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Prospect research on a limited budget

Published:  03/08/2007

A conversation with David Lamb, prospect research consultant

AHP has been tracking for several years the shift in health care fundraising activity toward major gifts. However, for smaller development organizations with limited resources, conducting the research necessary to create a successful major gift program can be difficult.

We recently spoke with David Lamb, who has been a prospect researcher since 1989, served as Director of Prospect Research at both the University of Washington and Santa Clara University, and is currently a prospect research consultant at Blackbaud. We asked Lamb for his insights on conducting prospect and donor research with limited staff and budget.

Q: For smaller development shops, what is the best way to “tackle” donor/prospect research?

A: The first and most important step is to figure out who you will be researching – create a system for who your targets are before you begin your research. That requires either guesswork or starting with who has been most generous and consistent so far. Review your existing donors and assign scoring values thinking about recency, frequency, and monetary value – RFM.

Once you identify your prospects, find out where they work and their position. Determine the source from which they make their gifts – is it their employment or another source?

Q: What free or low-cost online resources are on your “top 10 list” for conducting donor and prospect research?

A: It depends on what you are looking for...if you don’t know where someone works, you can start by doing a Google search. Other good company search services include:

  • ZoomInfo (http://www.zoominfo.com), a business search engine that delivers in- depth profiles on 24 million business people and 2 million companies.
  • Hoovers (http://hoovweb.hoovers.com/free/) which offers free and fee-based search options and includes good company descriptions for public and larger private companies, including a list of top executives, address and phone number, sales, number of employees, stock data, plus links to other Web-based resources related to your search.
  • KnowX (http://www.knowx.com), a public records database that is often easier to use than the source databases from which it pulls information. It includes a people finder for a small fee per record.

To evaluate a prospect’s giving potential, I suggest using resources such as:

  • Zillow.com (http://www.zillow.com), which provides a free instant estimate of real estate value.
  • The National Institute on Money in State Politics database (http://www.followthemoney.org) which tracks state political donations.
  • FECInfoPro/PoliticalMoneyLine (http://www.tray.com/) where you can search for political donations by donor or organizational name and by zip code.

    Q: At what point does it become cost effective for an organization to use wealth matching/modeling technology or other outside research resources? Are there any typical “thresholds” based on budget, production goals or staff size?

    A: In my opinion, the decision to use these types of services should not be based on how large an organization is – but rather based on how large your need is. If you have to raise $5 million, but have no idea which of your donors and prospects can help you to do that, you need to get outside help, no matter how large or small you are.

    Lamb has created a web site, www.lambresearch.com, where he lists many other online research resources and tools. For those new to prospect research, Lamb recommends Prospect Research: A Primer for Growing Nonprofits, by Cecilia Hogan, University Relations Research, University of Puget Sound. (http://www.jbpub.com/catalog/0763725803/)

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