A Major Gift Officer’s Biggest Wish Comes True
by Meghan Jamison
As a prospect researcher working for a fundraising consulting firm, I get to work with organizations of all sizes and missions every day. I love the variety and challenge of identifying hidden gems and uncovering potential in databases across the country.
Every organization and donor pool is as unique as it is fascinating, but if I were to ask major gift officers what their biggest wish was, they would all wish for the same thing:
“I wish I knew exactly how much to ask our prospect for!”
Good news—there is a way to make their wish come true: prospect research! And although a researcher can’t answer a fundraiser’s burning question with 100% accuracy, we can help them get so close it will feel as though we are their genie in a bottle.
So, how do we come up with the magic number?
Prospect research is so vital to defining the right ask amount, that Front Range Source wouldn’t recommend proceeding with a major gift without it. Some prospect researchers use formulas based on their findings to determine an ask amount or range, while others evaluate their findings and propose customized requests. My research philosophy has always been to tailor each recommendation to the organization, the prospect, and the fit I find between the two.
Every prospect has a story to tell, here are just a few of the things I do to uncover it:
- Evaluate the prospect’s giving history: Has the prospect given to my client before? How much? For how long? Have they given to similar organizations? What types of projects do they support? Do you know the prospect’s passion? What is their comfortable gift range?
Critical Question: What would it take to move them beyond their comfort giving range?
- Review the prospect’s philanthropic presence: Does the prospect volunteer or serve on a board? Do they view their time as more valuable than money? What types of organizations do they work with? Does their employer have a philanthropic presence?
- Analyze the prospect’s assets and liabilities: How many properties does the prospect own (and where)? Does the prospect have any luxury items? What is their estimated net worth or annual income? Do they have any stock or other reported income? Does the prospect financially support any family members (children’s college tuition, elderly family care, etc.)? Have their been any financial red flags personally or professionally?
- Consider the prospect’s communication style: Are there newspaper articles, interviews, or any other publications where I can see, hear or read the prospect in action? Does the prospect express conversational dominance or quiet thoughtfulness? What solicitation tone would make this prospect feel the most comfortable?
- Uncover potential outliers: This is always the ‘plot twist’ in a story! Due diligence can uncover anything from lawsuits to old family ties – you just don’t know until you research – but it’s always crucial to your conclusion.
Art, Science, Confidence
This is certainly not an all-inclusive list of rocks I turn over, but it’s a great place to start and a lot of this information can be found using iWave’s PRO! Once I’ve outlined my story, I take a step back and objectively review all of my findings.
Developing my recommendation is 80% science and 20% art. Take the facts you know and pair them with your instincts – and have 100% confidence in your recommendation!
Meghan Jamison is Managing Associate at Front Range Source, which specializes in helping nonprofits get the resources they need to fulfill their mission. They offer fundraising planning, coaching and strategy. The team also help boards and staff to create strategic plans and board development efforts that move organizations further toward achieving their vision for a better world.
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