**UPDATE** After receiving feedback from several prospect researchers, we've added a "Problems and Future Suggestions" section in order to address some flaws in the survey data and provide suggetions for future research. Additionally, several changes have been made to page copy to clarify some of these flaws.
550+ hours on this essential task...
Fundraising is all about relationships, and relationships are all about context and understanding.
So when a prospect researcher needs to bring a front-line fundraiser up-to-speed on a donor in their portfolio, they rely on donor prospect profiles.
Creating and distributing prospect profiles (sometimes called briefs, reviews, or tear-sheets) is an important part of the major gift process, but how exactly are they being created and used by development workers at nonprofits? What tools are currently being used, what data points are being included, and how much time is being spent on creating these reports?
We asked prospect researchers all around the country about their donor prospect reports to find out.
Let's dive into the numbers!
Subjects for this survey were gathered using the PRSPCT-L email listserv and completed the survey on their own online. In all, 153 individuals completed at least one question in the survey, with each question averaging 142 responses.
One third of respondents came from medium-sized development shops (6 - 15 people working in a fundraising capacity), another third from large shops (50+), with the final third falling into categories split between these sizes.
A vast majority (97%) of those surveyed report that making prospect profiles is a part of their job. Clearly a basic job competency for prospect researchers.
This is where we get to some very interesting data. Microsoft Word is far and away the most popular tool among prospect researchers for building reports, coming in a 79% of respondents.
Interestingly, this number strengthens for larger organizations. A full 89% of organizations with over 50 people working in a fundraising capacity use Microsoft Word to build their prospect profiles.
When it comes to the types of information being included in prospect research, it's helpful to divide data types into three categories: Linkage, Ability, and Inclination.
For most prospect researchers, information related to a prospect's linkage and inclination are most frequently included in prospect briefs. These include things like work/career information (possible indicators of interest), giving history, linkage to organization, and education (possible linkage indicator).
Items related to a prospect's ability were less frequently included, though a high percentage of respondents reported including these items. The least frequently included information was demographic information.
Prospect researchers are making so many briefs they just might be able to do it with their eyes closed. 54% of prospect researchers are making between 2 to 5 profiles a week. 17% of researchers are making between 312 and 520 a year, and a small 1.45% of researchers are churning out over 1,560 briefs a year.
Here's where the results get interesting, but we also need a bit of clarification:
Over one third of respondents report spending more than 10 hours a week creating prospect briefs, or more than a quarter of their work week. Even in a best case scenario of 11 hours a week, that's 550 hours a year in time spent on this activity.
This raises an important question: is the majority of this time spent actually doing the research (and thus, a vital part of a prospect researcher's job), or is a significant portion of this time being eaten by the process of compiling the research into a report.
If the latter is the case, this presents an area in which the research process can be optimized and expedited. By removing process barriers, researchers can focus more on the research process (rather than compiling data into a report).
Problems and Future Suggestions
As with most research, these results just lead to more questions.
Firstly: how can we better measure the amount of time spent researching versus the amount of time compiling data? This question represents a possible flaw in the current data. While it's not surprising that researchers spend a lot of time building reports, if process/technology barriers present a large obstacle in the brief building process, there is an opportunity to improve this process and thus allow researchers to focus on finding data and creating a narrative.
Additionally, we only allowed participants to select a single choice for the tool they're using to build briefs. This was a decision made in hopes of finding out which tools are being used to compile the data, not collect it. However, to get a full picture of the brief building process, it would be best to break this question up into multiple questions to get a clearer picture of the full research "stack" so to speak. What's being used most frequently to collect data? What types of data? How is that data saved and organized? How is it then compiled and finally delivered to frontline fundraisers? These are all areas for future study.
Thanks again to all our participants, along with those who provided valuable feedback. We hope this serves to spur conversations on the subject.