This month marks the completion of my very first year working as a prospect researcher. Among the many things I learned from my research colleagues this year is the fact that I am not alone in the way I entered this profession – which was sort-of by accident!
One year ago, I joined a higher education fundraising team after having applied to a job announcement with a title that intrigued me, but which I had never heard of: “prospect research analyst.” Looking back now, I am happy to report that I not only understand what a prospect researcher does, but also that I have a good handle on the specific practices that produce effective prospect research. For me, this year’s learning process has looked a little something like this:
1. Mastering the basics
In the course of this year, I have come to see database maintenance, biographical profiles, and capacity screening summaries as the three essential building blocks of the support I provide to the front-line fundraisers and leaders on my team. Without a strong database – and the humans who are responsible for accurately maintaining and organizing the information held within it – no organization can effectively use its data. In addition to my organization’s donor database, constituent profiles and capacity screening summaries have become my go-to tools for communicating important donor information with front-line fundraisers. I have been using my organization’s existing templates to fulfill these requests, and I have gradually started adapting them to better fit the requirements of each request I receive.
2. Moving towards proactive research
To get a footing in prospect research, my first year in the profession was more weighted towards responding to the specific research requests I received from development officers and our university’s senior administrators. In the coming year, I hope to take a more proactive approach to research projects. So far, I have mostly relied on news sources and relevant corporate and government goings-on as my sources for uncovering information important to my organization. This year, I’d like to shift my approach and start using my organization’s wealth screening research tools in a proactive way, and to most effectively share the information I find with fundraisers.
3. Seeing the world through the lens of research
These days, I often catch myself inevitably and automatically asking research-oriented questions about any information I come across. Questions like, “where did this information come from?”, “what is this source’s track record in providing accurate information?”, or “where else could I find the information I’m seeking?” This process usually takes place when I’m off the clock, and I hear or read anything that captures my attention. A recent example of a story that sparked these questions for me was a November feature in The New York Times, “A Business With No End.” It’s partially an intriguing mystery, and partially a showcase of great visual and story design. But it is also a story that shines a spotlight on research legwork, and it reminded me of why I find our profession so fulfilling.
4. Joining a community
Above all, I can’t emphasize enough how helpful Apra and our very own Apra Mo/Kan chapter have been during each step of my introduction to the prospect research universe! In-person networking and professional development sessions allowed me to meet new colleagues and learn from their approaches to similar questions I have faced in my work. In the coming year, I hope I’ll see you too at one of these events and get the chance to hear all about everything you have learned, accomplished, and uncovered this year.