in on prospects who fit the needs of your non-profit and the growth you're looking to see.