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Archive for May, 2012


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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