What does the phrase “prospect research” mean to you?
For most advancement professionals, I would suggest that the phrase conjures up thoughts about a process of gathering data on a donor or prospect from sources other than the prospect. Whether we use fee-based or free electronic databases, newspapers, other institutions’ donor lists, or peer screens, the phrase “prospect research” has come to mean that we are learning about the prospect without the prospect’s knowledge. We are gaining intel.
It’s a shame that we’ve come to this understanding of the phrase. The Association of Fundraising Professional’s (AFP) definition of prospect research is “the process of identifying, interviewing, and involving persons and organizations with the potential to become donors in your organization” (Major Donors, 2006, pg. 3).
Identifying, interviewing, and involving. This sounds a lot like discovery and engagement to me. I like this broader definitional approach and I wish we would incorporate it more in our work. Instead of being pulled toward the black hole of development segmentation and silos, let’s push to re-think our work in a more comprehensive, integrative manner. Research isn’t something we conduct on someone. Research is something we do with someone.
If you want to take a step toward a more integrative approach to research in your office, invite the person who is responsible for research to go on donor visits. Or, if you really want to be on the cutting edge, have your researcher take a small portfolio of donors to manage. By experiencing what happens on donor visits, a researcher will become more effective in her research duties. And besides, the most robust and rich research is found in the field anyway.