Prospect Research Questions: What is your business model?

When I started in prospect research many years ago, the idea of a business model or even the applicability of business concepts to the work I was doing was foreign to me.  After attending my first conference and hearing from experienced and successful researchers, my view of the matter began to change.  I took what I learned at that conference (and subsequent ones) and applied it, and eventually became skilled at tracking all sorts of metrics for the work of my office.

Tracking productivity is one of the first steps towards analyzing your department’s business model.  Most researchers already track things like the number of requests they receive, the number of profiles they write, or the number of prospects they validate.  It takes more of an effort to track things like capacity confirmed or increased capacity identified, but it is not difficult to do.  Beyond that, there are things like prospects identified, or prospects identified by different researchers, as part of different projects, or through the use of particular resources.


The important thing is that once you start tracking these numbers, the way you think about them changes.  Many years ago, it was very easy to justify the change in the work produced by my office from a profile-centered model to one that focused more on validating screening data and producing fewer profiles, simply because it was easy to point to the differences in productivity judged by the number of prospects and potential prospects that could be identified, researched quickly, and assigned out to fundraisers for initial contact.

It was easy for us to point to and justify our productivity based on the metrics we were tracking.  But as is often the case, the numbers we were tracking, only told one part of the story.  In reality, my office had became so efficient at validating and identifying new prospects we eventually discovered that we had an oversupply of prospects and potential prospects who weren’t being contacted.  And that, in turn, has required further adjustments in our business model.

I have written in several posts already about the shift in the profession to a focus on prospect development, but one of the crucial reasons for the shift is–again–a change in the business model to one that is more focused on maximizing the efficiency and impact of our work.  Analytics offers a way to help do that by making sure we are directing our efforts on identifying and assigning the right prospects; likewise, taking a more active role in relationship management helps to insure that the work we are doing is having an impact.

In my most recent post, I wrote about customer service and smartphones; it may have seemed like a shift in focus for my blog away from topics such as research, data analysis, and prospect development; in some ways it was, but in other respects, the idea of customer service is something that prospect development offices always want to keep in mind when going about their work. In future posts, I plan to say more about how thinking about customer service can further transform the prospect development business model.

If you work in fundraising, how would you describe the business model of your prospect research or prospect development office?  How has it changed over time, and what drove those changes?  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.


4 thoughts on “Prospect Research Questions: What is your business model?

  1. Ultimately, the most important metric that I track for my work is dollars in the door. Everything that I do to affect that number is a mile marker along the way, and what those processes are changes from client to client, even internally.

    Shops that focus exclusively on metrics that make up those mile markers aren’t necessarily on the wrong path, but I would say that they’re at risk of missing their ultimate destination by nature of not setting their sights high enough. If the ultimate goal of the organization is to raise money, then every goal set and metric tracked must necessarily and directly be tied to impacting the amount of money raised. Put a different way, filling your car’s tank with gas is only half of the process of getting from A to B. You have to make sure that the gas pedal eventually gets pushed to move the car forward, and that the steering wheel is turning at the right times in the right direction.

    My personal motto- and the business model of my work- is, “manage data, lead people.” It’s necessary to have good data and robust prospect pipelines, but if we don’t also lead our teams and tie our goals and processes to the actual task of raising money, we cannot reliably predict the fundraising activity of our development officers.


    1. Hi Jared,

      Thanks for your comment. Your motto is a good one to keep in mind. I am planning to write more in the future about how we’ve refined or modified our work processes to improve not just efficiency, but also responsiveness.

      As far as your “most important metric,” in my organization we’re still experimenting with the best ways to try to track the link between research performed and gifts received. In the past, the prospect management tracking system wasn’t conducive to being able to record or confirm that kind of data, except on an anecdotal or case-by-case basis. We recognize, however, that having more solid data about the value added by research at different steps in the process should be helpful to everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

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