Humanities: Development

Develop a prospect research profile


Prospect researchers, also known as “advancement researchers” or “development researchers,” typically work in the charitable sector or in higher education advancement. Prospect researchers work in partnership with frontline fundraisers, utilizing research methodologies and strategic processes to identify, assess, and qualify prospective donors. They provide information and action recommendations that inform fundraisers’ decision-making and strategies for engaging with prospective donors, ultimately helping to drive the revenue goals of the fundraising organization.

Prospect researchers will assess individuals, corporations, and granting foundations for “major giving capacity,” which refers to donors who have the capacity to make a large, transformational gift to the fundraising organization. Using a variety of resources, including public records, business and financial publications, and internet databases, prospect researchers evaluate a prospect’s propensity, affinity, and capacity to give. Propensity refers to a prospect’s inclination to make a charitable donation and is typically determined by examining a prospect’s past donation history or non-profit board involvement. Affinity is a prospect’s connection to the mission of the fundraising organization and can also be determined by analyzing the prospect’s patterns of giving to organizations with a similar mission. Finally, capacity refers to a prospect’s financial ability to give and can be evaluated through wealth indicators such as real estate holdings, business ownership, and compensation. Prospect researchers may also look for information on the prospect’s existing relationships to board members of the fundraising organization or other personal information that can help personalize outreach.

The goal of this task is to create a research profile, which is a document that contains information on a prospective donor’s propensity, affinity, and capacity indicators. Typically a confidential internal document, a research profile is designed to be a summary or briefing note for a fundraiser to review. After reviewing the research profile, the fundraiser will then use the information to determine the next steps in strategic engagement with a prospective donor. Outside of individual donors, corporations can also be identified as prospects for corporate philanthropy and sponsorship. These major corporate gifts can have transformational impacts on nonprofit organizations and the causes they support.

The Process

The process below outlines the steps necessary to create a prospect research profile. For the purposes of this exercise, we will be focusing on the information needed in a profile for a granting organization.

  1. Review your organization’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database for any internal data on the prospective granting organization, including past donation history, affiliated individuals and companies, and history of engagement with your organization.
  2. Use external sources (internet databases, Google searches) to research basic information about the granting organization, such as contact information, background information on the organization, past grants awarded, and a summary of the grant program criteria and funding range.
  3. Summarize the relevant internal and external data into a research profile for delivery to the fundraiser. Include information on the next steps or action recommendations for the fundraiser, if applicable.

The Exercise

For this simulation, you will complete a prospect research profile for a granting organization. Imagine that you are working at a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting mental health among immigrant and refugee youth. Your organization needs funding for a new project that provides youth with counselling support as they transition to life in a new country. You have been tasked with researching granting organizations that could fund this new project. Choose one of the organizations below and complete a prospect research profile:    

Task 1: Research the granting organization.

Browse the granting organization’s website. Consider their mission, vision, and values and whether they relate to your own organization’s mission. Look at the granting section of the website and note the types of grants available, eligibility, and criteria for funding. Go through the organization’s detailed granting history, noting the funding amounts and whether they have funded organizations and projects similar to your own.

Task 2: Compile relevant information into a draft.

After completing research on the granting organization’s website, compile information in the following categories: 

  • Basic Information: company name, funding type and range, application deadline, website link, company contact information
  • Grant Program Summary: types of grants provided, areas of support, criteria for selection and exclusion
  • Grant History: list similar organizations/projects that have been funded in the past, along with the dollar amounts funded
  • Articles of Interest: complete a Google search on the granting organization and include any news articles on funded organizations or projects similar to your own

Task 3: Summarize the information into a concise prospect research profile.

Consider your audience. What is the critical information that a fundraiser would need to know before engaging with the granting organization? How can you summarize the information into a concise, easy-to-read format so that the fundraiser can read all the critical information without needing to browse through the website? Can you limit the information you found to 1-2 pages? Based on the information you found, is the granting organization likely to fund your project? How much money should you apply for? What steps would you recommend taking to engage with the organization?

The Deliverable

Skills Used to Perform These Tasks

  • Researching information
  • Synthesis of information
  • Written communication skills 
  • Writing for business 
  • Prioritizing information

Skills Used in This Field

  • Complete detailed analytics and report
  • Ability to conduct in-depth research, to analyze and synthesize the information into a user-friendly and concise format for the use by fundraising staff
  • Prepare concise, accurate, and clearly written briefings

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Simulation author: Dinuka Gunaratne (University of Waterloo)

Simulation vetted by professionals at the University Hospital Foundation at the University of Alberta in Edmonton AB Canada.