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Getting into Prospect Research

Posted on 4/02/2019 by Samantha Johnston

prospect research

What is prospect research?

Prospect research, also known as fundraising research or development research, is the identification of and research into potential donors for your organisation. These supporters could be individuals, trusts or companies.

Prospect researchers use a wide variety of data sources, from in-house supporter databases to Companies House and Who’s Who, to find new major donors and evaluate their capacity to donate and affinity towards your cause.

Prospects are then passed on to the fundraising team to attempt to convert into donors. Prospect research is complex and time-consuming, as each piece of research needs to be tailored both to the organisation and the individual prospect, but it is also proven to be a cost-effective way of raising significant funds.

Skills required for prospect research jobs

Obviously, Prospect Researchers need to have a proven ability to conduct research. This could be either through a previous role or through academic research done as part of a degree course.

They also need these skills:

  • Proficient with databases and able to analyse large quantities of data
  • Able to distil the data into user-friendly and concise reports for the fundraising team
  • Able to juggle multiple requirements and work to deadlines
  • Learns and adapts to new situations quickly
  • Working knowledge of how fundraising teams operate
  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Discreet and capable of handling valuable confidential and personal information

TPP’s top tips for developing your career in prospect research

  1. Volunteer wherever possible to take on additional leadership responsibilities. While it’s important to maintain your expertise in your field, moving up the ladder is all about broadening your skill set and showing you are capable of and willing to take on more.

  2. Work on developing your understanding of the fundraising team. The more you know about how fundraisers do their job, how their pipelines function and what works and what doesn’t, the better you will be at anticipating their needs and supplying the right data. This could also help open up a potential future career in fundraising for you.

  3. Make sure you understand the value of your role to your organisation in being influential and building strong donor relationships. Wherever possible, track the ROI on the prospects you have added to the database. Make sure you are seen to be creating value in your own right – not just as an assistant to the fundraising team.

  4. Prospect Researchers tend to be quite desk based but getting out and attending events can pay dividends. Meeting face to face with your donors and supporters can give you a much better insight into their thoughts and motivations, as well as building up your own profile.

  5. Volunteer as a Trustee for another charity to gain exposure into different areas of the charity and how they operate together. Trustees with a knowledge of fundraising are in high demand, and the insight you gain could help you up the career ladder.

  6. Get to know your own organisation’s Trustees better. Ask to sit in on meetings, so you can learn more about charity governance. Be inquisitive and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

  7. Prospect researchers often have some of the best knowledge on the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in the organisation, as they are constantly working with sensitive data. You can capitalise on this expertise to start influencing decision making and take on a more strategic role within the organisation.

  8. As a Prospect Researcher, you tend to have a fair bit of autonomy. Take advantage of this to shape the role to best suit you, whether that’s focussing more on developing personal relationships, conducting deep-dive analysis of your data to create donor profiles or working more closely with (and perhaps eventually joining) the fundraising team.

Useful Resources

There are quite a few networking groups that can connect you with fellow prospect researchers:

The Institute of Fundraising have two relevant special interest groups:

Researchers in Fundraising

Insight in Fundraising

Prospect Research UK Yahoo group

European Prospect Research Yahoo group

Researchers in Fundraising LinkedIn group

Researchers in Fundraising Scotland LinkedIn group