Prospect Research Roundtable #2

Welcome to our second iWave Roundtable.  Earlier in May, we connected with veteran researchers and consultants and pitched questions from you, the prospect research community.  Here are our participants this time around:

Karla Benson / Manager, Prospect Research & Strategy at University of Victoria

Sharise Harrison / Interim Senior Director, Data Resources, Analysis and Research at The Humane Society of the United States

Tracey Church / Researcher & Charitable Sector Consultant at Tracey Church & Associates, Research + Consulting Services

Do you have any personal “short-cuts” that speed up your work while ensuring the work is accurate and helpful for the fundraising team? Any time management tips?

Karla: Always be documenting and saving what you have researched or uncovered. Decide how you are going to present your research, create a template and stick with it. Also create a Research Request flag that is added to constituent records so other staff is aware that research is underway or completed.

Sharise: Including links to what I have located helps a lot. Asking for specific feedback. Reducing everything to a datapoint to be pulled from a database.

Tracey: I always a) share my research request queue with the fund development team so they will know what is there and can share in prioritizing; and b) set a time limit, which is scheduled into my calendar for each project.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your role in the last 6 months?

Karla: Complete and tweak reports to ensure that researched constituents are followed up with by fundraisers. They can start down another path and forget about new prospects so it is important to remind them.

Sharise: A good Information Services team can make or break your research efforts. A team that fully understands what you are trying to accomplish as opposed to simply pulling what I request has saved time and created useful partnerships.

Tracey: The importance in networking and becoming involved in Apra. This becomes more evident each year of my career. You just can’t do “it” alone.

How do you de-dupe multiple info on the same prospect? If two vendors list different information for a prospect (i.e. multiple real estate holdings, conflicting ages, different job titles) how do you determine which is most likely to be current?

Karla: It would be hard to document this. I think it takes skill and experience to do this.

Sharise: Typically I will try to go to the original source of the information (ie: real estate holdings check each assessors site).

Tracey: First, I alway cite and date all my resources right next to where the information is listed in a profile and in the database so we can always go back to the source if needed. Second, as with any academic research, if certain information is shown consistently in three sources, I have a fairly high confidence rate in using it. Third, based on experience and comparable reliable information, if the information just doesn’t seem right, I don’t use it.

Senior researchers, how do you approach social media when prospecting? What are the dos/don’ts involved? Is it useful beyond researching?

Karla: With individuals we use it mainly for confirming identity and relationships. We also use it to gather informaiton on Corporate and Foundation philanthropy.

Sharise: I only use social media to look for targeted information. Its not free for all to see what I can find. Typically to verify relationships, location, or employment.

Tracey: One rule of thumb when using social media is to always research as yourself, no fake user accounts. Again, cite and date your sources. If you have used Twitter as a source about a business’s news release, cite the source and the date. As with any research, only report what is relevant to a fundraising ask and respect a donor or prospect’s privacy.

How do I explain my role to someone who has no idea what research/fundraising/development is all about? How do I explain my value to a new boss/director who is joining the organization?

Karla: Set aside some time to write an “elevator pitch”. Work collaboratively with some creative people if you need a spark and an audience.

Sharise: Its all about strategy. I provide the groudwork for the strategy to move the organization forward. Without verified information, there is no cohesion.

Tracey: The bottom line is the bottom line. Researchers save organizations money by focusing fundraisers on those prospects that will bring the best ROI and steer them away from wasting an organizations’s resources (both human and otherwise) on those prospects that have neither affinity nor capacity to make a major gift. Hiring a researcher is one of the best financial decisions an organization can make in being efficient in their fundraising practices.

Final thoughts?

Tracey: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there: in the community, by volunteering, and in your own organization in regards to bringing forward your research and fundraising ideas. Researchers have a talent when it comes to seeing the bigger picture and impact of fundraising and the decisions made.


Special thanks to Karla, Sharise, and Tracey for joining us!

Want to join in on the next iWave Roundtable?  Please contact


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