Prospect Research FAQ
What’s prospect research?
In the same way an entrepreneur researches investors to find the best person to approach, prospect researchers help nonprofits figure out who they should be asking for major donations and for which projects. If Jane Philanthropist regularly gives gifts of $100K, and she only gives to Seattle artists, it wouldn’t make sense to ask her for a $5M gift to support bat conservation in Indiana!
Prospect researchers identify which individuals and foundations a nonprofit should approach and do extensive research to determine amount, type, and timing of a gift request. Prospect researchers especially focus on wealthy individuals and family foundations that give large gifts, at my organization researchers focus on gifts above the $100K level.
Just like applying for a government or private grant, a lot of time and effort goes into asking for a large gift from a family foundation or individual philanthropist. Many prospect researchers (myself included) have a background in academic research, library science, or grant-writing.
So what do you actually do?
Every day is a little different, which is one of the things I love about research. Tasks include: analyzing philanthropic trends and financial data, writing in-depth briefings on donors and foundations, authoring white papers on industries and philanthropy, fact-checking for fundraisers, and editing/proofing my colleagues’ work . I specialize in researching international donors as well as donors to the arts and humanities.
What’s your background?
Before starting as a prospect researcher, I worked in museum programming and operations. I managed the field trip center at the Museum of Science and Industry and I created content and facilitated programming at other Chicago area museums. I also taught Spanish at the high school level and taught ESL at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico. In addition, I volunteered as a translator at WIC and at an immigration advocacy center.
I hold a master’s degree in social sciences from the University of Chicago, specializing in anthropology, and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology from Earlham College. I wrote my master’s thesis on artistic and literary subcultures and my bachelor’s thesis on cross-cultural performance arts. During my academic training, I did field work in Morelos, Mexico and Chicago, Illinois.
What research resources do you recommend?
For a list of general resources for prospect researchers and other nonprofit professionals, check here.
For a list of research resources for international prospect research, check here.