News & Insight
14th December 2018
Prospect research: a force for the future
Rebecca Williams, Research and Insight Executive at Philanthropy Company, shares insight on the future of prospect research
Is it time for prospect research to fight back against the ICO and defend its place in charity fundraising? A recent study suggests it might be.
Research conducted by Nicola Williams, supervised by Dr Beth Breeze (Co-founder and Director of the Centre for Philanthropy), is a direct response to the ICO’s U-turn on the legitimacy of prospect research in October. Tackling the challenges posed to the future of prospect research, the study surveyed a sample of fundraisers from the higher education sector to assess the role of prospect research, with encouraging results.
81% of fundraisers say they use prospect research to identify new prospects and 66% of charities say they often undertake or commission prospect research. The assumption that prospect research is a part of fundraising is prevalent in the sector. Facts and figures that have come out of this form the beginning of an evidence base for these assumptions – crucial if research practices are to be able to stand up to external scrutiny.
The impetus behind this project and its findings spell the beginning of the sector fighting back against the lack of clear guidance and contradictory statements issued by the ICO since GDPR came into force.
This may inspire others to lobby the ICO for prospect research to be recognised as very much a part of fundraising and necessary for the aims of charity fundraisers.
Some major charities have begun to ask their donors what they expect and what they would object to. There have been preliminary studies to show that at least some donors expect non-profits to undertake research and the number of objections has been low. Further work must be done on donor expectations and we hope to see this trend continue to help build a bank of knowledge in the sector. Sharing knowledge is essential, particularly for smaller charities without the resources to carry out this kind of consultation.
For prospect research to continue to defend itself as a legitimate part of fundraising, the sector must demonstrate best practice particularly in tracking and measuring the impact of research. Currently, 25% of prospect researchers are not tracking their activities in any way. Many are tracking outputs but very little else in terms of KPI measures and only 14% are tracking conversion rates. If we are not tracking how prospect research is being used how can we prove its use?
How we can be the prospect researchers of the future:
- Exemplify best practice – tracking and measuring the impact of research with KPIs will be essential in the post GDPR world
- Don’t reinvent the wheel – building a shared bank of research (and success stories!) to shape and change policy together
- Be proactive, not reactive – seek out collaborative working practices with fundraisers and listen to donors
Prospect research must evolve to be a force for the future but understanding donors through research will remain an integral and necessary part of fundraising.
If you’d like to know more about how developing your prospect pipeline can unleash the power of your fundraising, please get in touch. We’d love to help.
 Research presented by Nicola Williams at the Researchers in Fundraising Conference 2018