Research pride: a love story

Prospect Ave cropped

Photo courtesy of Joseph Brooks

I am not so sure my pride in prospect research is even a wee bit altruistic. It’s probably totally selfish.

After all, prospect research is how I make my living. Prospect research is one of the ways I’ve branded myself on LinkedIn and Twitter, and at conferences, cocktail parties, and PTA meetings. Prospect research wasn’t my first career, and it may not be my last, but it has been the lengthiest so far. Prospect research is the career which has drawn upon and stretched the skills I most enjoy using.

Prospect research has given me far more than I could ever give back.

So I think I will tell you a love story. You might think it all began when I was first asked to consider adding prospect research to my job description 17 years ago. But that wouldn’t be telling all of the story.

In fact, it was in college and graduate school that I first fell in love with research. It was as a film and art history major that I learned the basic skills of research, which in those days, before the internet, was primarily library-based. My prospects back then may have been paintings, sculptures, and movies, and my tools the Reader’s Guide to Periodic Literature, bibliographies, the card catalogue, and inter-library loan, but it was in college that I first learned the important difference between going down a rabbit hole and taking a leap of faith. I loved the smell of books, I loved the thrill of the chase, I loved strategizing, I loved solving the puzzle, and I loved writing all about it. I loved it all.

It was also in college, as the daughter of a suddenly single mother, that I experienced how profoundly powerful philanthropy could be. It wasn’t my first encounter with giving; I was a Girl Scout, I had trick-or-treated for UNICEF, and I had worked on environmental and political campaigns. But in college I began to realize that I would face no challenge alone; there were many generous donors who had my back. Their visionary philanthropy created the scholarships and fellowships which made my education – and my love of research – possible.

Fast forward. Now the research I love makes all kinds of philanthropy possible. The research I provide to my clients empowers, enriches, and enlivens the relationships they create with their donors. The research I do helps nonprofits help their donors to make this world we all share a much better place. As a prospect researcher, I am constantly learning about the philanthropy of others. Many of the prospects I research inspire and challenge me to do more, as they broaden my horizons by showing me all the ways in which more can be done. This seems even more crucial today.

But because it is how I make my living, prospect research also funds my personal philanthropy. Moreover, doing the work I love has helped our family put two children through college, two children who now make their livings working for nonprofits. Finally, and no less importantly, my experience with prospect research has given me many opportunities to serve, as a manager, mentor, volunteer, and blogger, and as an Apra chapter leader, committee member, and conference presenter.

In the last few months I’ve given two presentations about the nuts and bolts of prospect research to local nonprofit leaders, one through the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee, and one for the Southeastern Wisconsin chapter of AFP. I am very proud of the fact that neither audience wanted to hear about WHY they should make a place for prospect research in their fundraising operation. They already recognized its value, and now they wanted to learn HOW to get it done.

So we talked about which prospects to research, and how to find them. We talked about what kind of information to look for, and where it might be found. We talked about planning a ratings system, and some ways to calculate gift capacity. We talked about composing profiles, and about tailoring the depth, focus, and range of research to the need it serves and the questions it might answer. We finished up by talking about ethics, challenges, and advocacy.

My last slide was about #ResearchPride.

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