Archive for 2012

Measure Twice, Cut Once


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We’re kicking off the New Year with a resolution to be more efficient searchers, and so we’ve asked the fantastic Sabine Schuller, Research Specialist at The Rotary Foundation, to help outline her best search strategies. Sabine reminds us that, even before we get down to the nitty gritty of the hunt for information online, there are things we can do to be  efficient. In this month’s blog post, we asked Sabine to give us a sneak preview of one of the tips in her presentation, and here’s what she shared…

So you’re feeling very pleased with yourself. You worked late three days in a row and finally finished that comprehensive research report on the Michigan apple industry. You analyzed GIS maps until your eyes bled, reviewed every Department of Agriculture report on record, and even estimated future price trends. You proudly hand your ten pages of triple checked analysis to the gift officer who requested the information. Her eyes widen as she says, “Oh, wow – this is great stuff. But all I really wanted was to know how to stop apple slices from browning.” At this point you smile and say “No problem” as you run back to your desk. Otherwise you’re afraid you’ll start screaming. As you do your calming deep breathing exercises, you wonder how things could have gone so very, very wrong.

This is one extreme example of what project management circles call the “Goldilocks problem.” Providing too little information is disastrous to your job security, but on the other hand you don’t want your work labeled TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read).  But how to strike that “just right” balance? Unless your workplace perfected its mind reading techniques, your most effective tool is what’s called a “reference interview” or an “information needs assessment.” A reference interview is a researcher led structured discussion that helps decide precisely what information is needed. Open ended questions like “How could I make the information I find more useful for you?” and “If I can’t find exactly that, what would be second-best?” will help your co-workers strategize. The reference interview process will help them decide what they absolutely need to know to move the potential gift forward. 

At this point, you may be wondering “That sounds like a great idea, but who has time?” Let me frame it this way: How much more time would you have to uncover new donors if you knew you only had to find a, b, and c? You wouldn’t be tracking down the entire alphabet! Think of reference interviews as the next level of cooperation between donor researchers and gift officers who both support your organization in their own unique ways.

Learn more advanced search strategies like this at the ShareTraining Live webinar Sharpen Your Search: Getting to the Right Places in Record Time

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How To Know You’re Ready For Data Analytics


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This month’s ShareTraining web seminar is being led by James Cheng, Assistant Director of Prospect Identification & Analytics at the venerable Dana-Farber Cancer Institute here in Boston. James is one of the key pioneers wielding this important market-research tool for fundraising, and this month he brings to ShareTraining a topic he’s been thinking about for quite a while: how to fix it when you’ve got too much – or too little – data to mine with. Here he shares a little bit of his thought process in developing this brand-new presentation:

Before Valerie Anastasio approached me to present in a ShareTraining session, I’ve never quite verbalized this perpetual “see-sawing” I felt while trying to create predictive models with development-related data.

However, after having some conversations with colleagues and seeing trending topics in threads from a data mining and modeling listserv, the way to explain this constant tension between worlds of extremes has finally become clear to me.

On one extreme, as a self-admitted “data junkie,” I find myself always thirsting for more information, begging IT with ever growing data requests, both in terms of frequency and the amount of data I ask for. “I need more!” I think. A desert…a dearth of information.

And yet there exists another extreme, deceptively more heavenly but equally hellish in reality.

Be it through wealth screenings, data appends, open access to open-ended responses, or a combination of all of the above, opportunities come up where I find myself swimming in too much information. Hundreds of variables that hold information related to hundreds of thousands of our stakeholders in the database! Instead of feeling like the parched Serengeti celebrating the end of the dry season by the incoming floodwater, all of a sudden I feel like I’m drinking from a fire-hose on full blast…..with a sippy straw. Deluge!

Given these extremes on the data dearth-and-deluge spectrum, our goal as data junkies is to strive towards a happy equilibrium, and seek to capture the most valuable information.  Once we have that, our work as data analysts is much easier.

 With this in mind, in the upcoming ShareTraining seminar, we will explore:

  1. Ways to diagnose our databases to assess where we are along the data dearth-or-deluge spectrum
  2. Treatment options that alleviate the symptoms of either too little or too much data
  3. The various resources that can help bring us back from the brink of these extremes

Come join me as I help you diagnose and get ready for data mining adventures ahead. I look forward to our time together!

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‘Get Understanding’ of the World of Money


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This month we’re delighted to pull Valerie Anastasio back under the spotlight as our featured ShareTraining speaker. If you’ve joined us for previous seminars, you’ll recognize Valerie’s voice as emcee of each ShareTraining class, but you may not know that Valerie is a skilled fundraising researcher, trainer, and bloodhound-like student of big banks, venture capital, private equity and hedge funds. I’ve asked Valerie to give us a preview of her forthcoming session “Money Businesses: A capitalist primer” on November 20th at noon Eastern. Personally, I can’t wait for her seminar, and I hope you can be there, too! – Helen

Leafing through any financial industry article, website or blog can quickly stun the average reader, much less an unassuming prospect researcher on a deadline. 

The terminology just sounds complicated, the statistics are difficult to grasp, and the numbers…. well, the numbers rival those any cosmologist might throw around. 

 You know what I’m talking about:

Such are the epic proportions representing an industry that in 2007 accounted for 7.9% of our nation’s gross domestic product, a share that has been growing – and accelerating (there’s that cosmology again!) since 1980.  Money is big business.

According to the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, financial services employed 5.7 million workers in 2010, and there’s no reason to think that this trend won’t continue.  Financial products and services are a key source of wealth for our country and for the individuals that the industry employs, from the high end deal-making financiers to the traders, brokers, salespeople, lawyers, accountants, and IT providers that support them. 

More important to us:  many of these individuals achieve levels of wealth that afford them the opportunity to make gifts of significance to organizations they care about.  As prospect researchers and fundraisers, we need to brave the big, bling-y numbers and the convoluted terms, and learn at least something about their world.

Twenty-five years ago when I entered the nonprofits the last thing I thought about was the business of money.  Most of us, after all, come to nonprofits motivated by a desire to assist an organization in its mission.  We may not have appreciated (I know I didn’t, anyway) that our work would require us to become students of wealth; that our strongest contribution might lay not only in acquiring facts about our donor prospects, but by providing an appropriate context for interpreting the data, giving shape to questions of strategy and timing that are essential in the approach and cultivation of donor prospects in the financial services industries.  The famous proverb, “With all thy getting, get understanding,” (Prov. 4-7) applies:  with all our “getting” of facts about our prospects, we must also work at our “understanding” of their world.  Only then can we guide our organizations with the kind of insight that will build productive donor relationships over time.  

Valerie Anastasio is Senior Advancement Officer for Prospect Development & Engagement at The Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA. A sought-after speaker and trainer, Valerie has presented to Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the New England Development Research Association, ShareTraining and many other fundraising-related associations. In 2008 she was recognized by NEDRA for her contribution to the field of prospect research and presented with the Ann Castle Award. She also happens to be an acclaimed vocalist/recording artist.

What Drives High-Net-Worth Philanthropy?


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On October 9th, we’re delighted to be welcoming Jeff Briskin of Briskin Consulting to lead our first web seminar of the 2012-13 season. Jeff was the project lead for the 2008 Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy and in his consulting practice Jeff works with fundraisers, attorneys, accountants and others advising HNWIs. We asked Jeff to give us a preview of his seminar But How Likely Are They to Give to Us?: Factoring High Net Worth Donor Motivation.

In the past, wealthy philanthropists have often been portrayed as publicity-seeking tycoons seeking to rehabilitate their tarnished public images by founding hospital wings, schools and foundations, while showing little interest in the day-to-day operations and effectiveness of these organizations.

While some of these individuals may have fit this stereotype at some point, most of today’s wealthy philanthropists are more pragmatic, deeply engaged, and demand higher responsiveness and accountability from the organizations they support. 

In my upcoming ShareTraining seminar, I will be drawing upon publicly available and proprietary research on wealthy donors to create a more accurate and up-to-date picture of the factors that drive their giving decisions. This presentation will examine:

  • How giving by wealthy donors differs from the population as a whole
  • Which factors motivate donors to give to charity in general and specific organizations
  • What donors expect in return and what causes them to stop giving to an organization
  • How a greater number of donors are becoming more strategic in their giving—and who they’re turning to for advice.

One finding that I’ll be discussing could have a huge impact on your development efforts next year. Contrary to common assumptions, donors’ attitudes are heavily influenced by economic and political events. They tend to give less when they feel financially insecure. They’re more likely to either increase or decrease contributions when their tax rates change. And they often give more to political organizations when their beliefs are threatened.

We’ve already seen how contributions from the wealthy are playing a huge role in financing political action committees on both sides of the aisle. And the prospect of Bush-era tax cuts expiring in 2013 may result in a groundswell of financially savvy donors wishing to use charitable giving to reduce their taxes or remove assets from their estates.

In this environment, organizations that understand how to reach both the hearts and minds of wealthy Americans stand the best chances of gaining and retaining these all-important relationships.

Join me on October 9 to learn how.

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The new ShareTraining season is posted!


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We’ve got lots of great seminars for prospect researchers and front-line fundraisers alike. For example, how about these for the first three months:

In October, Jeff Briskin will talk about what motivates high net worth individuals (HNWI) to donate. Jeff was the project manager for the original Bank of America-University of Indiana HNW study, and is currently a consultant to financial advisors, HNW individuals and nonprofit organizations on philanthropy and fiduciary risk management.

In November, Valerie Anastasio, prospect researcher, financial-biz whiz and cabaret chanteuse (where else but ShareTraining would you get such an awesome combo?!) will share her entertaining and informative presentation, “Money Businesses; A Capitalist Primer.”

In December, James Cheng, data guru and awesome alliteration-er brings us “Data Dearth and Data Deluge Disorders: diagnoses and treatments for enhancing the information in your database” which basically means “come on by if you want to learn how to make your database engine purr and be ready for mining, modeling and other analytical antics!”

Check out our ShareTraining Live page to learn more about these and the rest of the ShareTraining 2012-13 season. We’re looking forward to seeing you online!

Is that Valerie Anastasio?!? In a video?


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Around this time of year the ShareTraining team – consisting of Valerie Anastasio, Jennifer Turner and me – meet to finalize plans for next year’s ShareTraining seminar series and to talk about the previous season of seminars.

As usually happens when we get together, the three of us tend to get a bit…enthusiastic, and we start spinning crazy ideas, like…

…“well, why NOT ask Sal Khan if he’ll talk about venture capital and hedge fund compensation?” I said, “I mean, what’s the worst he could say?”

(well, “no,” as it happens. He’s booked solidly through 2014. But hey, we tried!)

Anyway, this time it was Valerie who had the crazy idea:

“It’s summer! We should have a little fun! Let’s make a video to tell the ShareTraining community all about our replays!”

Turns out it wasn’t crazy at all – Jen and I loved it! So here it is, our first video. It’s really short, but we hope you enjoy it!


Oh, and while we were at it, we created a YouTube channel just for ShareTraining. So visit us there for the occasional video update!

Thanks, and have a great summer!

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Prospect Management and Icebergs


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For our final ShareTraining seminar of the 2011-12 ‘school year’ we’ve invited Karen T. Isble, Executive Director of Prospect Development and Analytics at the University of Michigan to talk about prospect management systems that work. In advance of her May 22nd seminar, we thought you might be interested to hear Karen talk a little bit about prospect management and its evolution.

I began my career in prospect management in 1994 when I was a researcher for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, before the field had been formally christened as such – prospect management was just part of my job. My tools and knowledge were basic and focused primarily on the mechanics of prospect tracking. When I returned to the field in 2006 after a seven-year stint in arts administration, I learned a whole new specialty within the research field had blossomed, and I was about to learn it crash course-style and introduce it to one of the largest, most decentralized and complex fundraising operations in the country.

During my first two years as Director of Prospect Management for the University of Michigan, I often likened my experience to standing in front of an iceberg with a dinner fork, trying to see how long before I could make a sizable dent.  Incredibly, nearly six years later, the iceberg is still there, but it’s more like an ice floe, perhaps, and the dent we’ve made is deep and wide. It’s hard to imagine where we started – no processes, an archaic database system, an old prospect coordination policy no one paid any attention to, and a severe lack of intelligence on the goings-on within the major gifts program across the institution.

In the intervening years, the prospect management team has grown from 2 to 5, we are well-documented, visible and sought after for the services we provide, and we have an active and robust, if not perfect, prospect management system with clear, measurable metrics in place. We have just taken a massive leap forward in technology and processes with the implementation of new enterprise CRM software – a brave new world for our organization that will have us feeling like we’re back at square one for a while. 

The prospect management team is part of a larger 19-member prospect development team, which includes research and the newest kid on the block, analytics.  We’ve spent the past 18 months working to turn three distinct specialties into an integrated, internal consultancy focused on providing the fullest available spectrum of prospect knowledge management to our front line and to management. The results so far, with the amazing team of professionals I am so fortunate to work with, have been quite stunning, surpassing anything I might have dreamt of back in 2006.

I am excited to think about what we will be able to accomplish as we prepare for our next campaign – the work we’re doing now to support campaign planning was non-existent at the start of the last one in 2000, and the intelligence and efficiency we are able to bring to the process continues to be a learning experience both for the team and for our organization’s leadership. What will prospect management look like in another six years? Who knows? OK, I have some ideas, but I’m mostly gonna roll with it and let it lead us towards success.  The most important part is believing that it can make a difference and bringing others along.

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Making the Most of Your Wealth Screening


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We’re delighted to highlight Jennifer Fry in this month’s blog post.  Jennifer is Director of Prospect Discovery and Information at Northwestern University and our May 8th ShareTraining faculty member. 

In preparing to present a ShareTraining seminar on Making the Most of Your Wealth Screening, I’ve been trolling listservs, blogs and other online discussions, as well as talking to colleagues and reading best practices and other literature, with a few questions running through my mind:  

  • What do people know about wealth screenings?
  • What are the most mysterious aspects of wealth screening for someone who’s looking to do one for the first time?  What about for those who are screening veterans?
  • What part(s) of the screening process elicit the most questions? 

And then I start to wonder:  Are wealth screenings sooo 2008?  2005?  Are analytics scores a de rigueur part of any screening these days?  Do most people even know what “analytics” is?  It’s funny to think about anything associated with prospect research being “old-fashioned” (which for me conjures up images of butter churns, Conestoga wagons and other things à la Little House on the Prairie).  But with companies like WealthEngine, Blackbaud’s WealthPoint and their predecessors providing wealth and asset screening services for almost 20 years now — and given the trends and buzzwords that regularly ripple through the prospect research community (data mining, social media, analytics) — it’s fair to wonder if wealth screenings are still a relevant fundraising tool, or a fad whose effectiveness has been eclipsed by other more of-the-moment solutions.

Finally, what fresh ideas are out there for using wealth data generated by screenings — and using those results in conjunction with analytics, prospect management, and other prospect development techniques and systems to maximize a screening investment?

So, where did all these questions lead? 

I learned that wealth and asset screening is still a core tool for prospect identification and research, and for good reason.   According to organizational survey data gathered for WealthEngine’s recent Best Practices reports, the return on the average wealth screening is more than 400 times the investment.  With proper planning and timely implementation, wealth screening remains one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways for any organization to identify high-capacity prospects.

I also learned that the prospect researchers and other fundraising professionals who are discussing and considering wealth screening understand its potential.  They’re asking great, intelligent questions, as well as sharing inventive ideas about new ways to use and maximize screening results.  The questions, especially, center around verifying and reporting on results; I hope the examples and tips in the May 8th ShareTraining presentation will contribute to the conversation.

Incidentally, I also learned that Helen Brown herself likes a seminar with “meaty takeaways” (see her November 23, 2011 blog post on ShareTraining’s Helen Brown Group sister site).  So, if you’re interested in delving beyond the “whats” and “whys” to the “hows” of wealth and asset screening, with some meaty takeaways, I hope you’ll join me on May 8th for Making the Most of Your Wealth Screening: Strategies for Planning, Implementation and Beyond.

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How can your nonprofit benefit from presidential fundraising techniques?


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For this month’s post, we’d like to thank ShareTraining faculty member Dan Lowman for sharing his thoughts in advance of his February 29th seminar:

In 2007, Facebook had only been open to the general public for four months.  In hindsight, it is amazing to me that I boasted as being one of only two people at GG+A with a Blackberry as recently as 2004.  In 1999, I joked about having a “steam-powered modem”—it moved 128kbps so as a practical matter, it wasn’t much of a joke.  No need to fast forward—just blink and everything changed.  Star Trek ’s communicators frankly had nothing on the iPhone, except possibly the ability to transmit faster than the speed of light.  But they certainly didn’t allow cheap video-calling to the other side of the planet.  Nor Angry Birds.

The last few years have found companies, non-profits, political campaigns and anyone with a recipe to share uttering phrases to the effect that they need to get online, get on Facebook, get tweeting.  Some people say it without even knowing what they mean: Remember the late Senator Ted Stevens saying, “The Internet isn’t a big truck.  It’s a series of tubes.”  This was in 2006.  If you’re online enough to be reading this post, at least we can all agree that the Internet is not a big truck.

The 2007-08 Presidential campaign season, first with political organizations like and ActBlue, and quickly followed – indeed, surpassed – by the Obama for America campaign, brought the new media into politics in a big way.  Thirteen million people received more than 2 billion email messages, equivalent to more than 20 percent of the total votes cast for Barack Obama.  Did it get him elected?  Certainly not by itself, but it sure helped.  2012 has arrived and the emails have begun anew, along with all the manner of social media.  It is estimated that Ron Paul’s political advertising has received more views on YouTube than on television.  The Pew Center for People & The Press has found that more Americans get their news online now than any other medium.

Can an organization replicate these phenomena when it comes to communications, engagement, and fundraising?  Maybe  not—but there is an awful lot we can learn about reaching people in new, diverse and dynamic ways.  On Feb 29, join my ShareTraining web seminar, “Segmenting for Success:  What Nonprofits Can Learn from the Donor Analytics of Presidential Campaigns” for a discussion about how modern political campaigns are leveraging new media to raise tremendous sums of money and mobilizing millions to volunteer, vote and affect outcomes.  We’ll talk about using those techniques to create impact for our nonprofits and learn how to avoid mistakes where political fundraising methods simply won’t work outside of that context.

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