Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Last year, I attended a social event that was organized through a social networking site that was also attended by a prospect research colleague at another institution. We both worked in one-person shops. The networking site asked participants to identify their "profession." I noticed that while I had identified myself as a "fundraiser," my colleague had identified herself as a "researcher." I found this thought-provoking.

Today I started reading the brand spanking new edition of Cecilia Hogan's Prospect Research: A Primer for Growing Nonprofits. Did I mention it's brand spanking new? I'm eagerly looking forward to reading Cecilia's new chapter on estimating wealth and determining philanthropic capacity, an art form at its best and a source of self-doubt and constant frustration at its worst. (My own efforts fall somewhere in the middle of that continuum). But before we get there, I want to mention a short but important discussion in the preface titled "Strike a Blow for Language Difficulties."

I happen to be someone who thinks that language matters. My favorite comedian, George Carlin, in discussing the use of nonsexist language, said "We do think in language; and so the quality of our thoughts and ideas can only be as good as the quality of our language."

Like Cecilia, I've never been comfortable with the term "suspect" when applied to a pre-qualified prospect, unless we are fundraising on an episode of CSI. And "moves management" is what I'm going to be doing at the Webster Hall dance party on Friday night.

But what we label ourselves is even more important, because it defines our field. You've probably figured out that I like the term "prospect research," since I used it in the title of this blog. The downside to calling oneself a "prospect researcher" at a cocktail party is that you will probably have to spend ten minutes or so explaining what it is you do. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's good PR for the field, but can be a burden if you are more in the mood to tell elephant jokes.

Within the development office, and perhaps throughout the organization as a whole, I assert that everyone involved in raising funds is a fundraiser, though our specialized roles are reflected in our job titles: prospect researcher, major gift officer, grantwriter, gift processor. Outside the office, I've started using the inelegant term "fundraising researcher," which at least clues my audience in to what I do, without having to abandon my inner researcher. [If I abandon my inner researcher, she gets back at me by blowing my monthly budget on reference books from].

Ultimately, in today's complex, information-centric world, few job titles accurately reflect the scope of activities involved in any professional position. But when it comes to what we call ourselves, what's in a name is worth discussing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Blanket Game

First, an apology for the gap in postings. It has been a whirlwind of an autumn, with a number of surprises both welcome and unwelcome.

Those of you who went to girl's slumber parties as a kid (and I'm kind of hoping this is limited the women here...) may remember a somewhat mean-spirited initiation rite called "The Desert Game." An unsuspecting newcomer would be placed under a blanket, and then the story would begin: You're stranded in the desert. It's hot. You're thirsty. It's getting hotter. You're burning up. Etc., etc., TAKE OFF SOMETHING YOU DON'T NEED.

The object of the game was to see how many articles of clothing the poor victim would take off before realizing that THE BLANKET was the unnecessary item.

Why am I telling you this story? Well, in the past three months this blog temporarily became the something I don't need. I share this story because I know how hard most researchers work and what a balancing act we try to perform with conflicting demands at work and outside of the office. We are prize multitaskers. But I'm hoping that sometime when you are feeling buried under a hot blanket, and you're overworked and burning up and stressed out, that you'll remember this little game, stop, breathe, re-evaluate the priorities and take off something you really don't need.

That being said, back to blogging.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Importance of Capacity Research

Margaret King has an article titled "Prospect Research: What You Don't Know and How it Can Hurt You" in this month's Fundraising Success gives a great example of why capacity research is so important. While her description of research techniques is simplified for the publication, it is a good piece to forward to development staff who may not understand the value of research.