Prospect Research Can Boost University Fundraising Success

two-men-laptopIn an increasingly competitive giving climate, it is not enough for skilled researchers to provide information about just the wealthiest prospects. “The things we know about the people who will take a meeting with us are probably not true for the majority of our constituents,” says Shelby Radcliffe, Vice President for Advancement at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. “They are less than 1 percent of our constituents. Prospect research analytics can help us develop an understanding of the other 99 percent.”

This is especially important for institutions of higher education that are experiencing far more competition for the philanthropic dollar than ever before. “I think where institutions can add that competitive edge is on the prospect research side,” Radcliffe says. “Do we know where the next $100 million is coming from? That’s not a question you can answer one prospect at a time.”

In a previous position, Radcliffe administered the private phase of a capital campaign by having five full-time researchers meet with fundraisers at least monthly to review data and, often, after each prospect visit. Radcliffe’s researchers were encouraged to accompany fundraisers on visits as part of their training, and they were required to spend at least one evening soliciting gifts with the student calling program. While it took time for Radcliffe to bring enough researchers on board and for the fundraisers to develop confidence in the data, the results were worth it, she says.

In its 2012 survey of educational institutions, Best Practices for Prospect Research in Higher Education Fundraising, Second Edition, prospect research firm WealthEngine found that high performing organizations invest more in research resources than their lower performing peers. The most successful institutions have up-to-date strategies for screening, collecting, implementing and safeguarding prospect research data and integrating it into the fundraising workflow.

The challenge, Radcliffe points out, is that prospect research technology has not kept pace with the communications revolution. Ponderous relational databases often lack the flexibility to allow fundraisers to update them right after a prospect meeting while key information is still fresh. “As an industry, higher education institutions and nonprofits in the United States are raising a lot of money, but we could be raising more,” she says.

When Radcliffe speaks at conferences, she often meets people who manage hundreds of staff and millions — even billions — of dollars in gifts, but have only the most basic knowledge of sound prospect research practices. “People are meeting their goals, but I think they’re setting their goals too low,” she says. “We need to be more effective in using information management tools to maximize our effective- ness, but it’s hard because we’re an industry that’s built on handshakes and relationships. We’re in a time of transition, and we have a long way to go.”

This post was adapted from “More Than Data: How Prospect Research can Help You Fine-Tune Your Ask, Allowing You to Raise More Money More Cost-Effectively,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, January-February 2011 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

Upgrade Loyal Donors to Offset Your Lapsed Ones

j0289379“As fundraisers, we have come to accept a lapsed donor as an end result,” says L. Gregg Carlson, chair of the Giving USA Foundation ( in Chicago and president of Carlson Fund Raising LLC ( in Henderson, Nevada. Instead, he argues, “organizations need to be asking themselves, ‘Where is our money coming from, and how do we find more like them?’ In other words, ‘What does my donor look like?'”

Carlson says that fundraisers can improve their chances of identifying loyal supporters by making a point of reaching out to them through their preferred communication channels, and by being creative and flexible in how they ask donors to consider giving. While these methods are time- and labor-intensive, the payoff in the long run is likely to more than offset the investment. Carlson says that in his experience, roughly half of donors are willing to consider sustained giving. However, says Carlson, “Many nonprofits are not graduating their donors to higher end methodologies. By not graduating them from direct mail to phone to face-to-face, they’re putting their donor base at risk.”

Laura Goodwin, Vice President of The Osborne Group ( in Mount Kisco, New York, agrees. “Our clients who have a multi-channel approach to engagement really do better,” she says. However, those channels have to be used for a broad range of messages of interest to the donors. “If you’re only doing soliciting on your multiple channels, you will probably seem grabby,” she points out. Therefore, nonprofits should seek feedback from donors to ensure that the channels facilitate two-way involvement and encourage them to feel like they are part of a community.

Goodwin identifies three building blocks for turning what she describes as a “messy process” into an effective workflow for cultivating and upgrading individual donors:

  • A table of gifts
  • A clear vision of the goals and objectives
  • Accountability and outcomes measurements

“I’m always surprised by how few people are using a simple name-by-name table of gifts,” Goodwin says. “There’s no better way to identify the need, the gap, and who we’re going to talk to.” The table of gifts must also be accompanied by a clear statement of what these gifts will enable the organization to accomplish in the community. “When we arm fundraisers with this knowledge, it becomes a lot easier to identify donors who might be motivated to help us achieve those goals. It helps answer the question, ‘What donor am I looking for?'”

Along with a clear vision of the objectives, fundraisers must also be able to present outcomes to donors. “If we’re not sure what we’re doing in the world, if we’re only focused on telling people news about the organization, then what does that add up to?” Goodwin asks rhetorically. “We need to demonstrate accountability for the changes that we’ve accomplished and that we’re on the way to accomplishing.”

Veteran fundraisers know that while such high-touch approaches are more effective at retaining donors, they are time-intensive; that’s why they have traditionally been limited to major-gift donors. Thanks to today’s sophisticated donor tracking software, though, proven high-touch techniques now require less time and effort, and as a result they can be broadened out to a larger segment of the donor pool regardless of their giving level.

Jay Love, co-founder and CEO of Indianapolis-based Bloomerang (, finds it useful to invoke the Pareto Principle — the idea that a majority of a given outcome is the result of the efforts of minority of a given population — when explaining why it makes sense to use high-touch methods to retain loyal donors instead of acquiring new ones. “One of our clients had 16,000 records in their database,” recalls Love. “We asked them how many of those people had made a gift in the last three years, and their answer was 2,000.”

In addition, Love says, the client’s last direct-mail campaign targeting the lapsed donors netted just two gifts. “Why would they still be spending money trying to get the other 14,000?” asks Love. “They would be so far ahead if they would just concentrate on their two thousand confirmed supporters and let those people be the connectors who bring in others.”

Love recalls the rule of thumb from the world of direct mail that says a donor who informs you about a change of address is 10 times more likely to make a major or legacy gift to your organization. “When that happens, you should be calling them and asking what your organization can do for them,” says Love. “Instead, it’s usually treated as a purely administrative function and not passed up the line.”

This post was adapted from “Semper Fidelis: How Strategically Stewarding Your Loyal Donors Will Help Your Organization Succeed With the Ongoing Shifts in Charitable Giving,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2014 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

New Study to Spotlight Fundraising Success Stories

j0227558The following post is adapted from “The Corner Office — Full Speed Ahead: How Development Directors are Taking a Leadership Role Through Vision, Resilience, and Commitment to Mission,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Winter 2016 (reprinted with permission) You can read the whole article here.

UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, the 2013 survey of executive directors and development directors conducted by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services ( and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund (, identified a “vicious cycle” of conditions within many nonprofits that was not only driving frustrated development directors out the door, but also making it difficult for organizations to bring in new development directors to replace them. The cause of the cycle, the survey concluded, was the lack of a “culture of philanthropy” that encouraged staff and volunteers to see themselves as donor-focused ambassadors of their organizations.

Having identified the problem and its causes, the Haas, Jr. Fund,
CompassPoint, and Klein & Roth Consulting ( in Oakland, California, has since undertaken new research to study nonprofits that have been able to avoid, or break, the vicious cycle and, in so doing, achieve breakthrough successes with fundraising. Prior to the release of the report in early 2016, CompassPoint is able to share some illuminating preliminary insights in advance that will no doubt be of interest to fundraisers eager to achieve similar outcomes in their own organizations.

The new study employs positive-deviance analysis, also called bright-spotting. Bright-spotting focuses on identifying organizations that have attained better generic klonopin price results than their peers by using available resources in better ways. The goal is to provide nonprofit leaders with case studies that are replicable across a broad range of nonprofits, says Marla Cornelius, MNA, Senior Project Director at CompassPoint. “We wanted to find case studies that are not just interesting, but that are practical,” she explained.

CompassPoint began by inviting nonprofits to nominate social justice and social change organizations with budgets of between $500,000 and $5 million that had experienced significant sustained growth over the past several years. From the 100 organizations nominated, CompassPoint selected 12 on which to focus. At each of the 12 organizations, CompassPoint then conducted five in-depth interviews, one each with the executive director, the development director, a program director, a board member, and a donor. The goal was to identify how each organization’s successful fundraising program began, what its strategies and results were, and what lessons could be extrapolated from their experience.

“The largest source of funding for many small organizations, particularly social justice organizations, has traditionally been foundations and government grants,” Cornelius explains. “These bright spots are different in that they’ve been able to raise significant funds from individuals in their communities.”

Cornelius says that despited the focus on organizations of a certain size and mission, nonprofits of all kinds will find something of value in the results, whether related to culture or infrastructure or fundraising practice. “There will be important lessons here,” she promises. “Everyone will pick up something of value.”

what’s on your reference shelf?

Life hackers love to empty their pockets, bags, and packs and show off their gear. Freelance writers have their own version of every day carry: the essential reference works that, collectively, are the writerly equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife or a Leatherman tool.

Even in this era of instant electronic reference, I still rely on these books — not just because I know them so well, but also because they remain consistently and authoritatively accurate.

And quite a few of them are fun to read, too.

Here’s a list of my “every day reference.” Some of these may surprise you.

Continue reading “what’s on your reference shelf?”

this is not your father’s library

Library bookshelvesWe’ve heard it so often, it seems like a truism: in this era of instant electronic information access, libraries are like dinosaurs that don’t know they’re already extinct.

Well, maybe not.

A new survey has found that Generation Wired uses libraries far more often than you might think. In fact, Internet-savvy youth between 18-30 are the largest user group for library research services and resources. Furthermore, the survey found that library usage actually declines with increasing age.

The survey, a joint project of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Princeton Survey Research Associates International, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project, featured telephone interviews with nearly 3,000 U.S. residents 18 years old or older.

You can download a free PDF of the survey report, Information Searches That Solve Problems: How People Use the Internet, Libraries, and Government Agencies When They Need Help, from the Pew website.


study confirms best companies include writers from the beginning

The most successful companies bring their technical writers into the loop at the outset of a project, according to a new study by the Aberdeen Group. Back in February, I blogged about the importance of including writers from the earliest stages of a project; it’s good to see that there is evidence to bear out my contention of the writer’s added value.

According to the Society for Technical Communication, the study, which was co-sponsored by STC, the UK-based Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, and the Center for Information-Development Management, that finding was among the most important results of an online survey of over 300 companies.

The study report, The Next-Generation Product Documentation Report: Getting Past the “Throw it over the Wall” Approach by Chad Jackson and Mehul Shah, looked at five key performance indicators:

  • product launch date
  • documentation cost
  • translation cost
  • documentation purpose
  • documentation quality

Nearly three-quarters of the respondent companies that scored highest on these five indicators reported that they launched their documentation and product development processes simultaneously. According to the study, top-ranking companies were also likely to:

  • integrate the documentation staff into the engineering department;
  • rely on document authoring tools that facilitate content repurposing;
  • use software to minimize content localization lags; and
  • measure readability by tracking content resue.

Managers, the results are in: keep your friends close, but keep your technical writers closer.

quick tips for working with SMEs

Stock photo of people in meetingYou know the drill. The meeting is in the small conference room at the far end of some cheap airport hotel. Inside, there’s nothing to sustain you until lunch but tepid coffee and stale cheese danish dusted with spilled non-dairy creamer. Yet, for some reason, instead of bonding over a shared fate, the participants quickly divide into two camps — the experts and the interlopers.

A SME chuckles about “you English majors.” Your publications manager mutters something about “those knuckle-draggers.” And that’s just the morning of the first day.

Whether you write instructional textbooks, online help content, user guides, or even feature articles, as a technical writer you rely on the people who know the topic better than anyone else — subject matter experts, or SMEs. Likewise, SMEs rely on you to interpret and translate their information, to present it clearly and accurately, and to make it easy for the reader to understand and follow.

Nevertheless, writers and SMEs often have difficulty establishing a collaborative relationship, and the resulting friction only hurts the final product.

Like it or not, it’s up to you to establish a good working relationship with your SMEs right from the start. Here’s how:

Continue reading “quick tips for working with SMEs”