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Steven Barwell explores how time spent on methodical and detailed prospect research can result in major gifts, bringing benefits to the long-term future of an arts organisation.

Development in the UK is now a firmly established function within nearly every arts organisation. The function itself may be managed by a dedicated development team, or for many smaller organisations it may be the responsibility of one person, either as a full-time position or part of their duties. However, no matter how much time is devoted to the function, for an organisation to increase the levels of giving from individuals, it is paramount that a strategy for donor cultivation is established.

Firstly, what is a major gift prospect? Many organisations will classify major gifts by the amount of the donation to be solicited and such an ?ask? amount will vary from one organisation to another. I would define major gift prospects as those individuals who are at the highest point on the giving pyramid and are interested in supporting specific projects or events through their philanthropy.

Prospect research

Prospect research is a vital element of the development process. It can enable decisions to be made as to what approach should be taken with a potential major gift donor. For those prospects that fall into the category of either having given or being likely to give a major gift, it is paramount that a strategy for their cultivation is determined. Such a strategy should be a highly individualised and focused plan.

Research establishes a baseline ? a method to assess the inclination and potential of the individual to give as well as their giving history ? which will indicate their ?readiness?. Research can also drive the goals of a campaign and to a large extent becomes a major part of a feasibility study. Therefore, research can aid campaign feasibility and long-range planning and strategy. It requires a methodical and detailed approach: the researcher will often have to manage high volumes of information and must develop systems that can be used to track the achievements of prospects and can produce up-to-date research reports which can also enhance database records.

All current donors, sponsorship contacts, subscribers and other stakeholders form the basis of the prospect pool for major gift opportunities. Initially, a list of leading prospects should be drawn up in consultation with members of the board, and if one exists, the development board, as well as the senior management team and development staff. Often the success of prospect research does lie not with sophisticated Internet searches, but by simply talking to as many people as possible and asking them for their recommendations of who to cultivate and how.

Prospect reports

Once the list is assembled, a research report should be prepared for each prospect. The reports can then be used as decision-making tools and provide the basis for discussion. A report on a potential individual giver should address the following:
? Addresses and contact details
? Relationship with the organisation
? Wealth and giving capacity
? Biography
? Current business interests
? Personality and interests
? Other contacts
? Other charitable giving
? Likelihood and success of possible projects
? Suggested cultivation strategy and solicitor.

Equally, during the research process you should determine:
? Who the philanthropic decision-makers are in the prospect?s family
? What motivates prospect to give
? How they would like to be involved
? How they would prefer to give.

Finding all this information may seem like a daunting task! However, the first port of call should always be the staff and volunteers of your organisation. They can be a wealth of information and can often give you a start in the right direction. Resources such as ?Who?s Who? and ?Debrett?s People of Today? are all now available in CD-Rom format or can be accessed via the Internet. Equally, by going online there is a wealth of search engines and information providers which can assist with tracking prospects. Prospect research needs to be budgeted for carefully as many online information providers charge subscriptions for using their services or ask you to pay a fee each time you search their databases. But it is important to remember that as the development function grows in the organisation, so must the need for prospect research, if new donors are to be found and cultivated.

It is very likely that during your research you will uncover a piece of information on a prospect which could be deemed as highly sensitive. Should you store or record this information and use it when preparing a prospect report? If your prospect just happens to read the report, the relationship could end abruptly. Therefore, all organisations involved in prospect research should develop a policy on the use of information and who has access to the files. Chris Carnie?s book ?Find the Funds? covers this area in detail and is well worth consulting when drawing up a policy.


As a final stage of the research process, prospects should be assessed in terms of inclination and potential to give and be assigned codes as two sets of ratings (Fig.1), which can combine history with possibility.

It is important to arrange regular prospect strategy meetings with the development officer responsible for individual giving. These meetings can be used to discuss the findings of the research process and form a basis for planning a strategy for cultivation including determining who is best placed to solicit the gift. Critically, they can also provide a mechanism for feedback as the relationship with the prospect progresses and more about the interests of the prospect is learnt.

Research resources

Who?s Who (CD-Rom) A & C Black
Debretts People of Today (Online) Debretts
Who?s Who in the City Waterlow Specialist Information Publishing Ltd
Who?s Who in Charities (CD-Rom) CaritasData Ltd
Wealth Watch Sunrise Publications
The Prospector Sunrise Publications
Connections Sunrise Publications

Special interest groups
Researchers in Fundraising - A special interest group within Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers
Prospect Research UK ? A Yahoo group which can be joined by visiting http://www.yahoogroups.com.

Search engines

Rich Lists
The Sunday Times Rich List
Mail on Sunday Rich Reports

Internet-based providers
Dialog Web, Dialog Datastar, and Dialog NewsRoom ? http://www.dialog.com
Lexis-Nexis Professional ? http://www.lexis-nexis.com

Further reading
Targeting the Powerful by Vanessa Hack ASLIB
Find the Funds by Chris Carnie Directory of Social Change

Steven Barwell is Head of Development Support at the University of Hull. t: 01482 4666648; e: sj.barwell@virgin.net