iWave Roundtable #3

Prospect Research Roundtable #2

Welcome to iWave’s Prospect Research Roundtable #3.  Here are our participants this time around:

Elizabeth Roma / Assistant Director, Research at the Helen Brown Group

Brian Parker / Currently Development Manager, Tulsa Ballet, Incoming Consortium Manager, Tulsa Arts Management Consortium

Matt Morneault / Director of Prospect Research and Discovery, Xavier University

How important is it to balance external scoring with internal scoring processes when assessing donor potential?

Elizabeth: It’s definitely important, and I think this is another place where researchers play a key role. External scoring is a great way to quickly segment prospects and get a glimpse at how they fit into broad trends. Ultimately though, we really need to understand whether a prospect is a good fit for our own organization. Good prospect researchers understand (and can articulate) the information that goes into the external scores as well as the specific makeup of their organization’s prospect pool and the characteristics that make someone a likely donor to their organization in particular.

Brian: I think this is very important; especially as part of a performing arts organization, it’s not possible to just look at the “usual suspects” when assessing a patron’s capacity to support us with a contribution. We have to be aware of whether a patron is also a subscriber, or if they have a child in our Center for Dance Education, or if they are a supporter of one of our outreach initiatives in the Tulsa community.

If external indicators suggest that someone has a $2,000 annual donor capacity but we know that they’re spending almost all of that between subscribing to our whole season and paying tuition for training, we don’t necessarily want to chase that $2,000 amount and risk them feeling like they’re being over-solicited. At the same time, if external scoring suggests a much higher annual capacity than we’re observing from our internal knowledge of the patron’s support, that helps us identify that there is an opportunity to be explored.

Matt: It’s important to not put all of your eggs in one basket. Neither you nor a vendor is going to have all of the data points that you need to properly assess a prospect on your own. But by pulling both data sets together and objectively reviewing the data you can make the best assessment.

What’s the next major data trend to be requested from prospect research teams?

Elizabeth: I think organizations will be looking to prospect researchers to help them make sense of unstructured data, from both in-house resources and external sources. So much of what we know (and can find out) about our prospects is not captured in our databases, and as more and more information becomes available at the click of a mouse, prospect researchers will need to be experts in knowing where to find valuable data and how to do so efficiently, how to make sense of it in the context of our prospects’ lives and relationships to our organization, and how to distill large amounts of information into a concise, actionable summary that can help inform solicitation strategies.

Of course this is what prospect researchers have always done, but the sheer volume of information that is available electronically now, combined with an increased appreciation for the ways in which data can increase the effectiveness of fundraising efforts, means that our specialized skills are in more demand than ever. Our organizations will look to us to curate and steward the rich data that is available on our prospects.
I also completely agree with Matt’s comments about the importance of relationship data!

Brian: As I look at my upcoming role as Consortium Manager with Tulsa Arts Management Consortium, it comes down to metadata; TAMC represents three performing arts companies, two museums, and a botanic garden, with more organizations slated to join in the future. With such a varied set of patrons within the same metropolitan area, we want to identify key data points which help us build a better idea of what the Tulsa arts patron looks like. Where do they live? Where do they transact business? How is that business transacted? What medium of solicitation elicits the donor response? What medium isn’t working at all? What are they passionate about? What percentage patronizes every single consortium member, and what percentage is decidedly monogamous in their arts patronage?

We want to know all of this so that we can help our member organizations become more efficient at how they raise their money, and identify what the potential new donor looks like and what message will be most effective at changing them from somebody who doesn’t engage the arts at all to somebody who at least becomes interested in being an arts sampler.

Matt: For me, the next big thing seems to be relationship data and efficiently visualizing that data. The question tends to be more about how to get in front of a prospect rather than who the prospects are. What better way to build a relationship with a prospect than with a best friend, their neighbor or the social circle leader.

What are your go-to markers or indicators for a great major gift prospect? Is it real estate, salary, past giving, something else?

Elizabeth: I always look for evidence of both wealth and interest in my organization’s mission. Typical wealth indicators like income, real estate, and securities are important to consider, and I also try to keep an eye out for softer indicators that might suggest wealth–things like memberships in exclusive clubs, children in private schools, expensive hobbies like art or classic car collections, etc. I love it when I can find information about past giving (including political giving, which has been shown to have a high correlation to philanthropic giving), because it gives insight into both the types of causes a prospect supports and the level of gifts they have made in the past. Finally, I look for connections to my organization. If I can identify a board member or major donor who might be willing to make an introduction, it gives a gift officer a great first step.

Brian: Does “all of the above” work? Haha. When it comes to thinking about major gifts, I think there’s a combination of specific past giving to the organization and also the kind of giving we’ve observed towards other organizations and other initiatives. Being able to compare the level of giving we receive and the level of giving directed towards other causes gives us a better sense of where we fall for that individual or corporation/foundation in terms of importance. From there, getting a sense of real estate and salary provides further context to understand what we’ve received as part of the overall capacity picture.

Matt: Early in my career I solely used real estate but that was quickly shown to be a flawed approach. I really try to determine a household income along with a secondary marker (institutional/community/political giving). Each constituent is different and should be approached from an individual standpoint rather than a one size fits all approach. I put as many wealth indicators as I can find into a data model before making a determination on a potential major gift prospect.

What strategies or methods do you use to keep your research skills sharp?

Elizabeth: As a consultant, I am lucky to get to work with a variety of clients who all have very different prospect pools. This means that I regularly have to use different research strategies to fulfill their requests. I also try to take advantage of training as often as possible, through organizations like Apra (and my local chapter, Apra-Carolinas), and through the vendors of the subscription resources we use. Many vendors offer free training sessions, and by taking advantage of them, I often learn new tricks for tools that I use every day. Webinars and podcasts are also a great way to keep up with trends in the field, right at your desk and often for free!

Brian: Thankfully, we have access to a lot of different ways of watching our data between our Tessitura Network database and other tools like iWave. I’ve been managing the Annual Fund (which just surpassed its goal for the 2016/17 season!) and Barre Society (our young professionals membership group, which also surpassed 2016/17 season goals!) at Tulsa Ballet, so a lot of my work in fundraising has been at the ground level trying to get patrons in the door at entry-level giving amounts.

At the end of each fiscal year, I run information to get a new sense of the year that happened and what behavior we observed from our group of supporters from the previous effort. The trends of our straight 1:1 renewals, upgrades, downgrades, and unrenewed are tracked and integrated into the plan for the new fiscal year immediately, along with an assessment of what we may have done to contribute to those trends that can be changed by our own actions. We also are able to make use of T-Stats as part of our database to–without any additional effort–get an actual map by zip code to reflect which areas of Tulsa (and beyond) produced the greatest number of constituent contributions and the greatest amount of contributed revenue, so that we can be more targeted about mailed solicitations, which remain our most successful solicitation medium.

Matt: Prospect management responsibilities take up most of my time these days but I do try to carve off a couple of hours each month to focus on my research skills. One of the helpful tools I’ve come across is, a blog run by Dan Russell (a Google Research Scientist). He develops weekly research challenges that push my research skills outside of the normal research requests.

What are your interests beyond prospect research? Do they help you in your daily work in any way?

Elizabeth: I love to read, which certainly helps me enjoy my daily work since it requires me to spend a lot of time reading every day! Being an avid reader has taught me to interpret context clues and make inferences, which are essential skills in prospect research. I think it also helps me to be a better writer and to communicate my thoughts more clearly.

Brian: I’m a self-admitted data and programming geek. Ever since we brought on the integration between iWave and our Tessitura Network database, I’ve been exploring ways in which we can use internal tools as well as new SQL programming efforts to seamlessly integrated iWave’s PROscore information with out existing processes in the donor database. This can be as simple as adding PROscore data to an output set where we can also see a patron’s last gift details, or as complex as creating an entirely new constituent header in the database which gives our Development team an at-a-glance look at a donor’s estimated capacity per iWave research. All of this effort is designed to make the research data more integrated with the daily data we observe, so that the research feels integrated as well.

Matt: I really enjoy getting off the beaten path to see quirky roadside attractions and regional historical sites. I enjoy the research that goes into exploring a new area and the spontaneous discoveries that happen when you through the map out. Researching a prospect is a bit like taking a road trip, you have an end point in mind but how you get there may go off script from time to time.

Final thoughts?

Brian: We’re fortunate to live in a time where essentially the entire history of human experience and knowledge lives on a phone in your pocket; even though some things available online aren’t necessarily the most helpful to your experience, curating your sources can help you become an expert about topics you might not have any “resident expert” to consult with.

Matt: Do not be afraid to step outside the box with your approach to research. Doing something just because that’s the way it has always been done is not a good rationale.


Special thanks to Elizabeth, Brian, and Matt for joining us!

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