My development career began long before Al Gore invented the Internet, back when prospect research meant going to the library to look up newspaper articles on microfiche or to search old S&P stock filings. Gift officers viewed researchers as glorified librarians—a source of information to be tapped when needed, but not necessarily a strategic part of the team.
Today, however, the relationship between frontline fundraisers and researchers has become much closer than it was even a decade ago, partially due to advances in technology. And for many advancement teams, like that of Cindy Janesch, director of prospect management and research at Bucknell University, increased collaboration between the two departments has created significant benefits.
“I always say that research does have a spot at the table in strategy discussions,” Janesch said. “Researchers tend to read every piece of information, and that does start to give you a pretty good sense of the prospect. When you combine that with the outcomes of face-to-face meetings, it really adds up to a complete picture of the prospect.”
Indeed, in the modern advancement shop, there’s a general consensus about the importance of a conversation between fundraiser and researcher. At Bucknell, for example, they have biweekly meetings in which the gift officer, the dedicated researcher, and the executive director of leadership gifts convene to discuss pipeline progress. Although the gift officer leads the meetings, the researcher’s role is critical.
“It’s a big job getting to know these portfolios, and the researcher brings consistency and provides a window,” Janesch said.
Still, the challenges of obtaining maximum value from the partnership between major gifts and research are real. Tensions can build on both sides due to miscommunication, especially when information falls through the cracks.
According to Mark Koenig, assistant vice president for advancement services at the Oregon State University Foundation, the researcher’s greatest frustration is when “you find a great prospect, but the gift officer lets it sit in a pile untouched for six months.” Another frustration, as Janesch put it, is “when the gift officer says, ‘I learned this great piece of information on this prospect!’ and the researcher says, ‘Yeah, we know that; it’s been in the database for years.’”
On top of that, the fact that gift officers have different requirements makes it even harder to manage the process. At Santa Clara University, Associate Director of Prospect Research Danny Riechers finds that the gift officers he works with fall into two general categories: “the ones who want just the basic facts, and the ones who want the prospect’s entire life story. They want to know everything now for later.”
Technology that facilitates collaboration between fundraiser and researcher can solve some of these difficulties. But of course, for the resource-strapped advancement office, every software purchase necessitates an evaluation of ROI.
“Every day there is a new tool to be using,” Janesch said. “If I’m going to be spending our university’s resources, I need to be sure that it is going to impact our program, and that I have the staff time to utilize it.”
For institutions like Santa Clara and Purdue University, however, some new technologies—like the EverTrue Platform—are proving their value in short order. Used by frontline fundraisers and researchers alike, EverTrue is improving the prospect development workflow and enhancing collaboration amongst team members.
Greg Kapp, assistant vice president for development operations at Purdue University, has called EverTrue a “game-changer.” At Purdue, prospect researchers and major gift officers work together in EverTrue to build prospect lists, enrich portfolios, and maximize gift officers’ time on the road by identifying filler visits.
Santa Clara’s Riechers agrees that the ability to build, share, and comment on prospect lists in EverTrue allows for heightened cooperation—particularly in a trip planning scenario.
“I really like the lists and the ability for gift officers to communicate and collaborate with us [researchers],” he said. “I can build a list of New York prospects and share it with the gift officer on the road. Previously, a gift officer would have planned his trip by himself… but now we end up working on it together.”
Riechers has also found value in the streamlined access to data provided by EverTrue. Because a typical advancement database makes it difficult for gift officers to view constituent data, especially remotely, researchers end up spending too much time on basic research for gift officers. EverTrue’s lightning-fast, intuitive search function allows gift officers to get the information they need without sending requests to the research team. This means researchers can focus on identifying new prospects, which Riechers maintains is “the bread and butter of research.”
While technology is drastically improving operations at many shops, we have to remember that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Perhaps the tensions between researcher and fundraiser are unavoidable. After all, the typical gift officer is more of the ENFP personality type, while a researcher tends to be an INTJ.
“In an ideal world, you would always have an energetic researcher working alongside an energetic gift officer, but that does not always happen,” OSU’s Koenig said.
Some also argue that technology removes the in-person dialogue that’s necessary to a strong working relationship between fundraisers and researchers. Riechers explained that some new CRMs come equipped with research queues, which “sound great on paper because you can quickly assess team metrics and track tasks.”
But in practice, he said, these queues can dilute the gift officer/researcher relationship: “They can take away from the human interaction and a true understanding of what the fundraiser is looking for.” He emphasized the importance of leveraging technology while also making time for face-to-face conversations.
Regardless, in today’s advancement environment, the pressure is mounting to find software solutions that save time and automate tasks like data aggregation and analysis. At Santa Clara, Riechers said that they had “an ‘a-ha’ moment” when they automated the baseline prospect profile.
“The profiles are not ideal, but it gives us some extra time,” he said. “It really helped to teach us that whatever can be automated, we should do it.”
While there’s still much progress to be made—and technology to be explored—elevated collaboration between researchers and gift officers is already helping to maximize fundraising opportunity. Continuing to foster that cooperation through in-person dialogue enhanced by technology will help to turn those opportunities into increased giving for our institutions.
Watch this short video to learn more about EverTrue’s collaboration features:
Jim Zimmerman is the Chief Evangelist at EverTrue and previously spent three decades in advancement. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter.