How to Better Align Prospect Research and Fundraising

Imagine you’re the president of a small company. The marketplace is highly competitive, and investors are counting on you to grow revenue. But your Sales team has exhausted their best leads, and Marketing efforts have atrophied. Each team blames the other, citing a laundry list of failures. Your head is in your hands – year-end is just around the corner, and investors are growing impatient. What do you do?

The issue at the heart of this scenario is alignment, or rather lack thereof. But considering the work of Sales and Marketing is so deeply interconnected, you would think collaboration would be a top priority. Unfortunately, the opposite is too often true.

United we stand, divided we fall

The Harvard Business Review suggests the Marketing-Sales disconnect exists because the two functions attract different types of people who spend their time in different ways. “Marketers…are highly analytical, data-oriented, and project focused.” Much of their heavy lifting occurs behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the Sales team is busy building relationships on the road or over the phone. “The Sales group’s contributions to the bottom line are often easier to judge than the marketer’s contributions.” The different personalities and work styles can lead to confrontation, or worse, undervaluing the other department’s hard work.

How does all this apply to nonprofits? Specifically, how does it relate to raising major gifts? Nonprofit work involves unique goals, structures, and processes. But that’s not to say nonprofits can’t learn what companies like IBM, Coca-Cola, FedEx, and even iWave learned the hard way over many decades: when departments work together, sales (read: major gift donations) increase dramatically; when they fail to collaborate, the entire organization could spin out of control.

Maybe your entire development team is already fully aligned and integrated. If that’s the case, feel free to stop reading here. But if you believe there is room for researchers and fundraisers to come together, read on.

How To Align Prospect Research and Fundraising Relationship

Whether you identify a prospect researcher, major gifts fundraiser, senior nonprofit manager – or maybe a combination of all three – strong research and fundraising relationship depends on one thing: alignment.

If your nonprofit is small, researchers and fundraisers may enjoy good, informal relationships that don’t require rigorous alignment. This could also be the case if just one person has assumed both roles. But if you have separate teams of researchers and fundraisers who come into conflict, consider taking these action steps to define and align the relationship:

Encourage effective communication

Simply increasing communication between researchers and fundraisers is not enough. Communication eats up time and slows down decision making. Rather, ensure the communication is focused, goal-oriented, and systematic. Allow time for researchers and fundraisers to share their respective needs, goals, and expectations. Identify action items to be completed before the next meeting, and determine who will be involved in completing those tasks. Share success stories, and allow everyone to provide feedback. Remember to book your next meeting before the current meeting ends. Consider alignment meetings as an opportunity to calibrate and reinvigorate the entire team.


We are the product of the people we spend the most time with. This is especially true at work. When two interconnected departments work in mutually exclusive silos, they will inevitably butt heads.

At iWave, we employ an open concept workspace with an open-door policy. This allows different departments to easily drop in for questions, requests, and feedback. We also have designated rooms for formal calibration meetings involving two or more departments. The rest of the time, iWave is almost like one big team.

Are researchers and fundraisers at your organization isolated, or do they work alongside each other? If the two roles are positioned closer together, there will be more opportunities for collaboration and skill sharing.

Share skills

There is an old adage that goes something like this:

Tell me, I’ll forget.
Show me, I’ll remember.
Involve me, and I’ll understand.

The further entrenched we become in our careers, the less likely we are to commit to professional development. But if the concerns about automation squeezing out nonprofit developers are to be believed, lifelong learning is no longer a nice-to-have – it’s essential.

The work of both prospect research and fundraising is demanding and time-consuming. But if possible, schedule some time for skill sharing. Fundraisers can explore the prospect research tools a researcher uses, and learn about just how much work goes into a single prospect profile. Meanwhile, researchers can shadow a fundraiser while they cultivate, solicit, and steward prospects and donors. New research efforts could benefit from the added context of understanding the unique challenges of fundraising.

Align incentives

An integrated nonprofit won’t succeed unless researchers and fundraisers share responsibility for development targets. This encourages increased collaboration and best efforts by both teams in pursuit of a common goal. However, sharing objectives often involves the sensitive issue of shared rewards. If for every major gift raised, fundraisers earn a commission and researchers don’t, management may need to review the organization’s compensation policy.

Incentives extend beyond pay, however. After all, nonprofit work is not about making money, but making a positive difference. Still, we all appreciate receiving credit when and where it’s due. When the next major gift comes in, celebrate everyone involved at the next staff meeting, with a thank-you email, or on a whiteboard, for everyone to see. When recognizing the hard work of researchers and fundraisers together, a little goes a long way.

Research and fundraising each play a vital role in the success of a nonprofit’s mission. When raising major gifts, one role cannot succeed without the other. Whether your organization is large and small, there are always opportunities to better align research and fundraising efforts. If both researchers and fundraisers make collaboration a priority, the entire organization benefits.

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