Prospect Research Automation – It doesn’t have to be a bad word

If you’re using tools for your prospect research, you’ve probably started to notice the trend toward prospect research automation.  It’s true, prospect research is becoming more automated.  One-click profiles and automatic capacity ratings are the new normal.   This may have you wondering how automation will change your job as a researcher.  Well, the key may be working with research automation and not against it.

Okay, hold onto your hat for this one…Automation can be a good thing. When things become automated it usually means time savings, increased efficiency, and convenience. These days, you can control everything from your lights to your slow cooker remotely with your smart phone.  There are even vacuums that clean your house while you’re at work!

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Prospect Research Automation – Not So Taboo

The moral of the story is research automation doesn’t have to mean the end for prospect researchers.  In the 80s when prospect research revolved around print – you know, those things like newspapers and phonebooks – researchers were scared of what the internet would do to their profession.  Now, many would argue that it made their job better, easier, and maybe, just maybe, automation will too.


In her blog, Jen Filla, President of Aspire Research Group, talks about the need to take prospect research one step further.

Analysis is important.  But as Jen puts it: “What if we could learn to take it a step further and routinely synthesize the information, churning out insights that our development officers can act on?  It would be another step towards job security, that’s what!”  Providing insights, recommendations, patterns, and observations will become more and more important with automation.

For example, rather than listing all of the charitable donations a prospect has given to multiple organizations over the past year, you could analyze their pattern of giving and offer insights to your frontline fundraiser. Something like this.

The donations data shows that although Steve may have given annual gifts of $1000 for the past 5 years, there is an indication that he may be a good candidate for a major gift this year.  He has previously given X to similar organizations and his capacity rating suggests an estimated giving of $500,000 over 5 years.

Or as Sarah Bernstein, former President of APRA Wisconsin and Principal Consultant at Philanthrodata, puts it “As we transition from cataloguers to storytellers, we must be able to leverage technology and seek innovative ways to tell more compelling stories using more efficient tools.”  Hear more from Sarah here.

You are the expert!

As prospect researchers, you are the information experts.  You weed through information on prospects every day. Thus you are more skilled at drawing conclusions from what that information is telling you.  Grace Chandonnet, Research Associate with The Helen Brown Group, talks more about this here. “We form opinions about prospects’ personalities, their preferences, and their giving styles. When we pass those observations along, it can be a valuable part of strategy planning. Making your observations known can elevate your visibility among frontline fundraisers and the rest of the development operation while elevating their fundraising abilities.”

And we all know that “elevating your visibility” as Grace puts it, helps reinforce the value of the prospect researcher.

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About the author: Jill McCarville is iWave’s VP of Marketing.  Jill joined iWave in 2015 to lead the marketing and communication efforts. Prior to joining iWave Jill worked as a Director at an Innovation and Marketing consulting firm where she led new product ideation sessions, created campaigns, completed market research, and helped clients from Fortune 500’s to small businesses accelerate new products to market.

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