Fundraising and prospect research: Better together

publication date: Mar 8, 2017
author/source: Preeti Gill

A front-line fundraiser and a prospect research practitioner walk into an elevator.

On the way up, they exchange pleasantries.

Then the prospect researcher seizes this opportunity to explain and promote her work - what is now referred to as prospect development - to enhance her fundraiser's understanding.


Hello, my name is Preeti and I am a vocal, veteran prospect researcher.

Over many years, across numerous institutions and non-profit organizations, I have provided strategic research support for a diverse group of fundraising professionals.

Some of these fundraisers truly value(d) my help, growing to view our relationship as a productive partnership.

Other fundraisers have been less enthusiastic; perhaps confused to the point of being dismissive. Some fundraisers have wondered how prospect research is conducted. Where and when can it be useful and effective in fund development?

Even donors show mixed views on prospect research, according to an insightful chapter in The Philanthropic Mind entitled "The Catch-22 of Research." The book's authors Chuck English and Mo Lidsky concluded: while many major donors "understand that effective fundraising requires good research, [they don't] want anyone researching them."

You may wonder how a prospect researcher like me copes in the midst of these divergent perspectives?

Well, I'm self-reflective, seeking to understand and even appreciate alternative views.

But first, I have sought to clarify my work, preferring to self-define as opposed to being defined by others. When inside an elevator, I have a speech ready to recite, to give you a strong sense of who I am, what I do and why I care so much about my niche in fundraising. Here it goes:

By ensuring they have access to relevant, accurate and strategic information, I encourage front-line fundraisers to engage our donors in more meaningful ways, ultimately to secure their support.

Stimulating interest, curiosity and awareness about our current and future donors forms a critical part of the strategic support role I play at my organization.

Specifically, new funding opportunities that I identify for further consideration always demonstrate financial capacity alongside some linkage or known interest in my organization.I help fundraisers determine the initial approach for these quality leads based on ethically sourced research and my own humble experiences.

It requires intelligence and preparation to make the right ask at the right time of the right person. My work equips fundraisers with the informed confidence they need to make it happen.

Anything less is just Googling.


Having worked with numerous fundraisers, I've grown to appreciate and even sympathize with you, given your multi-faceted roles. Based on my understanding, you need to raise ambitious amounts of money, by both renewing existing donors and acquiring new ones. You have the honour of getting to know donors, that is if they agree to meet with you. You likely manage staff even while having a monetary target you yourself need to reach. Your organization expects you to be a diligent data nerd, coding prospect data and entering contact reports in practically real-time.

I would like to help, so together we can accomplish great (lofty even) goals.

Together we can build stronger, trusting relationships with donors in respectful ways. I can help by monitoring major life and career accomplishments of our donors in media. They will appreciate that you reached out with your congratulations or condolences 'out of the blue.' By unearthing key public biographical information, I can help you save time and energy. You will head into your next donor call informed and prepared to ask carefully curated questions that will advance your relationship with the donor and our organization.

I will encourage you to move your donor activities forward and let you know gently when it's time to let go. I'll even track such moves in the database for us.

Together we can raise more money for our organization. I'll conduct capacity assessments and learn more about our donors' philanthropic histories to help determine how much to ask and when appropriately to do so.

Together we can innovate. We can brainstorm creative data and fundraising strategies: finding new ways to approach existing donors and dreaming up clever, strategic ways to initiate new contacts. I can help you determine which industry trends make sense for the scope and mandate of our organization. Hopefully, you feel comfortable sharing your expertise and stories from the front-line with me. We would learn from each other once free to perform our respective roles the way they were initially intended.

Together we can be better.

If you're interested in learning more about the wonderful possibilities arising through prospect research and prospect development, please refer to APRA and APRA-Canada. APRA recently underwent a renewal process, revamping its brand, website and mandate to encapsulate advocacy. March is #ResearchPride month so you'll find many insightful blogs, tweets, quotes and other positive portrayals of our work on social media.

Preeti Gill is a researcher and writer in Vancouver. She has a keen interest in healthcare and women's philanthropy. Check out her blog about women in prospect development, fundraising and philanthropy at A Few Great Women. Cat photos dominate her Twitter feed @SoleSearcherPR.

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