Prospect Research & Management

Prospect research professionals spend much of their time uncovering or confirming a prospect’s wealth, but what happens when research finds something concerning or that could negatively impact a prospect’s philanthropic capacity? Are researchers tracking or notifying fundraisers of prospects’ layoffs, divorces, or even criminal charges? The BWF team has completed thousands of capacity verifications with clients, and we’ve found three helpful tips for working through these concerning details.

Flag Records

Many organizations have developed a flagging/prioritizing system to help determine how much of a risk information on a prospect’s decreased capacity, or other negative news, might have on their organization. If you informally have this, document it and review with leadership so there’s a common understanding around sensitive research issues and a plan in place to triage them. If you don’t have a system at all, put a proposal in place using our guidelines below and approach leadership to request rolling something out. Be prepared with tangible examples for each prioritization level you’ve outlined – gift officers and leadership frequently find real-life cases to be much more helpful in terms of contextualizing an issue than a theoretical framework.

  • Yellow: Proceed with Caution
    A specific event may result in lack of liquidity (cash flow) or decreased overall capacity, but cannot be confirmed without direct contact.
  • Orange: Review Recent Events
    Research has uncovered proof that a life/career event has negatively impacted the prospect’s capacity, but the organization should still be in active contact with him/her.
  • Red: Do Not Proceed
    This prospect should not be approached in the foreseeable future by development and/or there may be legal implications with the prospect’s situation that your organization’s legal team will want to review before proceeding.

Database Storage

No matter what type of information you uncover, you need to have clear guidelines for how and where to store these details. Be sure to follow your organization’s policies/protocol around storing PHI (Protected Health Information) or PII (Personally Identifiable Information) and adhering to existing confidentiality and ethics guidelines. Below are some data points you’ll want to consider documenting.

Upload relevant publically available information (such as news articles, company bios, court documents, and press releases) into the designated area within your database; add a research note to reference this information where gift officers will be sure to see it. Industry best practice is to post the information without opinion (including a link to the information and pasting the information directly into a research note with a neutral subject line) so it is perceived as objectively reporting information rather than inferring anything about the prospect’s situation.

Capacity Rating
Downgrade the prospect’s capacity rating if you do not anticipate the prospect’s capacity returning to its previous level in the next three years and you feel you have enough information otherwise to assess capacity based on this new information; otherwise, add a note to the existing capacity rating to reference the note from the Content section above.

Temporarily or permanently disqualify as a prospect in accordance with anticipated timeline from the Capacity Rating section above and your organization’s prospect management policy.

Alert Others

When dealing with extremely sensitive information, simply entering the information into the database isn’t enough. You’ll want to make sure you have a process to be sure various people throughout your organization are aware of the information and know where it can be located. Below are some individuals you’ll want to consider including in your alerting process.

Your supervisor
Work with senior leadership overseeing prospect research to create an escalation process related to each escalation level from the Flag Records section above. It is likely that any concerns you notice (regardless of priority level) may need to be reviewed by your supervisor before distributing the information more broadly.

Gift Officers
Be sure your process involves a timely way to alert any gift officers who are assigned and/or in communication with the prospect in question. Also provide ways for gift officers to escalate concerns to you, as they are often in the position to learn this information directly from the prospect or from his/her network before prospect research uncovers it.

Vice President
In the case of very high-priority prospects (trustees, principal gift donors, etc.) and for all Red Priority cases, you may want to escalate to your Vice President immediately. Bring several use cases to your Vice President to help gain an understanding of his/her expectations regarding the role she/he will play in the escalation process.

Many organizations view uncovering information that may negatively impact a prospect’s capacity to make a gift as “bad news.” Following the steps outlined here will allow your organization to be sensitive and responsive to what’s happening in the life of your prospects, which opens the door to lifelong philanthropic commitments.

To ensure your research team has the best process in place for alerting and disseminating prospect information, contact Bond Lammey or Roslyn Clarke.

BWF offers prospect research focused assessments that aim to improve research deliverables and increase research workflows. BWF marries its best-in-class methodologies with truly getting to know your organizations needs to support your fundraising goals.