BUSTED: 4 Prospect Development Myths

Myths, mistruths, fake news…there’s a lot of information out there, but you can’t believe everything you read.  We’re here to dispel of the myths that persist in the nonprofit world, particularly in regards to prospect development.

prospect development

MYTH: Automation will make prospect researchers obsolete

Technology is advancing so fast that headlines, not to mention the average person, can’t keep up.  But will the amazing tools prospect researchers use someday replace the researchers themselves?  In short: no, of course not.  This myth is steeped in a fundamental misunderstanding of the important role of research in prospect development.

Jenn Filla has this to say about automation:

“Researchers like to use the word analysis to justify our role, but we need to do even more than that.
According to Merriam 
Webster, analysis is an explanation of the nature and meaning of something.
But synthesis is something that is made by
combining different things such as ideas.”

Advanced tools won’t replace prospect researchers, but they may cause a shift in job responsibilities.  Particularly, it could mean researchers will have a greater role in making critical decisions of where and how to spend limited fundraising resources.  After all, deciding who to research is as important as conducting the research itself.  Aided with advanced tools, researchers of the future will be better positioned to influence an organization’s fundraising strategy.  It’s all part of what we at iWave like to call fundraising intelligence.

MYTH: Screening is too time-consuming, expensive, etc.

These criticisms of wealth screening were valid (and remain so) for some tools.  But other screening solutions have pushed the envelope.  Once upon a time, screening your database was a time-intensive task with a spotty return on investment.  Preparing the screen was a headache, and the results were out of date as soon as they were returned to you by the screening vendor.  

Not anymore.  New screening tools put the power in your hands.  Their enhanced ease of use also allows anyone, not just researchers, to sift through a donor database in just a few simple steps.  Now you can customize your screening criteria so it is “tailor made” to your organization’s fundraising strategy.  You can also verify the records used in the screen and add/delete records freely.  Imagine you want to screen 500 names before a big fundraising event.  You can submit the names and receive scores for each prospect in less than 24 hours.     

How about cost?  We can only speak for ourselves, but here at iWave we’ve made it easy for you with our PROscore credits system.  There’s never been a better time to screen your database.  

MYTH: Real estate data is overrated

Researchers search for as many clues indicating a major gift prospect’s propensity, affinity, and capacity to give.  Sound about right?  Well, real estate data offers a wide range of information about an individual that goes beyond the value of a property. Perhaps a property was remortgaged recently, or maybe your prospect has multiple “hidden” properties.  This insight could change your major gift ask dramatically.  

Now, you may be thinking: “Yes, I know that – but real estate information can’t really offer information beyond capacity…”  

Let’s explore that further.  Real estate is a great indicator of capacity, you’re right.  But it can also provide valuable insight about the prospect’s personality.  Helen Brown suggests real estate is essentially a green flag for future prospecting.  Of course, effective prospect development depends on more than real estate data.  But if it’s true that a person’s home is their castle, then real estate research provides excellent qualitative and quantitative insight into your prospect’s potential to give.

MYTH: Prospect profiles are dead

Some researchers and fundraisers claim to have a love/hate relationship with prospect profiles.  Our team understands where you’re coming from.  Researchers spend several hours sifting through data, verifying accuracy, and creating countless profiles with recommendations.  Meanwhile, fundraisers fight the rising pile of profiles on their desk and try to craft gift proposals based on their information.  However, the right prospect profile is critical for major gift success.

Not all prospect profiles are created equal”

                           – Jennifer Filla, Aspire Research Group

The complexity of a profile depends on the prospect, the gift goal, and even the time of year.  A researcher doesn’t necessarily have to research a full profile for each and every prospect.  A fundraiser may only need a brief profile to establish a relationship with a new prospect, and only later on require more detailed analysis to create an effective proposal.

Before getting started, consult with your team.  What are your short-term and long-term goals with your current list of prospects?  Nail down the specifics to ensure time spent in research, creation, and solicitation is time well spent.  If profiles include only the relevant data on an individual that is needed at the moment, then they will become more useful for your development team as a whole.


There you have it: four prospect research myths debunked.  Each of these myths persist because they involve ongoing challenges facing researchers and fundraisers.  But like any challenge, they can be overcome with effective communication, a little repositioning, and thinking outside the box.

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