“Don’t hang out with each other. Make friends with people in other industries. Expand your network of contacts.”
This profound advice came courtesy of stalwart newsman-turned-journalism instructor Mr. B. He was gently nudging my print reporting class to get out there and make friends with accountants, realtors and tech nerds; sources for our next great stories. We looked at each other around the room, our gazes quizzically wondering whether we were still on for post-class drinks at our neighbourhood pub.
You see, Mr. B was annoyed with the state of news gathering. It was increasingly difficult to secure quotes straight from the source, so professional journalists were tending to talk to other journalists about newsworthy people, events and issues, especially concerning public policy and government.
More than a decade outside of journalism school, I now find a genuine comfort level with my prospect research peers across North America, particularly through the APRA network. (Proudly, #IamAPRA!) There is something special about both face and online time together – peer-to-peer learning through stimulating webinars and presentations, along with the conversations they spur. It’s really about advancing my prospect research practices and building a strong network of trusted contacts and friends.
But when I log off social media or return home from an APRA conference, I try to stay true to Mr. B’s advice by connecting to people who don’t do what I do to earn a living. In a way, I’ve been forced to expand my information and social network being the sole researcher at my organization. So, just like we need to diversify our donor bases, we could diversify our firsthand sources of information in this quest as well.
Where to start, the inquisitive prospect researcher asks? With a little help from these friends:
Ha! Now I can finally hang out with journalists free from guilt, right Mr. B? Of course, a journalist seeks information too, primarily from human sources firsthand. (That is, if humans are willing to talk to her.)
Journalists are grappling with similar challenges and opportunities brought by big data and social networking. Many are under-employed – or blogging – so they may have time to chat with us. Also, I doubt journalists would judge what prospect researchers do, especially if they knew how much we rely on their published work to inform our own.
A professional advisor is a term popularized by the gift planners among us to describe someone who offers accounting, legal and financial advice for clients, i.e. prospective and existing donors.
Imagine the wealth of information and knowledge a wills and estates lawyer would be willing to share over a workday lunch. How about the benefits, both personal and professional, of attending a free seminar on financial planning at your local library?
Professional advisors can help prospect researchers source out and verify capacity details, provided our queries remain broad in context; not about specific people. While I don’t think an established wealth manager who works exclusively with ultra high net worth clients will eagerly talk to a prospect researcher, perhaps an emerging professional who is building her own network will share keen insight about her work? I’m still waiting for the private banker I broke bread with at a recent board of trade luncheon to respond to my pleasant follow-up e-mail…
Since our primary audience is comprised of fundraisers, why not solicit the opinions of our fundraisers’ counterparts working at other charities and institutions? It’s like conducting your very own competitive intelligence.
Fundraisers love to talk especially about themselves, so I don’t hesitate to ask them about their work and what they find valuable in the form of prospect data and intelligence. Many fundraisers have told me they do their own prospect research which has led to conversations about adding value through dedicated research resources (including staffing).
Be open about your work. You may field questions from fundraisers who don’t have the benefit of working with in-house researchers like:
Like prospect researchers, fundraisers are curious about people and want to connect in meaningful ways with others. Some dedicate their careers to advancing the philanthropic sector; truly fostering a culture of philanthropy. I love hanging out with those fundraisers! They challenge me and the broader sector to be better.
I’ve discovered that we all face similar challenges no matter our niche roles. We seek to be heard; we value overhead, and we love donors.
This may be somewhat contrarian to Mr. B’s advice, but since I joined a new organization recently, I’m discovering great joy and benefit from connecting with my new colleagues, like our staff accountant, our donations processing princess and our general manager. We’re providing each other with the kind of offline insight that helps us connect to each other and our organization a deeper level. According to new research, nurturing these budding relationships may provide the key to fundraising success. Dr Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang and Ian McQuillan from Rogare business school in the UK found that engaging colleagues at work – everyone from the CEO to the board to our staff – provides the kind of support and active engagement that leads to successful relationship fundraising with donors. Where there is trust and respect among colleagues, there are more donors willing to give. It makes sense, doesn’t it, Mr B?
Prospect researchers are well-positioned to expand our information and social networks through our very own kind of relationship building. After all, we don’t ask prospects for money, all we seek are facts and perspective. We just need to determine the initial tactful approach and reserve time for engaging all these lovely non-prospect research friends!
Read more about Rogare’s research at www.pursuant.com/relationshipfundraising
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About the author: Preeti Gill is a prospect researcher, writer and cat fancier in Vancouver, BC, Canada. You can learn more about her work at www.preetigill.ca. Follow Preeti on Twitter @SoleSearcherPR.
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