Don’t Be Alarmed, I’m A Prospect Researcher

By | November 20, 2013

investigatorDear Prospective Donor,

I’m guessing you probably haven’t heard of me, so let me introduce myself: I am a prospect researcher.

I work closely with development staff and volunteers to secure transformational gifts that will help move the dial on the cause and mission of my organization. And in so doing, I help fundraisers better understand you.

I also help fundraisers focus their work, stay organized and on track, and enhance their knowledge of the philanthropic sector. I offer the kind and level of business intelligence that my organization requires to stay relevant and successful in an increasingly competitive non-profit world.

Are you alarmed?  Please don’t be.

It’s true that I’m tasked with finding and presenting information about you. It’s my duty as a prospect researcher and my right as a curious and law-abiding citizen in a democratic society. And there is a lot of publicly-available information out there to find, collect and disseminate, depending on who you are.

Here’s what I focus on when it comes to you:


There’s a good chance one of your peers recommended that my organization get in touch with you. Perhaps you expressed interest in our community work to a dear friend, professional colleague or a family member who volunteers with and gives to us already?

It’s my job to unearth these potential connectors, knowing you’re more comfortable speaking with an old friend about our organization rather than a Director of Development.

Philanthropic Pursuits

Fundraisers are keen to know your giving interests and history of giving to other charities. Do your interests align with our mission? Have you responded to organizations who do similar or complementary work? Are you an emerging or established philanthropist? These are questions to which I seek answers as a prospect researcher.

I know that you gave between $10,000 and $25,000 to the homeless-serving organization across the street, because I read their annual report. We’d like to draw your attention to our own initiative in this realm.


I absolutely adore reading about your life and career accomplishments. I’m continually inspired by your ideas, dedication and attitude. You’re an influential, powerful person. You were honoured with a lifetime achievement award by the local business improvement association two years ago. Let me note that to ensure my fundraiser offers congratulations, should it come up in conversation.

The city’s business weekly featured you in a top paid executive list. I’ll include a rough estimate of your publicly disclosed earnings (with a footnoted reference). My fundraiser should be aware of this, especially if he’s planning what we in the business call “a formal ask” of you. I wouldn’t want him to insult you with a $2,500 proposal if you’re clearly able and motivated to make a transformational gift.

Your spouse holds a senior position at a public sector utility. I can easily find last year’s salary and expenses in corporate financial statements. Let me ask my fundraiser if she’s comfortable knowing this detail about your family before I add this to your prospect profile.

Personal Timing

Sometimes I can find deeply personal information about you like your exact age, your children’s names and the actual sale price of your current residential property. If you’re currently an insider of a publicly-traded company, I can calculate the market value of your common share holdings.

I might discover you adore Kerry Washington’s character in Scandal based on numerous tweets posted on your public account last night. But just because I can find it, that doesn’t mean I’m going to automatically include it in the research I present to fundraisers. While I may search with laser-like focus, the more personal the information I come across, the more cautionary I become in analyzing and presenting it, depending on the stage we’ve reached together.

I don’t see the correlation between your dog’s breed and your potential support of our community engagement project either. If I come across the fundraising page of your cancer-stricken father, or a gossip column blip about your impending divorce, I just may advise my fundraiser to delay contacting you altogether. Now may not be the appropriate time to engage you about our cause and ask you for help.

Prospect research doesn’t sound so ominous now, does it?

As we get to know you better, please be mindful of the personal details you share with us. The more you interact with our organization, the more relaxed you may become about what you share about your life and your views. I hope we become trusted colleagues and maybe even friends.

In closing, thank you so much for your interest in the cause and mission of my organization. I express my deepest gratitude for your time, involvement, and your gift.

Someone from my organization will be in touch (unless, through my research, I find out that your philanthropic interests don’t align with our mission!).

3 thoughts on “Don’t Be Alarmed, I’m A Prospect Researcher

  1. helenbrowngroup

    Great post, Preeti. Thanks for standing up and explaining our important work so well!

  2. David Lamb

    Nicely done, Preeti. A wonderful, positive statement of how thoughtful prospect research serves both the nonprofit and the donor.

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