No Trespassing? Privacy, Property, and Prospect Research

Home, home, sweet, sweet, home!
There’s no place like home, oh, there’s no place like home!
~ Home Sweet Home by John Howard Payne (1791-1852)

According to a recent Pew Research study, only 22% of Americans are comfortable with government putting data about individual mortgages online, while 54% are comfortable with the government sharing real estate transactions online.

Just think for a moment. What might this perception mean for the practice and ethics of prospect research, where online access to property data can be our bread and butter?

When I’ve given how-to presentations about prospect research, I have always advised my audience that prospect research “begins at home.” A double meaning is fully intended. I recommend that they begin with the constituent records housed in their databases, and with their prospects’ homes as the primary identifiable asset. And, for the great majority of the prospects we look at, those whose philanthropic capacity is less than $1 million, a home or homes may be the only hard assets we find to construct that capacity number. In fact, the wealth in homes and neighborhoods can be such reliable predictors of capacity, that the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association uses Census tract data as a placeholder for capacity in prioritizing unrated prospects.

As prospect researchers, we know that transformational gifts are more commonly given from assets than they are from income. So the property assessment or mortgage data we find is often just the beginning of our prospect research story. Many of us will try to take a look at pictures of the property on Google Street View or Zillow, looking for amenities like swimming pools, tennis courts, lake access, and long, winding driveways. In a similar vein, we will comb through contact reports and internet searches for information about things like art collections, boats, and antique cars. All of this helps us refine the asset inventory which shapes our philanthropic capacity calculation, and – often more importantly – provides a glimpse into the interests and passions of our prospects.

So how can we reconcile this Pew Research report with our practice of prospect research? For, just as a home serves as a bellwether for philanthropic capacity in prospect research, it also serves, for many, many people, as the bellwether for their own personal privacy. And I don’t imagine that they would be reassured knowing that the registrar of deeds has paper, microfiche, or electronic copies of all their property transactions and mortgages.

Every year or so there will be a news story about prospect research and advancement offices digging into their donors’ private lives. Jen Filla, of Aspire Research Group, presented an on-point analysis and resource list of this phenomena in 2012. There is no shortage of more recent stories any of us could add to Filla’s bibliography, like this one about social media which appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 4, 2015.

In his book, Privacy (Picador, 2012), Garret Keizer conducts a wide-ranging philosophical and historical analysis of privacy. In discussing the history of the concept of privacy in American law, Keizer points out two important moments, both of which frame their definition of privacy with the home. The first is, of course, in the Bill of Rights, in particular, the Fourth Amendment. This is the amendment which guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable search and seizure.” The second moment is in fact the first American court case in which the word “privacy” actually appears: DeMay v. Roberts in 1881, in which the court wrote “the plaintiff had a legal right to the privacy of her apartment.” Keizer describes how American case law equates the home with privacy:

As the judge in Payton v. New York (1980) noted, there is a “zone of privacy” in America that is nowhere “more clearly defined when bounded by the unambiguous dimensions of a person’s home.” (82)

The home can be a symbol of privacy and a measure of wealth. But, in the words of John Howard Payne, the nineteenth century poet and songwriter with whose words I began this piece, it can also be a place of comfort:

To thee I’ll return, overburdened with care;
The heart’s dearest solace will smile on me there;
No more from that cottage again will I roam;
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.

A comfortable home: one which offers private solace, and which signifies a certain level of wealth.

It is telling that Pew Research also uses the word comfortable to describe how people feel about the government publishing property data. Does the word “comfortable” suggest that the boundaries of privacy are relative – different for every person – and not simply that which is not public? And, with these hard numbers to show us how people feel about their property data and privacy, is it enough to tell ourselves that the data we access and use in prospect research is always and only public data? I’m afraid I don’t have the answers.

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Down the Rabbit-Hole

(original illustration by Sir John Tenniel, 1865)

This year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That alone is worthy of celebration, but there is something even more special about Alice for prospect research – or loathed, depending on your point of view. The title of Chapter One gives us one of prospect research’s most used metaphors: “Down the Rabbit-Hole.” Indeed we don’t need to read very far before we run into a paragraph which describes what will sound like a very familiar experience to many of us, on page 3:

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.

Of course, this being a metaphor, the prospect research rabbit-hole is a virtual one. The entry point often begins with our favorite search engine on our favorite internet browser, but it can also be provided by a screening service, a property assessment or SEC filing, a subscription website, a contact report or relationship in the database, or just about anywhere data can be found. And while the nuggets of data we start with are our rabbit-hole gateway drugs, anything we find along the way can feed the habit, leading us to more search terms, more results, more tangents, and, ultimately, more to sift through. Once in the rabbit-hole, our curiosity unabated, we eagerly pursue any thread of evidence, any tiny breadcrumb of data. Are those enough mixed metaphors for you?

Many of us would agree that an essential trait for a successful prospect researcher is curiosity. It is curiosity which helps us chase down those tangents which often provide important clues. It is curiosity which leads us to read the footnotes in a proxy statement, and curiosity which leads us to leads us to research all the names on a real estate deed. But curiosity is also behind those hours we might spend on irrelevant details. For, as Anke Bernau, a medieval literature scholar at the University of Manchester, wrote recently on the New Chaucer Society blog: “Curiosity is ‘approach’ rather than ‘goal’ oriented.” In other words, curiosity is not a strategy, it is a tactic.

Instead, prospect research needs to channel curiosity, and use it within a broader strategy, as Meg Kinney recently pointed out in her blog post “Things I Have Left Out of Profiles:”

[Prospect Researchers] have a code of ethics, and a goal in mind–we’re not just poking around out of curiosity, but because we have specific, reasonable questions about charitable interests, assets, etc. We’re not in the business of idle gossip.

The rabbit-hole can be both the bliss and the bane of prospect research, its excess of data alternatively enticing and frustrating. Deep in the rabbit-hole, we find ourselves, like Alice, with “not a moment to think about stopping.” Faced with the allure of continuing down the rabbit-hole, we can be oblivious to the emerging spring weather, and perhaps even to our too-soon busted NCAA basketball brackets. But properly leveraged and filtered, curiosity can help us find the very things which will help nurture a closer relationship between our prospects and our missions.

And, while curiosity may have led me to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the New Chaucer Society blog, it took a bit of strategy to bring them into this post.

Data In – Profile Out

It should come as no secret that I am a proponent of automating the prospect research profile as much as possible. In fact, in my final presidential column for the APRA Wisconsin newsletter, just about a year ago, that was just one of the paths down which I suggested so-called reactive research would need to head. I won’t rehash what I wrote then; you can read it here.

Of course, it was easy then for me to extol automation. For one thing, it had been over a decade since I had actually typed a profile in a Word template. For another, I was a member of one of Wisconsin’s largest prospect research teams, and had easy access to our database, and several profile report formats, from work or from home.

Now that I am consulting, things are very different. I am still not typing profiles in Word templates, but it is something I consider a possibility, now that more of my work is done remotely and without direct database access. But when I am asked for recommendations, I always try first to find a database solution.

One of my current clients, an independent school, uses The Raiser’s Edge, and had already created a Word merge to pull some individual prospect data – gift summaries, children, contact information, etc. – into a Word document. They didn’t call this a profile, and the task they wanted my help with was in gathering biographic and professional information on each prospect into a brief paragraph which they could type into their Word document. I immediately thought we should put this background information into a Note in The Raiser’s Edge and to add that Note type to their merge template. Creating this new Note type accomplished two things. One, the information was easily retrieved into their prospect document. Two, it was captured in the database to refer to in the future. Best of all, it was easy to add the new Note into the merge file, and even easier to create the new note type.

Fast forward a month or two, and this client now wanted a way to codify foundation interests and to identify potential donors to new capital and programming initiatives. Using the Philanthropic Interests table on the Prospect tab in The Raiser’s Edge was the easy part. It didn’t even take us that long to come up with a list of about 20 different interest areas we’d like to track and be able to query.

But how to capture nonprofit board service, volunteer roles, and gifts to other organizations? Well the Prospect tab of The Raiser’s Edge has a Gifts to Other Organizations table, and my client had already populated it with information from past screenings and data appends. One look at how that table structures data, though, and we could see it would not be our answer this time. For one thing, there isn’t an easy way to enter the dollar ranges found most often on nonprofit annual reports. Perhaps most importantly, though, the Gifts to Other Organizations table does not have a way to visually and strategically connect giving patterns to things like board service or a spouse’s volunteering. A simple Note can do all of that, and can be formatted to export easily into a Word merge or a Crystal Report.

Our solution this time was to create two more Note types. A Philanthropic Note was used to document board and volunteer service, and significant gifts (generally gifts above $1,000). And a Foundation Note was used to capture basic Form 990 information including assets, gifts received and grants paid, a list of directors and officers, and a brief list of the largest grants made. Both of these notes were added to their existing Word merge template, along with the background information note, to form a simple and easily editable, profile.

Each note in The Raiser’s Edge has a Description field, and with our Background, Philanthropic, and Foundation Notes we used this Description field to track the date when the information was last updated. Now, before running a profile report, anyone can quickly see how stale the information might be, and what they might need to refresh.

Once upon a time, a profile may have been a catalog of everything we knew about the prospect. More often today, a profile is strategically designed for a specific purpose and context. Often a profile may not be the only way to answer a question, or it may not be the best way. Each of these philosophies and situations could be satisfied with either a typed document or a database report. Some might even be happy with an email. But I bet they would all agree that if something is in the profile it should also be in the database. Indeed, the profile template should serve to remind us of the categories of information we need to capture and verify, just as a research checklist reminds us to leave no stone unturned. And when profile information is in the database, it can also be used to create prospect pools, or to do data mining or modeling, or simply to help those who follow you understand your prospects as well as you do.

 

Really Simple Stewardship

After I wrote and posted this, I checked Twitter. All Thanksgiving-week long, Milwaukee Film Festival sent out simple, 140 character acts of stewardship like these, which demonstrate just how well they know their donors, and how deeply they appreciate them. Well done, Milwaukee Film, well done!

 

Giving Thanks

snow - cropped (4)

April may be the cruelest month, but November – with Veterans Day, National Philanthropy Day®, and Thanksgiving – may just be the most appreciative.

 Years ago, gift processing was a large part of my job, especially at the end of the year. Back then, part of me always dreaded this time of year – as the amount of daylight got ever shorter, the length of my working hours got ever longer. And while my co-workers were using their remaining vacation time for last minute errands, I was rolling mine over into the New Year. And yet, even though I was doing a lot of data entry, booking all those year-end gifts, I also got to do one of the most special things we can do in fundraising. I got to thank people – a lot of people.

 I’ve used this quote before, but I never get tired of it. A colleague at one of my favorite organizations says that gift processing should really be called “gift stewardship.” Indeed, stewardship and gratitude often begin long before a gift is made, and continue with properly booking the gift, but they come to fruition in the thank you letter. And letter it should be. A thank you on the landing page after an online gift is submitted, an automated email, or even a printed receipt will bring efficiencies to your process, but how different do they make you from Amazon? Those automated acknowledgements are simply too transactional. They are just too much about the tax language and not nearly enough about the donor’s very personal philanthropy or aspirations. To my mind nothing beats a real letter for expressing gratitude and building the relationship.

 So take a pause after you run the acknowledgement mail merge. Think of this moment as an opportunity. You’ve probably already customized your merge template to allow you to segment your acknowledgments so that your text is matched to donor intent. And once your file is output to the word processing program, you will make sure the right name or nickname is in the salutation, the gift amount and allocation are correct, and that there are no typos or weird merge effects. But you should also take this opportunity to make the letters more personal. Longstanding donors? Add a word or phrase which recognizes and appreciates their loyalty and faith in what you do. New donors? Thank them for deciding to place their trust in you to help them achieve their vision.

 A letter offers an additional opportunity that no electronic communication ever can. You can add a handwritten note. Back in my gift processing days, I attached a sticky note to the letters with little nuggets about the donors (“donor since ’95,” “3rd gift this year,” “father was a trustee,” “missed the gala for the 1st time in 7 years.”). This gave the agency’s president, who signed all of our acknowledgements, a quick reminder whenever there was something special to acknowledge in a handwritten note.

 In the last few weeks I’ve come full circle, back to writing thank you letters, this time to help steward my client’s scholarship donors. And I’m thankful that, once again, as the days grow shorter and colder, and friends and families gather closer, I get to use my time to thank others.

 

3 Ways Being a Mentor Can Help You*

A simple internet search on the word “mentor” will find the above image, from Homer’s Odyssey. When Odysseus did not return home after the Trojan War, his son, Telemachus, searched for him, accompanied by the goddess Athena disguised as his childhood teacher and guardian, Mentor (you can read more here). The same internet search will also find a ton of how-to articles and websites. But here is what mentoring means to me, and why I think you should give it a try:

Paying it forward: yes, absolutely, mentoring is a feel-good. You are paying it forward by freely sharing your expertise and your time. When I was president of APRA Wisconsin, I wrote a whole column in our newsletter about the philanthropy inherent in sharing and teaching. I still feel strongly that a passion for working in the philanthropic sector must include service. (I feel just as strongly that it doesn’t mean working for poverty wages, but that’s a soap-box I won’t climb onto here.)

Seeing through new eyes: when I taught high school in the last millennium, discussing literature (yes – that included the Odyssey) through ever-changing points of view was one of my greatest joys. Something similar happens in a great mentoring relationship, one which crosses skill sets and generations. The give and take of the best mentoring relationships should give you the opportunity to re-examine how you’ve always done things. A new generation brings new ideas, and together, with your different skills, points of view, and assumptions, you may just come up with a new and better way of doing something. The problems they need solving may be ones you haven’t thought about for years, or they may be ones you never would have foreseen. You may just head down a path neither of you could have found on your own.

Polishing your skills: there is nothing like teaching someone else to help you sharpen your own skills. Obviously, you will want to be at the top of your game for the sake of your “mentee” (and, oh, how I hate that word – but I don’t like protégé either), and for the sake of your own personal pride. However, as you and your mentee work through the challenges they’ve identified, you are likely to learn new skills and relearn dormant ones. You are also likely to need to say “I don’t know” more than once, and then head back to your office to figure things out before you meet again. But beyond the honing of specific technical skills, mentoring also gives you the opportunity to work on your “soft” skills in a friendly room: leadership, presenting, training, project management, as well as eye-contact, modulating your voice, and learning which clichés fall flat.

So when you think about mentoring, give yourself permission to be a little selfish in your approach to service. Because you will get back so much more than you give.

*I’ve heard (most recently from Josh Birkholz at the APRA Illinois data analytics conference at Loyola on Oct. 3rd), that one of the ways to attract readers to your content is to lead with a number. I thought I’d give it a shot.

 

Spelling Counts

In the fundraising niche where I do most of my work, donor-centricity requires effective database management and attention to detail: data entry standards, quality control measures, and thoughtful, respectful documentation of donor information. But speaking as a former English teacher, in every area of effective database management, spelling really does count.

Penelope Burk and Cygnus Applied Research created the concept of “donor-centered fundraising” based their 1997 survey which showed:

87% of Cygnus’ study respondents said they would give again the next time they were asked, 64% would make a larger gift, and 74% would continue to give indefinitely, if they received the following every time they made a gift:

  1. prompt, meaningful acknowledgment of their gifts
  2. reassurance that their gifts will be directed as donors intend
  3. meaningful results on their gifts at work, before they are asked for another contribution

~ http://cygresearch.com/about-us-3/becoming-donor-centered/

To ensure that the three guarantees of ongoing giving identified in the Cygnus study, proper stewardship often begins before the first gift is even made. Proper stewardship begins with good spelling.

The donor’s name must always be spelled correctly – and that means as they have chosen to spell it. Don’t assume. And if you did initially enter it incorrectly, change it when you receive the first correspondence or the first gift. (And yes, I’ve seen a $1M proposal sent out with names misspelled. I just wish my red pen and I had seen it before it was sent.)

Proper spelling goes beyond proper names. The post office may not deliver mail which carries an incorrectly spelled or formatted address; messages will not be received by misspelled email addresses or mistyped phone numbers. Misspellings in prospect research deliverables or contact reports may simply embarrass the writer among their colleagues, or worse, convey and perpetuate incorrect information. Query and reporting syntax will nearly always require the correct spelling; the hardest searches to effectively run are the ones where the search criteria or the source data contain typos. It is essential to develop data entry standards, quality control processes, exception reports, and data update schedules, but it is just as critical to correct individual errors whenever and wherever you spot them – that’s true donor-centricity.

More broadly speaking, isn’t “spelling” just another word for meticulous data entry and strong data integrity? In fundraising, names and contact information are where precise data entry begins, but gift entry and acknowledgement are where scrupulous data entry practices must flourish. As a colleague of mine said recently, “gift processing should really be called gift stewardship.” Individual gifts must be accurately entered; attributed to the correct donor; allocated to the proper funds, campaigns, appeals, proposals, events, memorials, tributes, and matching gifts; receipted for the correct legal amount; and thoughtfully, meaningfully, and promptly acknowledged with the donor’s preferred salutation and address correctly spelled. Tracking fundraising results absolutely depends on accurate gift entry, and confidently communicating success and sustainability to donors and stakeholders is another aspect of stewardship.

Finally, “spelling counts” not simply because it is required by your finance team or the IRS, or by your own pride and responsibility, but because it matters to donors: it is a measure of care and respect.

 

The Value-Add for Prospect Research in SEC Filings

When I am doing prospect research, I always breathe a sigh of relief when an individual I am researching is a member of a public company. Maybe I am just a geek, but I embrace SEC filings, since they provide hard numbers I can plug into a capacity formula. But besides the ever-so-useful sections on executive compensation, beneficial ownership, and options exercise schedules, SEC filings provide so much more, and often there is no math.

Professional Biographies – the bios in proxy filings are so nice and compact, they’re just asking to be copied into a professional note in the database, and they often have an age and a photo. And unlike a LinkedIn bio, these are on a government filing.

Relationships – we are still in the bio section, but now we are looking at the other executives and directors, to see who has served alongside our prospect for the longest or the closest. And we don’t need to stop there, since our prospect’s bio likely lists both previous employers, alma maters, and other organizations, for-profit or nonprofit, for which our prospect serves as a director. All of those will provide sources to scour for relationships and door-openers.

Director Compensation – sometimes the compensation packages for independent directors can be substantial, in the six-figures, and supplement any other salary information you may have found for your prospect.

Footnotes – a veritable goldmine, the footnotes in the compensation, ownership and other tables, and on Form 4 filings, can reveal hidden nuggets. Many times they reference trusts, and will specify whether our prospect has a controlling interest in the trust or not. Sometimes these trusts are for spouses, children or other family members, which provides us additional insight into how our prospect manages wealth. Other footnotes may reference employment agreements, signing and/or retention bonuses, and incentive plans.

Corporate Events – if a merger, acquisition or divestiture has occurred in the time frame a proxy filing describes, that filing will discuss it. Understanding the acquisitions which a company has undertaken can sometimes help us understand the financial and employment packages it has created for the executives who came along with those acquisitions, and the relationships our prospect may have with the company and the other principals.

Stock Holdings – if you read through your prospect’s historic Form 4 filings, you can see who consistently sells the stock they receive or exercises options only to turn around and sell them, who redeems options but holds onto the stock, and who rarely or never exercises options. These behaviors can all be part of the wealth puzzle. And, if there is a Form 4 filing more recent than the last proxy filing, it will provide a more up-to-date report of the prospect’s current stock position(s).

So try not to sweat the math or the fine print, because if you do dig into SEC filings, finding several new and intriguing threads to pull could be the ultimate reward.

“Membership has its Privileges”

This isn’t a how-to, but a why.

When I first joined APRA it was for the same reason as a lot of people: I was attending the International Conference. It was 2000, and I was adding prospect research to my other responsibilities as database manager. The conference was my seminar series and the people I met became my alumni network. Fourteen years later, I have just completed two consecutive terms as the president of my state APRA chapter.

For my first nine years as an APRA member, prospect research continued to occupy just a small part of my day; it ebbed and flowed with the other, more predictable aspects of my job. Research may not have always been a priority back then, although it would become so later, but even as my career focus changed, my APRA membership retained consistent value.

Learning – most of what I know about prospect research I have either learned in some way via APRA, or from the people I have met through APRA. At that first conference, titled – appropriately, for me – California Gold Rush 2000: A New Generation of Prospectors, I attended sessions on SEC documents, IPOs, integrating strategy into research and ratings, and researching corporations, foundations and individuals. Yes – I still have the program, but I don’t have any of the PowerPoints or my notes. I also learned about APRA International, and about two other important resource networks – PRSPCT-L and the Wisconsin Chapter. All three continue my education in prospect research to this day, which is further enhanced these days by blogs and Twitter.

Networking – on the first full day of my first conference, there was a “Lunch by State.” At the Wisconsin table I met people who would become my mentors, colleagues and friends, and who introduced me to the APRA Wisconsin Chapter. In earlier careers, I had belonged to user groups and unions, but I never made the kind of long-lasting relationships I have been able to make via APRA. Being an APRA member brought me in contact with people who valued the work I did, and who understood and could help me with the obstacles I encountered. When my own organization’s internet connection couldn’t download a particularly large Form 990 (remember the early 2000s?), a friend at another organization with a more robust broadband connection opened the document and found what I needed. Indeed, whenever research, or technology, stumped me, I had people to turn to, and, in my own turn, I eventually became a mentor myself. Over the years, we have been there for each other as jobs were found and lost, as children were born and as parents passed on.

Serving and Leading – APRA and my chapter have offered me countless opportunities to volunteer, and to explore leadership through board service. I volunteered at my second APRA conference, and, a year after joining the chapter, I hosted my first chapter meeting (which, in those days, also involved securing a speaker). Many years later, I became both leader and steward, as a chapter president in a time when APRA itself was pondering the nature of the relationships between members, chapters and the organization as a whole. Being a leader within my chapter has given me a platform to speak, write, teach and mentor; to become a philanthropist with prospect research as I called it in one of my chapter newsletter columns.

So, what has my APRA membership given me? If not certification, then validation, knowledge, commiseration and, most of all, community.

Database Best Practices, continued (It Depends, Part II)

In my last post, I discussed some best practices for the data entry in fundraising databases: keeping your data coded, simple, reportable and retrievable, and using common sense to guide your data entry decisions. And I promised to explore how you decide where to store specific kinds of data, and where else you can turn for specific solutions.

Most database packages will offer lots of fields, tabs and tables for you to populate with rich data about your constituents, gifts, memberships, volunteer jobs, contacts, events, etc. Some databases offer optional modules to track special events, grant proposals, and other information, and most databases will offer a number of “user-defined fields” (UDFs) – fields you can label and define to accommodate your specific business practices. And all of these options can be overwhelming.

So, begin with the easy decisions, the sorts of decisions which involve nothing more than coding your data so that it is easily reported and queried. This includes where and how to enter names, addresses, salutations, and gifts. Locate the place to flag anonymous donors; if one does not exist, use a user-defined field and select one which is easy to locate. Identify a user-defined field to store the name your donor wants to be printed in the annual report (if that applies to you). Then document these decisions and do not waver from them.

Will you ever need to query and report on all gifts to a fund by year? Or on every gift to a particular fund? Probably – and so you will need to decide whether to embed your fund codes with dates – OP14 – or if you can query using a gift date range. If you do use embedded dates in your fund codes, keep those dates consistent. That way you can query and report with wild cards to find all the gifts to the Operating fund – OP* – or all the 2014 gifts – *14.

Some of the most important data will be captured in your contact reports and moves management. Most fundraising databases will have a dedicated area for this data – for example, in The Raiser’s Edge it is kept on the Actions tab. The information you enter here not only creates an archive of your prospect’s relationship with your organization, it can also provide a rich trove of data for later data mining. The easiest way to approach coding contact reports in your database is to follow the solicitation cycle (identification, qualification, cultivation, solicitation, stewardship) and/or the grant cycle (letter of intent, proposal, progress report, final report). Don’t forget to have a few loose categories for those gray areas! Many of the contact reports you enter will begin life as calendar ticklers for meetings, phone calls, proposals and reports. Once the meeting or phone call takes place, or the proposal is submitted, don’t simply close or complete the record. Take the time to record what happened in a Note field – your database should provide a way to tie Notes to the contact report.

As I said, your contact reports can be data mined to great effect. Want to find funders for a new initiative? Think of key words tied to that initiative and search the notes in your call reports. For example, if you are building your first soccer field, search the call reports for mentions of soccer. This relatively simple query will find soccer parents, former soccer stars, perhaps even identify prospects who loathe soccer. Something which came up in casual conversation years ago, before soccer was ever on your radar, could suddenly become the key to finding a major donor! But that won’t happen if you don’t record the notes in the first place.

In my last post I also promised you some other places to turn for help:

  • Want to find a local consultant and your search engine just isn’t producing any results? Try an advanced search on LinkedIn, using the name of your database as the key word, and narrow the results with your zip code. It’s not necessarily the slickest tool, but you should find a few names to connect with, who may not have a website that would show up in search engine results.
  • Have a specific question but you don’t know where to turn? Join a listserv and post your questions. Gift processors often turn to FundSvcs, prospect researchers to PRSPCT-L, and data analysts to Prospect-DMM, but there are listservs for every aspect of philanthropy, and many can be found on SupportingAdvancement.com. Most listservs will let you lurk before you post, and this is a great way to discover tips and resources you may not have thought of on your own, and new people to connect with.
  • Use social media. Join a relevant group on LinkedIn – something tied to your database vendor, or to your niche in fundraising – and post your question. Tweet your question.

Each of these approaches has the potential to widen your professional network. And, perhaps the next question you see will be one you can answer!