How to Prepare a Powerful Event Briefing

Last month I wrote about taking the deep dive: ways to trust but verify wealth screening data in prospect research. This month, I’d like to talk about casting a wide net: how prospect research sifts through the sea of data to retrieve actionable information. To that end, I am going to talk a little more about scaling the information you deliver to the service you are asked to provide. Or, to extend my earlier analogy, using a coarser or finer weave of net to determine how few or how many details or data points your research captures and communicates.

Near one end of this scale lies the humble and much maligned event briefing.

In many advancement offices, event briefings are a “just the facts, ma’am” bulleted list of class year, hometown, profession, lifetime giving, and maybe a photo. But think of what they could be! A strategic introduction to the prospect, offering conversation starters and drawing connections between this specific event, your institution, and your prospect’s biography, interests, and philanthropy. Now that tweets show up in Google results, there are more clues than ever to what makes your prospects tick (and perhaps even what is ticking them off).

But it is most important to put yourself in your prospects’ shoes—what will they expect you to know about them when you meet tonight? What will they notice if you don’t bring it up?

At my last employer, we created a note type for our event briefing text. That way we had an archive and didn’t have to completely reinvent the wheel for each event. We could use a Crystal Report to export the briefings and a few database fields (name, class year, lifetime giving) to functioning Word documents. We could even present production metrics. The most important facet of the event briefing archive, however, was that the most recent briefing note gave us a clue of what the next one might need to contain.

In an event brief, you only have a few sentences, so use them wisely. Coco Chanel offers some relevant advice here: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” Editing is critical to crafting an event brief. Keep your audience front of mind: What do they need to know most in order to engage the prospects at this event and continue to move the relationship forward?


You already know that as a former English teacher, I like my literary analogies. Well, if a constituent profile is a novel, then an event brief is a haiku. Every word, every fact, every suggestion is there because it performs a service.

Let me give you an example. Many years ago, prospect research was just one of many hats I wore at a youth serving agency. Very infrequently, I would be asked to research prospects and prepare a profile. These profiles took me hours, sometimes days, and the result was usually very thorough and detailed. But then I was asked to do something different.

One of our annual stewardship events was going to involve a number of new staff people, and we thought they would benefit from knowing a little about the people who would be sitting at their dinner tables—so I wrote up a quick couple of sentences on each of the prospects at each table. After a couple of hours of research, the room was covered.

That night, one of the prospects from my table walked in. His nametag told me that he was the local managing director of the event’s lead sponsor. In my quick research, by casting my coarsely woven net, two additional things stood out:

  1. It had been years since his last personal gift.
  2. His late father still held the record for having been the longest serving trustee of the agency.


So you can guess what I mentioned when he introduced himself. He lit up like a Christmas tree, but not just because that particular piece of family history gave him such strong personal pride. No, it was because our organization had been part of his life for as long as he could remember, and it meant so much to him that we’d acknowledged that long and enduring relationship.

Event briefings may be the Rodney Dangerfields of prospect research, but I would counter that. For a small investment of time, event briefings present strategic and actionable information that can be leveraged to build very personal relationships with prospects. Where else can prospect research get such a big (and immediate) bang for the buck?

Or, as Aretha Franklin sings:

(Ooh) What you want
(Ooh) Baby, I got
(Ooh) What you need
(Ooh) Do you know I’ve got it
(Ooh) All I’m askin’
(Ooh) Is for a little respect

For more prospect research best practices, check out Sarah’s ode to National Poetry Month through the lens of a researcher.


Sarah Bernstein is an independent consultant in Milwaukee, WI, supporting nonprofit organizations with prospect research and database analysis. She earlier worked in both the social service and higher education sectors. Sarah is an active member of APRA International and past president of the APRA Wisconsin Chapter. She blogs at The Fundraising Back-Office and can also be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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